In May of 2016, Donald Trump embarked on his first overseas presidential trip. He started by visiting Saudi Arabia, then flew to Israel, then stopped by Italy and even met Pope Francis in the Vatican. He left the Pope’s office saying that he was more determined than ever “to pursue peace in the world.”
Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world. pic.twitter.com/JzJDy7pllI— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2017
Trump’s next stop was Brussels, where NATO leaders gathered for the alliance’s annual summit. Events in Brussels probably looked a bit odd right after the Vatican meeting, since NATO is among the world's less peaceful organizations, with its history of involvement in armed conflicts, some of which, like in Libya or Afghanistan, are still simmering.
But pursuing peace wasn’t first on Trump’s agenda in Brussels. He wanted to talk to NATO leaders about money – the money they failed to allocate for defense needs. Even Germany, which hosts the largest number of US overseas military bases, isn’t doing enough to pay what it needs to for NATO’s needs, according to Trump, since it only spends 1.22 percent of its GDP on defense rather than the previously agreed-upon 2 percent. So, basically, Trump was trying to convince alliance members to increase spending on military needs – precisely what he was planning to do at home.
One of Trump’s campaign promises was to increase the size of the US Army to 540,000 active duty soldiers from 460,000, which was the final number when Obama was leaving office. In the process, Trump decided to cut some of them by placing a formal ban on transsexuals serving in the military. The apple of discord with the transgender community, according to the US Commander in Chief, was the same as with America’s non-paying NATO allies – money.
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
Trump went on a long Twitter tirade, claiming that “the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail” stood in the way of decisive and overwhelming victory, which the armed forces should be focused on. In August 2017, Time magazine reported that the “tremendous medical costs” mentioned by Trump could be somewhere between $4.2 million and $8.4 million, which is almost nothing compared to Pentagon’s other programs.
However, medical costs for transsexuals serving in the army seemed like a penny on the dollar compared to the bigger financial game that Trump and his administration were concerned about. In September this year, the US Senate passed the $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act. Besides the main budget for 2018, which will give pay raises and additional bonuses to US servicemen, the bill specifically allocated $60 billion for the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations – simply put, wars abroad.
So, no matter how convincing Trump’s peace tweets look, with increased US military spending and with NATO’s possible additional defense expenditures, the world is likely to become even more militarized, possibly with fuses being lit for new armed confrontations.
But whether the Pentagon’s super-soldiers, state-of-the-art navy ships or 5th- and 6th-generation fighter jets will be equally effective in protecting Americans and the citizens of other countries from a vast array of modern threats, including terrorism, remains to be seen.