President Trump was very comfortable championing massive military spending increases after taking office, declaring himself the most pro-military person ever. He jumped ahead of Pentagon requests, and Congress jumped ahead of him, leading to record military spending.
On Monday, Trump showed signs of buyer’s remorse, saying he believes the current levels of spending are “crazy” and that there needs to be a meaningful halt to global arms races. He called for talks with Russia and China on slowing down this runaway spending growth.
No one seems to have prepared other officials to echo this narrative, however, so on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee that anything short of the requested $733 billion budget would “increase risk” to the US.
This is a big distinction, as Trump has said he expects “probably $700 billion” in spending for the military in that next budget, while trying to rein in the soaring deficit. That was less cuts than other departments are facing, but it’s also still a cut, which has the military panicking.
This largely mirrors what was seen during the “sequestration” years, where even though the Pentagon never met mandated sequestration cuts, they still spend every year prophisizing doom to Congress for purely hypothetical cuts.
The big change this time around is Trump, as during sequestration, virtually everyone was on board with just pretending it was a thing. Trump seems uncomfortable with what his soaring Pentagon budget is doing to his overall budget, and that could put him in the rare position of actually wanting cuts.
As far as courting support from Russia and China for cuts, however, Trump may struggle. Russia is already cutting its military spending substantially, and both of those nations’ spending are dwarfed by America’s own enormous military. This is clearly a much bigger problem for the US than for anyone else.
And while Trump is in a position to push such cuts as necessary, it still remains to be seen if he can cut through the inevitable objections from both the Pentagon and Congressional hawks, for whom anything short of a major increase is unacceptable, and an actual, real cut would be unthinkable.