Larry Wilkerson tells Paul Jay (Real News Network) that a massive increase in military spending is a disastrous policy, intended to serve the commercial interest of the military industrial complex . . . and the cuts to pay for it, are coming from all the wrong places.
Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled “National Security Decision Making.”
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, in Baltimore.President Trump is reportedly proposing a 10% increase in military spending. That’s an increase of $54 billion, from approximately $600 billion, that will be paired with cuts to other agencies. His so-called, ‘America First Budget,’ will also increase funding for local law enforcement, while cutting funds to the EPA, State Department, foreign aid, and social programs.Medicare and social security are apparently not on the budgetary chopping block. Trump’s plan is only in the outlining stage, and the final plan should be revealed in the upcoming weeks.Now joining us, to discuss this budget increase for the Pentagon is Larry Wilkerson, who joins us from Williamsburg. Larry is the former Chief of Staff for U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, currently an Adjunct Professor of Government at the College of William and Mary, and a regular contributor to Real News.Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.
PAUL JAY: Does America, in order to defend itself, need another 10% increase in the military budget?
LARRY WILKERSON: No. It certainly does not. It needs a substantial cut in the military budget, and that would enhance national security because it would force the Pentagon, the military, to do some of the things that they need to do, to make the future better. I understand, too, that this $54 billion, or whatever it is, it’s not clear whether it’s going to come out of the authorized line, or going to go into the authorized line, or go into OCO, the Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund, which needs to be killed entirely. That’s a big issue for me, too, is which account it goes into. And the payers in this are just ridiculous. The EPA, State and U.S. aid, as the bigger bill payers. And as I understand it, too, some of the safety net programs, although he’s promised to - but I don’t put much store in his promises - to keep Medicare, social security, and other essential programs like that going. We simply don’t have the money to do all of this. And the fact that we have a 600-plus billion dollar defense budget and, really, a 1.1 or 2 trillion dollar national security budget — when you throw nuclear weapons and the Department of Energy, the VA, and all the rest of the security budget in there — is just ridiculous. We have a bigger national security budget than the rest of the world combined. It’s absurd.
PAUL JAY: So, why is he doing it?
LARRY WILKERSON: I’m sorry?
PAUL JAY: Why is he doing it?
LARRY WILKERSON: He’s doing it because he promised to do it. I do believe that Donald Trump, anything he promised in his campaign that is going to keep his base titillated — apparently he’s not doing that good a job even at that right now, judging by the poll numbers — he’ll do. And this is one of the biggest things he promised to do.
PAUL JAY: One of his campaign promises, in one of the speeches, he was critiquing the regime change policy in Iraq. For a time he critiqued it in Libya, although there’s some video surfaced how he actually wanted to send U.S. troops into Libya, so that was a bit of a con.That being said, at one time he actually said, “Don’t you worry, military guys - meaning military-industrial producers, war manufacturers - there’ll be plenty in this budget for you, too.” The main promise seems to have been to the industrial-military complex. That’s the promise he’s keeping.
LARRY WILKERSON: Well, he’s keeping a promise to them to keep their money flowing and their jobs intact, and so forth, and that’s one of the first things that you do to get their vote. As I understand it, he probably got the military vote, certainly in the enlisted ranks. And he probably got a lot of the defense-industrial complex vote, too, for the very reason that you just suggested. This is what presidents do, to keep that vote in their pocket. And also to keep the American people writ large, with that all-important security issue, at least potentially in their pocket, if not already there.
PAUL JAY: Now, 10%, it’s a fair amount of money. You know, $54 billion. Does this suggest that he has plans for something? And we know we… you and I have talked about this before, he’s certainly… his foreign policy speeches, and those of the people in his cabinet more or less, have all said Iran is the problem. That probably means they would like to snap sanctions back, perhaps more.There’s been the suggestion that he’s… Trump’s speech at the CIA, where he talks about how, “If I’d been the President, we would’ve grabbed the oil,” and then he says, “Maybe we’ll have another chance.”I mean, is part of this that they are planning something?
