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Trump's $54 Billion Rounding

Error
Does His Planned Military Spending Boost
Add Up?
March 1, 2017
Despite the initial hoopla, President Donald Trumps proposed
defense buildup isnt all it was cracked up to be.
Of course, I exaggerate in the title. Adding billions to the Department
of Defense budget, each and every year going forward, is significant.
And certainly, taking that same amount out of domestic accounts plus
diplomacy and foreign aid budgets constitutes a severe retrenchment.
To take one example of the kind of pain that could result: With
American military support, Iraqi forces will likely soon liberate the
northern city of Mosul from ISIS, but that expected tactical military
victory may prove no more durable than the results of the surge from
2007-2009 or so, unless a firmer political foundation is placed beneath
it. After the surge, then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki so
misgoverned the country and so mistreated Sunnis that the backdrop
was established for the arrival of the Islamic State (also known as
ISIS). Sunni populations were so angry with how they were treated
that they decided to tolerate a reincarnation of sorts of the dreaded al
Qaeda rather than succumb to Shia domination. The moral of the story
is clear: Iraq will need to rebuild, govern, and police Mosul as well as
other areas where ISIS was in command in a way that satisfies all
major sectarian groups, lest it, again, fall back into civil warfare. The
United States can help ensure the necessary consensus with a
conditions-based offer of foreign assistance that the revenue-starved
Iraqi petro-state desperately needs in these times of low oil prices.
That foreign aid gets us leverage and influence, and improves the
odds of making current hard-earned military gains durable. But it will
be far harder to provide if deep cuts are made to aid budgets.
Back to the Pentagon. That $54 billion in higher annual spending
actually amounts to a far smaller actual increase. As most have heard
by now, the $54 billion is measured relative to the sequestration-level
caps of the 2011 Budget Control Actthe harsher and more Spartan
levels that were never supposed to kick in when the law was first
signed. Fortunately, with the exception of several months in 2013, the
Defense Department has avoided those Spartan levels. Various
bridging funds, through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, for
instance, helped it stay at modestly higher budgetary totals. Thus,
relative to the recent past, the proposed Trump increase is more like
$20 billion in annual funding.