President Trump used an impromptu Labor Day press conference at the White House to castigate the Pentagon leadership (appointed by him) saying, “...they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes ... stay happy.” He took the occasion to advocate for removing American troops from “endless wars” and criticized NATO allies who “rip us off.” He also denied widely corroborated reports that he repeatedly denigrated U.S. servicemen who had served in Vietnam or died fighting in World War I as “suckers” and “losers.” 

The president’s populist lambasting of Pentagon brass can be interpreted as a delayed response to the refusal by Secretary of Defense Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley to have U.S. military personnel be used to quell domestic disturbances and as a rebuke to their support for renaming 10 U.S. military bases currently featuring the names of Confederate leaders. Trump’s denunciation of Pentagon leadership can also be interpreted as a way of gaslighting the American electorate about his repeatedly documented disdain for people who genuinely serve for love of country (remember him dissing a gold star family?) and his equally documentable commitment to larding the coffers of major weapons manufacturers. His precipitous withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has already led the Pentagon to request tens of billions of additional dollars for “nuclear modernization.” 

Trump also threatens to withdraw the U.S. from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which would launch a new nuclear arms race that could cost U.S. taxpayers over $800 billion. His decision to bypass Congress to support $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and his decision to include $7 billion for missiles, planes and ships in the White House version of the coronavirus relief package provide additional evidence that, once again, his words are contradicted by his actions. If voters want to know where he actually stands, Trump’s past actions are a more reliable indicator than his populist campaign blather.

William McCarthy

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