Wilbur Ross put the matter… well, mouth-wateringly. At a Milken Institute Global Conference in California, the commerce secretary recalled how President Trump was hosting a dinner for China’s president, Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago club at the moment when a bevy of Tomahawk missiles were being dispatched against an airfield in Syria. Ross described the moment this way: “Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria. It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.” To laughter from the crowd, he then added, “The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.”
The president himself recalled the same moment in an interview with Fox Business: “I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We’re now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen, and President Xi was enjoying it.” (Of course, Donald Trump is hardly the first person to, in essence, say, “Let them eat cake.”)
In the end, of course, someone did have to pick up the tab for that thrillingly militarized dessert and it just happened to be you and me. As TomDispatch regular William Hartung, author of Prophets of War, points out today in a piece on the true costs of war, American-style, the bill for that piece of cake and those Tomahawk missiles was $89 million dollars, admittedly a mere lagniappe by twenty-first-century U.S. military standards. (The tip for the meal naturally went to the maker of those Tomahawks, Raytheon). Rest assured that future desserts will undoubtedly be even more elaborate and expensive. After all, in a rare bipartisan show of unity, Republicans and Democrats just polished off a spending bill that will not only keep the government open through September, but give the Pentagon, an institution that happens to be historically incapable of even auditing itself, an extra little treat: $15 billion above and beyond its already vast budget to tide it over in its never-ending wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and “replenish equipment and pay for training and maintenance.”
We’re talking chocolate cake all the way to the bank when it comes to the Pentagon and the major weapons contractors it regularly offers its tastiest desserts. Admittedly, that $15 billion wasn’t quite what President Trump wanted, but call it an mouth-watering appetizer when it comes to a meal about which, unlike almost everything else on the table in Washington, Democrats and Republicans always see more or less eye to eye. And expect one thing: a lot more chocolate cake in President Trump’s future. After all, the generals are in charge.