Trump targets Pentagon leaders with ironic criticisms

To hear Trump tell it, Pentagon leaders are corrupt war mongers, principally concerned with arms manufacturers' financial interests. That's ... curious.
This picture taken 26 December 2011 show
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington on Dec. 26, 2011.AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump was already in the midst of an ugly controversy in which he's been accused of denigrating military service. It was against this backdrop that the president held a Labor Day press conference in which he accused his own country's military leaders of being beholden to defense contractors.

"I'm not saying the military is in love with me; the soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren't because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy. But we're getting out of the endless wars."

In American history, there are plenty of examples of presidents disagreeing with the brass on matters large and small, but I'm not aware of any previous instance in which a sitting president effectively told the public that Pentagon leaders are corrupt war mongers, principally concerned with the financial interests of arms manufacturers.

But as strange as it was to see Trump malign the U.S. military during a press conference in which he insisted he doesn't malign the U.S. military, that wasn't the only problem. The president's unscripted comments generated three key questions:

1. "The soldiers" are "in love with" Trump? According to the latest Military Times poll, they're really not.

2. Is Trump standing up to the Military Industrial Complex? It was amusing to see the president make the case that he's unpopular among Pentagon leaders because he stands up to defense contractors, since the truth is the exact opposite. Trump did, after all, name a Raytheon lobbyist as his current Defense secretary, and arms manufacturers have had extensive access to power players in the Republican administration.

For that matter, Trump has spent much of his term bragging to anyone who'll listen about how much money he's thrown at the Pentagon, celebrating "the bombs and the planes and everything else."

MSNBC's Chris Hayes added, "It drives me nuts to watch Trump attempt to position himself as some kind of anti-war president when he has expanded U.S. bombing and civilian casualties in basically every theatre of combat."

3. Is Trump getting the United States "out of the endless wars"? A Washington Post fact-check piece recently explained, "While there have been some relatively minor shifts in distribution -- and since 2017, the Defense Department no longer includes troops in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq in its unclassified, published tallies -- the overall total of those serving abroad is believed to have slightly increased since Barack Obama left office."

Taken together, Trump's incoherent boasts are only impressive to those who haven't paid close enough attention to the details.