During a news conference Monday, Donald Trump offered a comment about the United States military that turned some heads. “I’m not saying the military is in love with me,” Trump said. “The soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because all they want to do is fight wars so that all of the wonderful companies that make the bombs and planes and everything else stay happy.”
Almost instantly, right (and some left) wing pundits applauded the president for his wokeness about the military industrial complex. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway was among the loudest in this crowd, comparing Trump’s off-handed remark to President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous military industrial complex speech from 1961.
One look at Trump’s record, though, proves his anti-military industrial complex bonafides are complete nonsense. Under his administration, military spending and drone strikes have skyrocketed, as have arms sales to countries like Saudi Arabia from those same companies Trump’s quote seems to lament. Throughout his term, Trump has bragged about his ability to secure funding for the military and restore it to its “former glory.” And the cherry on top? Trump’s Secretary of Defense is Mark Esper, a former lobbyist for Raytheon, one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world. In fact, several senior Pentagon positions are held by people who used to work for major defense contractors.
Trump’s stooges quickly backpedaled, “clarifying” the president’s comments and saying they weren’t directed at Pentagon officials like Esper or General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But that didn’t stop Twitter users from falling all over themselves to defend or attack the president based on a very obviously dumb statement.
This is the kind of inane Trump crossover that makes pundit brains melt. The president says one dumb thing and all the sudden #Resistance libs are caught flat footed actually defending the military industrial complex and trying to weave it into the narrative that Trump is anti-military. Right wingers, meanwhile, are fawning over the president’s bravery and willingness to say what others won’t. (Sound familiar?) The truth is much simpler: the military industrial complex is very bad, and while Trump’s words implying defense contractors love war may be true, they’re completely meaningless coming from a president who placates those contractors at every conceivable turn.
Trump’s comments weren’t some intricate trap designed to catch people in their own hypocrisy—he’s either pretending to be anti-war to score points with those who agree or (more likely) he can’t think straight or stay on message. The military loves him, but its leadership hates him because he’s against foreign wars—even though he actually tried to manufacture one in Iran less than a year ago. Trump’s statement isn’t difficult to parse if you don’t take anything he says at face value. It’s mind-boggling that nearly four years into Trump’s presidency there are journalists and pundits still having a hard time with that.