As tensions with military grow, White House backpedals on Trump’s allegation that Pentagon chiefs are beholden to defense contractors

As tensions with military grow, White House backpedals on Trump’s allegation that Pentagon chiefs are beholden to defense contractors
Source: Patrick Semansky

The White House on Tuesday walked back an attack from President Donald Trump in which he claimed that top officials at the Pentagon, who he alleges to be indebted to arms dealers, were unhappy with him because he wanted to pull the United States out of wars.

“They want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy,” Trump said at a news conference on Monday, September 7.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Tuesday that Trump’s remarks were not targeted at a particular individual and that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and other top brass of the US Department of Defense knew that.

“Those comments are not directed specifically at them as much as it is what we all know happens in Washington, DC. This president is consistent about one thing, if we’re going to send our sons and daughters abroad to fight on our behalf, he’s not going to let some lobbyists here in Washington, DC, just because they want a new defense contract, suggest that they need to stay abroad one minute longer than they should," Meadows said.

“The comment was more directed about the military-industrial complex,” Meadows said, adding that Trump had been the best president ever for giving “the equipment to our military men and women that need it.”

Taking a dig at Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump on September 7 stated that Pentagon functionaries, who Biden had chosen during his time as Vice President in the Obama administration, wanted the US to stay in “endless wars” due to their shared interests with arms manufacturers.

“Some people don’t like to come home, some people like to continue to spend money. One cold-hearted globalist betrayal after another, that’s what it was,” he added.

Trump later compared himself to former President Dwight Eisenhower to vindicate his view. He shared tweets referring to the latter’s 1961 Farewell speech in which Eisenhower had cautioned America about the rising influence of the “military-industrial complex.”

Trump’s attack on Pentagon officials came on the back of The Atlantic magazine’s article last week, which alleged that Trump had disparaged fallen US troops during a visit to France in 2018, a claim that the president has strongly refuted.

The Department of Defense (DOD) responded to Trump’s sharp remarks.

At a Defense One online event on September 8, Army Chief of Staff General James McConville said, “Many of these leaders have sons and daughters who have gone to combat, or may be in combat right now. So, I can assure the American people that the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it’s required in national security in the last resort.”

“We take this very, very seriously how we make our recommendations,” he added.

All is not well between the White House and the Pentagon

The White House-Pentagon relationship has not been the smoothest in recent months, especially between President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

In June, when Esper opposed the idea of deploying active-duty troops to curb protests and restore order amid rising civil unrest across the nation, it did not sit well with the White House. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany obliquely expressed Trump’s disgruntlement at Esper’s stance. She said that while Trump had faith in Esper “as of right now,” should that change, people will come to know about it.

In August, Trump said that he “considers firing everybody” when asked during a press conference if he wanted to get rid of Secretary Esper. However, he added, “No, I get along with him, I get along with him fine, he’s fine.”

After The Atlantic controversy erupted last week, Esper came out in Trump’s support but he did not completely deny the insinuations made against Trump in the article. “President Trump has the highest respect and admiration for our nation’s military members, veterans and families," Esper said on September 4.

Esper, who is a former lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon, did not publicly react to Trump’s allegation that the Pentagon wants to stay in endless wars and that top military officials have a conflict of interest. But Lieutenant Colonel Chris Mitchell, a Defense Department spokesman, told ABC News on September 8 that Secretary Esper was committed to serving as long as the president wanted him to.

Trump, an advocate of military spending

In contrast to Trump’s claim that the Defense Department top brass wants to keep the US in a perpetual state of war because they are beholden to defense contractors, some political commentators believe that Trump is not against heavy military spending per se.

The US-Saudi arms deal is a case in point wherein Trump has vehemently supported beneficiaries of the US-Saudi arms deal such as Boeing, General Dynamics and Raytheon. During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the US in March 2018, the White House endorsed arms trade with Saudi Arabia, stating that it would create thousands of jobs.

“Saudi Arabia is spending US$110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others for this country. I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of US$110 billion into the United States," Trump said in October 2018, although eventually a sale of around US$8 billion worth of arms was done.

Trump also signed a US$3 billion defense deal with India in the March of this year with the White House seeing New Delhi as its strongest ally in South Asia.

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