Speaking on Monday, President Trump once again decried the so-called “endless wars,” claiming that U.S. soldiers are “in love with” him because he is extricating America from those conflicts. However, Trump added, the “top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t [in love with me] 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.”
President Trump made this comment in the wake of an unflattering piece published by The Atlantic, in which anonymous sources claimed that he has disparaged fallen soldiers and wounded veterans. That story clearly put the president on the defensive, so he lashed out. His response was another example of how poisonous the “endless wars” rhetoric has become.
One can question or criticize America’s reaction to the September 11 hijackings, or even argue that the U.S. military no longer needs to fight the terrorists overseas, without impugning the motives of others who disagree. But President Trump chose to malign the intentions of those leading his own Department of Defense. It’s a nasty smear, and one that is also grossly inaccurate.
Anyone who has been watching the Pentagon these past several years knows that it has become obsessed with “great power competition.” China and Russia are the near-peer foes the DoD wants to focus on—not the comparatively small-time jihadists. This shift in priorities was enshrined in the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, which lists terrorist threats as subordinate to both “strategic competition” with the “revisionist powers” (meaning China and Russia), as well as the challenges posed by “rogue regimes” such as Iran and North Korea. The 2018 strategy document did not fall out of the sky. As I’ve written previously, the U.S. military had already pivoted away from large-scale deployments to fight the jihadists during President Obama’s two terms. That reduced footprint increased only slightly under President Trump.