etired General Jim Mattis became the first confirmed member of Donald Trump’s cabinet in 2017. Mattis boasted a legendary Marine Corps career of 44 years, which is (…hold on, let me double check my math here…OK, yep…) exactly 44 years longer than the military career of the man who nominated him. While heading the Defense Department, Mattis was lovingly referred to by his boss as one of “my generals”, and even earned kind words as he walked out the door after less than two years on the job. In fact, it turned out that Mattis disagreed with his Commander in Chief on virtually everything—Russia, North Korea, China, Syria—even climate change. It was not a good match.
We haven’t had a full-time head of the Defense Department since the Mattis departure. As fill-ins, first there was Patrick Shanahan, who had spent 30 years at Boeing selling weapons to the department he later temporarily headed. After a personal controversy, Shanahan yielded to Mark Esper (currently awaiting Senate confirmation), who earned his career stripes as a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon, where he also previously sold weapons to the department he’ll soon head. By law, once nominated for the full-time job, Esper had to give up his acting title, which has temporarily elevated Richard Spencer (not the neo-Nazi), who has served his country primarily as an investment banker.
Any day now, Esper will become the permanent head of the department. But in the opinion of Guy Snodgrass, a retired U.S. Navy Commander who served under Mattis, this hardly solves the bigger problem. Writing in the Washington Post, he cited a much larger dysfunction:
…(a) long-standing leadership vacuum is compounded by a Pentagon with an acting deputy defense secretary, acting secretary of the Army, acting secretary of the Air Force, acting inspector general, acting assistant defense secretary for international security affairs . . . the list goes on. CNN revealed earlier this month that 19 of the most senior Pentagon positions are either vacant or filled by a temporary acting official. Lower-tier leadership posts are similarly gapped. Friends serving in the Pentagon describe a disordered situation, where no one can speak with confidence regarding the military’s long-term priorities.
For more than half a year, the department has had no permanent head. That’s never happened before in our history. No one to decide strategy, logistics—or the future. But that didn’t stop the department from proposing the largest budget in military history.
This doubly indicts this criminally-inflated theft of U.S. taxpayer dollars which we outlined recently in, Cut the Military Budget—in Half. If you think you pay too much in taxes…and suspect that many of your dollars are misspent…it’s worth the read. This is the true money pit.
Three-quarters of a trillion dollars are budgeted for defense-related expenditures next year. This year, there’s been no one in charge to explain why that's necessary. The budget exploded anyway. Even the department itself can’t identify exactly where all the money will go.
It’s no secret that Trump’s almost endless list of vacancies across key cabinet positions is fueled by the fact that almost no one wants to work for him. It’s an indictment across the board; but in this specific case--figuring out how to defend our country while blithely spending $750 billion a year—it’s indefensible.
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