LARRY WILKERSON: I don’t think so. I hope not. Because all of those things you suggested, plus a number of others I could conjure up, would not be good for this country. Not in our national interests, primarily because prima facie, they’re not in our national interest, but also because we can’t afford to be doing these sorts of things. Paul, let’s face it: we can’t afford another $54 billion on the military. Where are we going to get it? Print it? We’re going to go out with war bonds to the American people, or maybe to the Chinese, or the Japanese, or the British, our biggest benefactors? Where are we going to get this money? We’ve gotten $4-plus billion over the last year or two in this quantitative easing program, simply by going to the Treasury and printing it, or to the Mint and printing it. Now, this is unsustainable. It’s disastrous policy, and I don’t know where we’re headed.
PAUL JAY: Well, the argument they’re giving is, that the American armed forces, their hardware, the cyber warfare and such, it all needs to be modernized. General McMaster who’s going to be advising Trump, he’s been pushing for a new tank, newer armored vehicles — lots of rhetoric around the need to have a major overhaul and modernization. Suggesting somehow that Russia and China are actually more modernized than the United States is.
LARRY WILKERSON: All of which is nonsense. I wouldn’t be talking about tanks. I wouldn’t be talking about aircraft carriers. I wouldn’t be talking about bombers. I wouldn’t even be talking about F35 stealth fighters. I’d be talking about things like 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies that are coming on so fast. That they’re going to make all these legacy systems, which are extremely expensive, and make them for the military-industrial complex, of course, a lot of money, passé. Just look at the underwater dimension, for example. 3D printing a submarine that’s unmanned, and that’s the future, Paul - not manned flight, not manned — unmanned. You put a submarine under the ocean and hang a few smart torpedoes, smart mines on it, and you go out - and by the way, for the price of a Nimitz-class carrier, a Ford-class carrier, you can build about 150,000 of these submarines. And you go out and kill that $14 billion Ford-class aircraft carrier, or you kill a $4 billion, $5 billion ballistic missile class submarine, Ohio-class submarine. That’s the new technology.And by the way, those technologies are going to be in the hands of state and non-state actors, sooner rather than later. These are the kind of things we should be looking at. These are huge cost-savings technologies - they’re deadly, dangerous technologies. We need to have protocols and standards, international law, and other things in place for their use. Cyber warfare, as you were talking about, going after people’s networks — nowhere, of course, is there anyone more vulnerable than ourselves — to that kind of warfare. These are the items, the technologies of the future, not aircraft carriers, not stealth fighter planes. Perhaps not even submarines, based on what I just said about unmanned submarines taking them out.So, you know, I would rather see the Pentagon thinking along those lines, developing systems along those lines, and getting a lot leaner in the process, rather than getting more money, which is just going to kind of, make them very comfortable with their current ways. All of which are dangerous for our future.
PAUL JAY: You were Chief of Staff for Colin Powell. You got a pretty good look at a very senior level, of how military policy is established. How much is this driven straight, banally, just about moneymaking? The military-industrial complex lobbies, they get expensive weapons systems, but they fund various members of the Senate and Congress and so on. I mean, how much is this just rather banal ways of having weapons systems, to make people that own these manufacturers, wealthier?
LARRY WILKERSON: It’s a huge part of it now. In the late 1970s, Paul, when I was a Major, working on the high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle, now called commonly the Hummer, I was told by the Congress to go back to Fort Benning at the time. And I had a $400 million program, and they said you gotta have a bigger program, gotta have a bigger program, it’s gotta be in every state you can get it in. I went back and developed a $9 billion program for a 59,000-vehicle buy, and sold the program. That was in the late ’70s. It’s mushroomed majorly since then. Now we have helicopters, and fighter planes, and ships, and other things built, a component of which is built in every state. We have a hundred senators behind them. We have countless representatives behind them. I’m not saying that when the President says he wants a war, he goes to the Congress and they say, well, here it is. But I am saying, that when they make a decision to support him, when the President even makes a decision to go to war, all this money, all of this commercial interest, all of these jobs, are very much in their minds.
PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks for joining us, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.
PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.