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    US Defense Bill 'Example of Dysfunction That's Going on in Washington' - Prof

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    This week Donald Trump signed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), allocating $717 billion to the armed forces. The bill will fund the US Department of Defense, authorize a 2.6% military pay raise and increase the number of US troops by 15,600.

    Sputnik has discussed this in more detail with Carlyle Thayer, Emeritus Professor, UNSW Canberra The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.

    Sputnik: What's your take on this new document, the NDAA, signed by the US president? What do you think it's primary implications will be?

    Carlyle Thayer: Well for one, the document is I think about 600 pages long and I don't think any human being, even myself, can master it, but it's given President Trump an unprecedentedly large defense budget and it puts lots of restrictions in law on his ability to conduct foreign and defense policy. It's an example of the dysfunction that's in Washington now. Congress does one thing and the president can maneuver around or sometimes oppose a law or, an example, with Russia where he wants to meet with Putin, Congress can implement sanctions at the same time. That's the example of dysfunction.

    Sputnik: Was there a lot of support for this on both sides?

    Carlyle Thayer: It went through a whole series of readings and if you follow it, it becomes incredibly complex, but once the House approved it and then the Senate try had to reconcile the two and make it clear, so yes there was. Under specials there is China not Europe, for example, when Trump was raving on about South Korea they put a restriction in it that he could reduce the troop levels, that's how Congress works.

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    Congress supports it and Trump signed it because it gives more money to the troops. It gives him a large defense budget. The complexity and size of it satisfies lots of parties, but it also gives rise to areas of disagreement. But this just shows you that Trump does not master detail. He signed it, he's got the money, he lets his beautiful generals, as he calls them, have their way. My research on the Trump administration is that it doesn't make a difference. If Trump becomes seized with an issue, Ukraine, Russia, whatever, he just acts.

    Sputnik: How is this going to affect relations between Turkey at the US, which are already pretty much at the bottom right now?

    Carlyle Thayer: Misery loves company. Erdogan and Trump deserve each other. They're going to get in the ring and punch each other. It's going to deteriorate. Trump can never back down, he has to show his domestic supporters in the US that he's a strong man, and he's taken a stand to free religiously convicted individuals and that goes down well with his evangelical base. So it's going to get worse. And besides which, he doesn't like NATO. He waxes and wanes and he hems and haws, no American president has done that. I'm sure he knows that Turkey's part of NATO, but I think he needs to be reminded of that, in the end this is worse for the EU, so what can you do?

    Sputnik: Do you think this is going to affect Turkey's decision to purchase Russian air defense systems or not?

    Carlyle Thayer: Can Erdogan back down? He needs a good, high-quality defense system and I've talked to Australian specialists on air defense about the Russian system and they're saying that it's really up there technologically. It's expensive, but countries like Turkey have the capacity to actually absorb that technology. So if Turkey feels they need it, so I really can't answer. It's a trade-off between defensive missiles and attack American aircraft. Does Turkey really want to be part of NATO or does Trump really what to force them out?

    Sputnik: Russia obviously affected by that clause regarding Turkey, but also there is the point about proposing funding and allowing for the provision of lethal weapons aid, lethal military aid to Ukraine and for the European deterrence initiative, what do you think that's going to do to relations between Washington and Russia, which I really can't understand still, because you have this meeting in Helsinki, then you have all of this going on, the new sanctions against Russia and so forth?

    Carlyle Thayer: Well, America has separation of powers, but it is Congress who votes the money. So anything Trump wants to do that isn't funded, he can't do. And there are limitations on Congress forcing the president to approve an act. So in one sense, they can authorize the money, but he doesn't have to spend it. There's always an out.

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    There's always a waiver. There's always a kind of exception, and I'm sure that if Trump doesn't want to do that, he won't. Or on the other hand, he's so disruptive, if it doesn't capture his attention, he just might allow something underneath like that authorization to go into effect like the sanctions on Russia, at the same time as he wants to improve relations.

    Sputnik: And of course we have China, can you comment a little bit on China? China says that the bill meddles in Chinese affairs, do you agree with that? I know there are 600 pages so it's going to take a while for everybody to even grasp what this bill means, right?

    Carlyle Thayer: Well, it's taken me a week to master the 12 points in the 12 sections __4.40 well But, it basically says we don't trust you. So we have an annual report to Congress that we've mandated in the past and now we're going to add all the special things that any time China puts a single pin on an island in the South China Sea we want it reported back to us.

    We want a strategy to oppose China, we want annual reports, we want an outside agency to review the government reports to make sure they're working. So China is being singled out, but that is no surprise. That's following the national security strategy that Trump has approved, the national defense strategy that he's approved.

    So the policy is there, I mean, that China and Russia are now elevated above international terrorism in the United States. China is a predatory power and America's going to oppose it forming alliances against it, and then Congress has filled in the blanks but they're mainly reporting functions. China can huff and puff and doesn't like the words that are coming out of reports to Congress, but it doesn't force the president to do anything. All the Pentagon has to do is cough up and say: Here, new missiles have been put on this island, here's a picture.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.




    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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