The Trump administration’s effort to use $3.6 billion from the fiscal year 2020 Pentagon budget to pay for the president’s border wall is the latest attempt to get the department involved in a controversial and damaging policy that should be none of its business.
You will no doubt remember President Trump’s politically-driven decision to announce the deployment of 15,000 troops to the border in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, a figure higher than the number of US troops deployed in Iraq and Syria at that time, and nearly as many as were present in Afghanistan. The ultimate number came out to around 5,900, but the implications were the same. It was a transparent effort to posture the president and his party as the last line of defense against the alleged “threat” of thousands of men, women, and children fleeing repression and poverty.
Writing in the New York Times, Gordon Adams, Ike Wilson, and Larry Wilkerson put the president’s border-deployment in proper perspective:
“The president used America’s military forces not against any real threat but as toy soldiers, with the intent of manipulating a domestic midterm election outcome, an unprecedented use of the military by a sitting president.”
The push to take funds from Pentagon programs that help the troops, their families, and communities at risk to pay for the border wall is a case study in all that is wrong with our current Pentagon budget process.
Even if it were legitimate to use Pentagon funding to pay for the border wall, which it decidedly is not, one would hope the administration would take the funds from the tens of billions of wasteful or misguided spending in the department’s budget. But it has not.
As Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight has noted, “A lot of the projects that are having their funding removed are directly supporting the military and their families.” Examples include firing ranges, childcare, and a fire rescue and crash station for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which is still recovering from the damage done by Hurricane Michael. And a full $400 million in funding is being diverted from projects in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
These budgetary maneuvers are particularly hypocritical in light of the fact that whenever even a penny of the Pentagon’s $700-billion-plus budget is threatened, no matter what the program or purpose, the regular refrain of Pentagon budget boosters is that it will “hurt the troops.” Yet when the department is asked to rearrange its budget to make way for another (inappropriate) priority, programs that help the troops and their families are the first thing to go. Why not take the funds from programs affecting the top five contractors – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics? These firms together split over $100 billion per year in Pentagon contracts, and many of their programs – like the F-35 combat aircraft and the new Ford-class aircraft carriers — are overpriced, underperforming, or simply unnecessary. Taking $3.6 billion from these military mega-firms wouldn’t even be a haircut for companies that have come to feel entitled to huge, regular infusions of our tax dollars.
The push to take funds from Pentagon programs that help the troops, their families, and communities at risk to pay for the border wall is a case study in all that is wrong with our current Pentagon budget process. Pentagon priorities have been politicized for partisan purposes, and funds have been taken from the people and programs least able to defend themselves in a process dominated by pork-barrel politics and corporate influence peddling. Congress should hold firm against using Pentagon funds to pay for the wall. But it should also use the opportunity to take a hard look at other unnecessary programs that promote special interests rather than the national interest.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.