Trump’s defense budget boost raises questions on strategy

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer shakes hands with Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, right, as he takes the podium during daily press briefing at the White House, on Thursday, in Washington. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2017

Trump’s defense budget boost raises questions on strategy

WASHINGTON: An essential element is missing from President Donald Trump’s plan for boosting the budgets of the US military services by $54 billion in 2018. How, exactly, does the commander in chief intend to use the world’s most potent fighting force?
Beyond the threat posed by Daesh and other militant groups, Trump does not articulate what he is defending the country from. Defeating what Trump and his aides call “radical Islamic terrorism” does not require an additional investment of tens of billions of dollars. And Trump, whose “America First” mantra suggested an isolationist approach, has viewed Russia as a potential partner, not an adversary.
Trump’s proposed defense budget of $639 billion, which includes $65 billion for ongoing emergency war-fighting, totals more than the next seven countries combined. Yet documents released Thursday by the White House provide little detail about where all the money will be spent, other than to say the goal is to rebuild an American military that Republicans have accused former President Barack Obama of allowing to fall into disrepair.
The Trump budget makes no specific mention of Iran, North Korea or China. Instead, the documents employ broad strokes to cast the $54 billion increase as “the groundwork for a larger, more capable, and more lethal joint force, driven by a new National Military Strategy that recognizes the need for American superiority not only on land, at sea, in the air, and in space, but also in cyberspace.”
Republican defense hawks in Congress immediately panned Trump’s 2018 proposal. GOP lawmakers including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of Armed Services Committee, want at least $37 billion more than what Trump is recommending to begin to reverse an erosion in the military’s readiness for combat.
“It is clear that this budget proposed today cannot pass the Senate,” said McCain, who called Trump’s defense plan only slightly better than what Obama would have crafted if he were still in office.
And much more money will be needed over time to buy all the ships, missiles, jet fighters and more needed to replace an arsenal heavily taxed by 15 years of war, according to McCain and like-minded congressional colleagues. He envisions defense spending increasing steadily in the coming years, culminating with an $800 billion budget for the armed forces in 2022.
Still, Trump’s 2018 plan would be welcomed at the Pentagon. Senior US military leaders have warned Congress that strict caps on government spending imposed in 2011 have squeezed them so hard that beating powers such as Russia or China is far tougher than it used to be as aging equipment stacks up, waiting to be repaired, and troops do not get enough training.
Military leaders have told Congress they have been forced to rob their maintenance and procurement accounts to help pay for missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. That has led to critical maintenance being postponed and lengthy delays in the acquisition of new equipment, according to the Pentagon’s top brass.
“It’s a simple matter of supply can’t meet demands,” Adm. William Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee during a February hearing.
Despite Trump’s focus on the Daesh group, that is a war under control, according to top defense officials. “We’re fully ready and have shown repeatedly that we can fight today’s fight against a violent extremist organization,” Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee last month.
Trump’s budget avoids a knock-down fight with Congress over base closings. The Army and Air Force have said that shuttering excess installations would save billions of dollars. But they remain open because the GOP-led Congress has so far refused to allow a new round of base closures. Military installations are prized possessions in congressional districts.
Conservatives gave Trump’s defense plan high marks because the increase is paid for by slashing spending for foreign aid and domestic agencies that had been shielded under Obama.
But Rep. Raul Labrador, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said he and other deficit hawks have no intention of giving the president’s plan a free pass.
“We should make sure we’re using military spending wisely like we look at every other item in the budget,” the Idaho Republican said. “I think we make a mistake as Republicans when we say it’s OK to plus-up (defense) spending and decrease everything else without really looking closely.”


India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

Updated 18 January 2020

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

  • Ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley
  • The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors

NEW DELHI: India has dispatched dozens of ministers to its portion of the Kashmir region to promote government projects and development following months of unrest in the area.

Last August New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a security crackdown and a communications blackout. It is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its semi-independence was the central government’s bid to integrate it fully with India and rein in militancy.

Prepaid mobile and Internet services have been restored although most of the valley remains without the Internet. Landline and post-paid mobile services were restored last month. 

The 36 ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley, with media reports saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the delegation “to spread the message of development among the people, not only in the urban areas but also in the villages of the valley.”

He was also reported as asking them to tell people about central government schemes that will have grassroot benefits.

The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors to the region.

Jammu-based ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo said the ministerial trip tied in with New Delhi’s development agenda.

“The ministers will interact with local-level representatives and stakeholders, and discuss the plan for the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “Kashmir cannot go back to the old ways. There are no political issues that remain here, all have been sorted out by parliament by abolishing Article 370, division of the state and neutralization of separatist elements.”

But India’s opposition Congress party said the visit was an attempt to “mislead and misguide” the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“This is a third attempt to mislead and misguide the people of the world, Jammu and Kashmir and India. They are coming here for a third time to tell lies,” Congress leader and the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam, Nabi Azad, said.

Dr. Radha Kumar, from the Delhi Policy Group, said that a development agenda would not work without addressing the political issue.

“With all the unilateral decisions to abrogate the special status of the state, arresting all the mainstream leaders and putting the state in a lockdown, how are the government’s actions so far going to establish credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?” Kumar told Arab News. “I think this visit is more for international consumption than anything else.”

Dr. Siddiq Wahid, a Kashmiri intellectual and academic, called the visit a “clear sign” that New Delhi had no idea what to do.

“No matter how many ministers you send to Jammu and Kashmir it’s not going to alter the ground situation, it’s not going to address the issue of alienation,” he told Arab News. “What issues will they talk about with people? The government lost the people’s trust long ago.”

The Himalayan region has experienced turmoil and violence for decades. It is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Jammu-based Zafar Choudhary, a senior journalist and editor of The Dispatch newspaper, said Modi’s government was full of surprises. “There have never been so many surprises in Jammu and Kashmir as have come in the last two years,” he told Arab News. “There is no instance in the past when so many central ministers have visited a state in one go.”

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