Donald Trump called for 50,000 more Army troops, more than 70 new Navy warships, 13 new Marine battalions and nearly 100 Air Force planes, proposing a massive surge in defense spending he said is needed to stop the rise of the Islamic State and to be better prepared for other global threats.
The GOP presidential nominee, who’s portrayed himself as a reluctant warrior on the campaign trail, didn’t say how he’d deploy the extra firepower, but said the military had been hollowed out under President Obama and said it’s time to rebuild — at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a year.
“History shows that when America is not prepared is when the danger is by far the greatest,” Mr. Trump said at the Union League in Philadelphia. “We want to deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military strength.”
He said he’d cancel the budget caps — known as sequesters — that have constrained defense spending over the last five years, boosting funding by nearly $500 billion over the next decade. The New York tycoon said he would offset that cost by cutting the civilian workforce across the government, canceling some programs that have escaped congressional scrutiny and force tax scofflaws to pony up.
As for the Islamic State, he did not detail any specific plans, instead saying he’ll demand his generals present him with a new strategy within 30 days of him taking office.
His plans borrowed heavily from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and they won praise from those who say Mr. Obama has eviscerated the military, leaving it unable to fight its current battles, much less face new dangers.
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“I think [the] big picture [of] the state of the military today is not good, so Trump talking about these issues, proposing specific solutions, is something that is encouraging and is something I hope remains through the presidential debate through the fall,” said Justin Johnson, senior policy analyst for defense budgeting policy at Heritage. “No matter who is president, the next president is going to have to deal with a smaller, weaker, older military and rising global threats.”
Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has accused the billionaire businessman of being too much of a risk when it comes to national security.
Reacting to his speech Wednesday, Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri ignored the details and attacked the tone.
“Like a schoolyard bully who can’t rely on facts or issues, Trump has only one way of responding to legitimate criticism of his own vulnerabilities: ‘I know you are, but what am I?’” she said.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump each accuse the other of being unfit to lead America’s armed forces based on temperament, and Mr. Trump also engaged in some trash talk in his speech, calling her “trigger-happy and very unstable.”
He said the policies she pursued as the country’s top diplomat left the Middle East in chaos, and he promised his own policy toward the troubled region will be “tempered by realism.”
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“Unlike my opponent, my foreign policy will emphasize diplomacy, not destruction,” he said. “Hillary Clinton’s legacy in Iraq, Libya and Syria has produced only turmoil and suffering. Her destructive policies have displaced millions of people, then she has invited the refugees into the West with no plan to screen them.”
Mr. Trump has been seeking to assuage concerns over whether he has the policy chops to be president. On Tuesday he released a letter from 88 retired generals and admirals supporting his candidacy.
And on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he trusted Mr. Trump to have his hand on the trigger for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said after Mr. Trump’s address that he still has concerns about both candidates.
“There’s been a number of things both candidates have said that go against the consensus of opinion since World War II,” Mr. Thornberry, Texas Republican, said on MSNBC.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, told MSNBC that Mr. Trump’s address was “good,” but said he wants to see him flesh out his vision some more.
“There were a lot of details that need [to be] filled in,” Mr. Kinzinger said. “I’d love to end the sequester, and how are we going to do that?”
Mr. Trump said he would expand the number of U.S. Army troops to 540,000, the number of Navy ships and submarines to 350 and the number of Air Force combat aircraft to 1,200.
He also said that he would increase the number of Marine battalions to 36 from 23, modernize missile defense and strengthen cybersecurity.
“As part of removing the defense sequester, I will ask Congress to fully offset the cost of increased military spending,” Mr. Trump said. “In the process we will make government leaner and more responsive to the public. I will ask that savings will be accomplished through common-sense reforms that eliminate government waste and budget gimmicks, and that protect, absolutely protect, hard-earned benefits for Americans.”
Mr. Trump did not share a price tag for this plan — though he said the increased costs could be covered by, among other things, shrinking the federal workforce through attrition, collecting unpaid taxes and cutting programs that Congress still spends money on but is no longer monitoring.
He also said that Japan, Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and members of NATO must pay more for their defense needs or that he will ask them to reimburse the U.S.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated Mr. Trump’s offsets covered about $300 billion of the $450 billion price tag.
Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan budget watchdog group, said that the plan, combined with Mr. Trump’s plans on taxes and entitlement programs, “sounds like a very big increase in the debt.”
“You start adding these elements together — it is [a] very large tax cut, a defense buildup and no changes to Social Security and Medicare — and I just don’t see how you pay for it,” Mr. Bixby said. “It is a big increase in spending and a big cut in taxes. I don’t think the magic wand of ‘waste, fraud and abuse’ can take care of that.”