President Trump had announced a few weeks back that he planned to dramatically increase the Department of Defense's budget while slashing the State department’s budget. At the time, we didn’t do quick thoughts because we knew it would come up later. And last week Trump released his “skinny budget” (skinny because of content not because of low BMI), so now we’re going to release our thoughts.
Thought 1: This Skinny Budget is the Anti-Liberalism Budget
A lot of media coverage has described this budget has a radical departure, focused on the “hard power” it represents. Which it is. But we want to really put it into the context of our philosophy of international relations.
As regular readers know, international relations liberals believe that, by supporting and promoting free trade, democracy, international institutions, and international development, the world has become incredibly safe and prosperous. But when you use passive language like “promoting and supporting” you obscure the fact that an ideology can’t promote those things. Even a nation really can’t promote those things. At the end of the day, people on the ground promote those things. In the United States, that means a State Department promoting international institutions. It means legions of workers at USAID and Voice of America promoting democracy and international development. The State Department also supports and promotes the international institutions that ensure free trade across the globe. The United Nations does all this as well, which again is a relationship owned by our State department.
You also need money to help promote all those things. You need a budget to provide international aid. You need budgets to hire democracy watchdogs and to donate to the UN. You need money to project soft power and reinforce the international order that has made the world so great. Donald Trump’s budget won’t do any of this. In fact, it will hurt all those efforts, causing potentially decades of harm.
Thought 2: Trump Disses the Greatest Generation
Another way to put the “anti-liberal” budget in context is that Trump (with Bannon doing a lot of the philosophical work here) is saying to America, “The Greatest Generation didn’t know what they were doing.”
We haven’t hit this point yet--and it may be a logical fallacy (just because the Greatest Generation was great does not make them perfect)--but it may become my new go-to defense of liberalism. The Greatest Generation saw the destruction wrought by World War I and World War II. The solutions after World War I (punishment, fines, weak international institutions, trade wars) didn’t work. So they developed the entire liberal world order in response (and also to fight the Cold War). Donald Trump wants to roll back all their work.
Though 3: Trump is an Untutored Realist
Let’s settle one thing about international relations realism. Sure I disagree with it as a larger philosophy, but smart realists provide good analysis. Going back in time, Thucydides created the discipline of international relations. Hans Morgenthau helped create modern realism. John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt are must read thinkers. (And Walt is super critical of Trump.)
Trump thinks of the world in realist terms, but he does so poorly and without any true conception of real power, soft or hard. That’s why the best description of Trump is as an “untutored realist”. (With a side helping of Steve Bannon’s Clash of Civilizations attitude.) He’s not informed on realism as it relates to foreign policy, and it could be a disaster. Unfortunately for the realists.
Thought 4: This Budget Gives More Alcohol to an Alcoholic
Since Republicans love to talk about business (and the free market), imagine you run a business whose costs are too high. Say a lot of these costs are from one specific, unprofitable division. So the company desperately needs that division to get more efficient, to cut costs. So the leader of the company would ask that division to cut costs.
You know what that leader wouldn’t do? She wouldn’t give them more fricking money,
If you told a division to become more efficient, why would you also tell them they are getting a 10% budget increase? Where is the motivation to drive for more efficiencies? Giving the Pentagon billions more each year, while insisting on nothing, is a recipe for inefficiency. Unlike the ruining of the State department, it probably won’t end in disaster, just huge amounts of money wasted.
Thought 4: The Pentagon is Just Plane [sic] Inefficient
Just need to send that reminder. We did a host of links a few weeks back and will probably keep repeating it every so often as reminders. (Send us good links we have missed.)
Link 5: Countless articles on terribly managed new weapon systems (F-22, F-35, Comanche Scout Helicopter, Littoral Combat Ships, and more) while failing to buy weapons that work (A-10 Warthogs, AC-130)
We’ve also written a few posts on the budget. We wrote an open letter to our congresspersons and did a guest post at ForeignPolicy in Tom Ricks’ blog on “Running the Pentagon Like Bain Capital”. The number of posts we’ve written on waste in the military and its huge budget are legion.