William Hurting says Trump’s latest pick for Secretary of Defense is a gift to the defense industry
JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has said he would nominate retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, known as “Mad Dog”, to lead the Pentagon. Here’s a bit of what he said.
DONALD TRUMP: We are going to appoint “Mad Dog” Mattis as our Secretary of Defense.
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DONALD TRUMP: But we’re not announcing it ’til Monday so don’t tell anybody.
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JAISAL NOOR: Mattis is known for his distrust of Iran and considered a seasoned military veteran. Some have described his military record as blood-soaked. In 2004, he ordered an air strike on an Iraqi village that killed dozens of civilians in a wedding party. He later dismissed eyewitness reports of the wedding, questioning why people would get married in the middle of the desert. In 2005, he publicly said he enjoyed killing Afghans. And what’s gotten even far less attention, as our next guest notes, is Mattis’s position on the Board of Directors of General Dynamics, one of America’s top defense contractors.
Well, now joining us to discuss this is William Hartung. He’s a Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the Center for International Policy. His most recent book is Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Thanks so much for joining us.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes. Thank you.
JAISAL NOOR: So, of course, Trump promised to drain the swamp, but now he’s appointing Mattis. Give us your response.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, it’s the military-industrial complex at work. I mean, not only is he putting a general in charge of the Pentagon, but a general who spent time on the Board of General Dynamics, which is one of the largest Pentagon contractors in the country, which builds tanks, other armored vehicles, the next-generation ballistic missile submarine — all things that he will have to deal with when he’s at the Pentagon. So, I think that’s a very serious issue that should be considered when thinking o whether this person should be the Secretary of Defense. I hope Congress will raise this during his confirmation hearing.
JAISAL NOOR: And because he only retired in 2013, Mattis would need the US Congress to waive a requirement that a Defense Secretary be a civilian for at least seven years before taking the top job at the Pentagon. Talk about why this is important.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, we have a history of civilian control of the military and I think there’s a reason for it. You want people in government who’ve got sort of a broad view. Mattis is a combat person, that’s sort of how he made his reputation — fightin in Iraq, fighting in Afghanistan. It’s less clear that he’s a diplomat and, any case, I think that principle of civilian control is kind of essential, central to our democracy.
And the fact that Mattis has been tapped for Secretary of Defense, Michael Flynn, a general, as National Security Advisor, possibly David Petraeus at the State Department, gives a strong military cast to the entire foreign policy apparatus of the Trump Administration; which again, I think could lead to kind of a narrow view of what our foreign policy should be. I mean, will they lean towards military solutions? Will they try to build the civilian institutions of government and diplomacy? It’s not clear, but I think there’s certainly a danger there that we’ll tilt in the wrong direction.
JAISAL NOOR: And these generals have track records of war, as you would suggest, so is there a possibility, even though Trump ran on a platform of, at times, of non-intervention, that they’d be in a position to take this, what can be described very much as a very hawkish foreign policy, and make that our nation’s policy? And, for example, Mattis, his tour in the US military in the leadership position was cut short because of his views on Iran — his desire to carry out covert actions which could possibly lead to escalations and rise in tensions with the US.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, it’s interesting. Trump likes generals who disagreed with the Obama Administration. And in this case, I think Obama was right to let him go. I mean, they were in the middle of trying to negotiate an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program. He was talking about, as you said, things like assassinations, stopping ships on the high seas, acts of war. And so, Trump has already made a lot of negative statements about Iran. Flynn is obsessed with Iran, so there’s certainly a danger of confrontation there. You know, occasionally, you’ll find that military leaders are less inclined to push for intervention than a civilian ideologue but we don’t really know how that’s going to play out, but certainly on Iran, I think that’s a very concerning issue.
JAISAL NOOR: And there’s some reports that Mattis may have been originally more hawkish on Iran but more recently he may have stepped back those comments and be more willing to see how the deal played out. What can you tell us about that?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I think he’s kind of accepting reality, which would be a breath of fresh air in a Trump Administration, in the sense that the deal’s already done and rather than tear it up — it’s a multi-lateral deal with other countries including Russian, China, European allies all on board — to see if it works as opposed to starting from scratch. In which case, many other countries that were onboard before might just go their own way and it would be a US-only policy. So, there’s a ray of hope in that area, although he’ll be up against a lot of anti-Iran deal people surrounding the President. But at least there’s a possibility that he’ll come to a more reasonable approach.
JAISAL NOOR: And what could a Trump Presidency mean for the military-industrial complex? You write that, at the moment, the Pentagon budget is already $600 billion plus a year. It’s spending more money already than it did during the massive military build-up President Reagan initiated in the 1980s when he sort of escalated the Cold War. What could a Trump Presidency mean for this?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, he adopted pretty much, when he gave his defense speeches during the campaign, a plan put forward by the Heritage Foundation: huge build-up of the Navy, more Marines, larger Army, a big missile defense program, accelerating a big nuclear weapons build-up. And by some estimates that could cost an extra $900 billion to a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, beyond what the Pentagon’s already hoping to get. So, that would be a huge build-up and a huge boon to these contractors.
Now, there is the other side of Trump where he said he doesn’t believe in regime change, allies should spend more on their own defense, he’s going to clean up waste at the Pentagon — those things don’t really go with a big build-up, unless he just wants to buy this stuff and sit on it. You know, so there’s that contradiction running through the things that he has said and I think, you know, the other factor is that it’s not clear it’s possibly affordable — huge tax cuts, building this wall, allegedly, a big infrastructure program and a huge Pentagon build-up, there’d be a sea of red ink. And there’s a lot of Republicans who claim they’re against that. Will they sit still for it? We’ll have to see.
JAISAL NOOR: All right, William Hartung, thanks so much for joining us.
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Thank you.
JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.