The election of Donald Trump initially seemed to be a lifeline to an American military suffering from unrelenting budget cuts—a loss of more than $250 billion in spending power from the 2009 budget alone—and an equally punishing pace of operations. The morning after the election, Forbes magazine confidently predicted the restoration of at least $500 billion in defense spending.
Not only did Trump promise to make America great again, but in September, he gave a rousing speech outlining a Reagan-like rearmament: a 540,000-soldier active-duty Army, from its current strength of 470,000; a 350-ship Navy, from a current level of 280; hundreds of new tactical aircraft for the Air Force; and a renewed national missile defense network. In a notable deviation from his otherwise expert-free campaign, candidate Trump quoted the blue-ribbon National Defense Panel, a bipartisan group of former senior officers and civilian national security officials, arguing for a return to the last defense budget crafted by Secretary Robert Gates. Trump’s credibility was enhanced by the recommendation to eliminate the “sequestration” provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which, as he emphasized, disproportionately put the burden of deficit reduction on defense accounts.
Early Trump cabinet moves seemed to confirm the prospects for a military revival. Nominating Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general rather than secretary of defense removed one potential obstacle; a budget hawk, Sessions prides himself as a man who “regularly stands guard” to fight government “waste, fraud, and abuse,” which he believes is rife in the Pentagon. Retired Marine Corps general James Mattis, whom Trump picked to run the Pentagon, can be expected to be frank in advancing the military’s resource requirements.