What you get with $54 billion is more or less the status quo. So: Why this number? One reason must be Mick Mulvaney, the former South Carolina congressman turned Trump budget director. He’s more a budget hawk than a defense hawk. And the difference is significant. Privileging the deficit over defense says a lot about Mulvaney’s priorities—as well as this administration’s.
I suspect Defense Secretary Jim Mattis feels differently. As would anyone who wakes up in the morning to news from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Baltic States, Venezuela, the Korean peninsula, the Persian Gulf, the South China Sea, wherever. Anyone who talks to soldiers, sailors, pilots, and technicians about outdated and overused equipment. Anyone who reads about ISIS drone swarms and Russian nuke-capable drone subs.
It’s up to Trump to choose between his accountant and his favorite general. Seems obvious to me. Making the decision all the easier is consideration of politics and economics. National security factored heavily into Trump’s election. Soldiers, veterans, and their families and friends and allies comprise a large part of his base. Spending more on defense would not only fulfill a campaign promise but also reward this important constituency. And nothing bestirs national pride more than the peaceful display of our might—in parades, in flyovers, in exhibitions, in naval exercises.