Give Donald Trump credit. As a businessman, he’s brought into office some skills that previous presidents lacked. Take, for example, his willingness to plough staggering sums of money into five casinos destined to go bankrupt (and then jump ship, money in hand, leaving others holding the financial bag). Now, he seems to be applying the same principles to the Pentagon. He’s already insisted on establishing a sixth branch of the armed services, a Space Force, which will cost a pretty penny — as much as $13 billion just to set up its new bureaucracy. And lest that seem too financially ambitious, just the other day he unveiled a 2019 Missile Defense Review aimed at creating a modern version of President Ronald Reagan’s extremely expensive (and failed) Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as “Star Wars.” Its purpose, as he put it, will be to “ensure that we can detect and destroy any [nuclear] missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime.” The cost: possibly up to a trillion dollars without such a system being in any meaningful way capable of taking out Russian or Chinese missiles launched at the U.S. As a plan, however, it could hit the Trumpian trifecta: putting high-tech weaponry in space, heating up a new global nuclear arms race, and busting a Pentagon budget that’s already in the stratosphere.
And give Donald Trump credit for something else as well: he doesn’t let go of his obsessions easily. Take that “great, great wall” of his on our southern border that shut much of the government down for five weeks, could in the end cost tens of billions of dollars, and is likely to achieve next to nothing. (He even focused a significant part of his recent Missile Defense Review presentation on it.) In the process, he’s left open the possibility of declaring a national emergency and essentially pirating the initial construction money from… you guessed it, the Pentagon. Unfortunately, the space equivalent of a great wall (“missile defense”), similarly capable of stopping next to nothing, will in cost terms reduce the border wall to, as comedian Jackie Gleason used to say, a “mere bag of shells.”
As Mandy Smithberger from the Project On Government Oversight and TomDispatch regular William Hartung suggest today, the very Pentagon that President Trump is so eager to launch into space is now filled, from its acting secretary of defense on down, with former officials of, or consultants to, America’s largest arms makers, a crew clearly prepared to give out lucrative contracts for space failure to such firms. Sooner or later, in true Trumpian fashion, they, too, will undoubtedly jump ship — or rather step back through that Washington revolving door and exit the premises, money in hand, before the military version of the Titanic hits an iceberg.