Huge Military Budgets Make Us Broke, Not Safe

aerial shot of Pentagon

(Image: Shutterstock)

We’re all tense. Hearing about our fellow citizens in Hawaii scrambling around, looking for a place to hide from a nuclear bomb, will do that to you. So will contests between two unstable world leaders over the size of their nuclear buttons.

Now, some politicians say they’ll protect us by adding massive amounts to the Pentagon budget. This seems like a no-brainer: feel threatened, give more money to the military. But it isn’t.

Practically everyone from the president on down, though, seems to take it as a given. “In confronting these horrible dangers,” Donald Trump said during his State of the Union, “I’m calling on Congress” to “fully fund our great military.”

The president and his party are now looking to add somewhere between $ 30 and $ 70 billion more in military spending to their budget for next year — on top of the increases for this year. Democrats seem willing to go along, with a few caveats.

Nobody seems worried anymore about adding to the financial hole we just dug for ourselves and our children with $ 1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the rich.

It’s true that the military needs predictability, which has been hobbled by politicians who can’t get it together to pass a real budget. Every enterprise, except maybe improv comedy, does. But it’s not true that the military needs more money.

The portrait of a “starved” military, which Trump and his secretary of defense like to complain about, airbrushes out a few facts.

We’re now spending more on the military, adjusted for inflation, than at any time since World War II — including during the Reagan and George W. Bush buildups. We spend more than the next eight countries put together.

Worse still, the military can’t even say what it’s actually spending — it’s still the only federal agency that can’t pass an audit. The brass says they’ll really try this year, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Trusting the Pentagon to rein in its own waste hasn’t worked. Back in 2015, the Pentagon’s own commissioned report found $ 125 billion in administrative waste that could be cut over five years. But then they simply buried the report.

Here’s what we really need to feel safer: Leaders who are working to reduce nuclear tensions rather than rev them up.

Instead, in addition to firing off scary tweets, Trump repeated calls in his State of the Union to “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal,” to the tune of $ 1.7 trillion. Why? The 4,000 nukes we currently have — enough to destroy the entire planet — seem like an adequate deterrent.

Leaders are meanwhile working on designs for new “lower yield” nukes, envisioning them as tools for “limited” nuclear war. That makes nuclear war seem more feasible, and therefore more likely. Feeling safer yet?

And they want to build up the arsenal of conventional weapons, mostly to counter China. But China is expanding its influence around the world not mainly through military spending — its military budget is only a third of ours — but through its civilian investments.

As the U.S. retreats from providing development aid, China is filling the vacuum. As the U.S. cuts off its previous investments in clean energy technology, China has become the solar panel provider to the world.

Our new security strategy, by the way, has also airbrushed out climate change. A military that previously identified climate change as “an urgent and growing threat to national security” is now barred by the administration from talking about it at all.

While we contemplate spending money we don’t have for weapons we don’t need, the urgency of this threat continues to grow.

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Climate Change is a Bigger Threat Than Any Military — Our Budget Should Reflect That

hurricane-harvey-military-climate

(Photo: The National Guard / Flickr)

With the prospect of needing to find billions for recovery from Hurricane Harvey, Congress is heading back to D.C. to vote on raising the debt ceiling. Yet what ought to be a set of straightforward tasks — avoid defaulting on the national debt and shutting down the federal government; pass an annual budget — instead is looking like an epic challenge.

A Congress that can’t agree with itself or with the president on just about anything is mostly agreed on one thing, though: The military needs billions in new money. While most Democrats would only be okay with this as long as the domestic budget also gets a boost, the Republican majority wants to hike the Pentagon budget while cutting just about everything else.

The widespread conviction that the Pentagon needs more money has to face a few facts. For one thing, it now has a bigger budget to work with, adjusting for inflation, than it did during the height of the Reagan buildup. We’re spending more than the next eight countries put together, most of which are our allies. And the Defense Department’s Inspector General reported last year that the Army’s financial statements were “materially misstated” in 2015 to the tune of $ 6.5 trillion.

No wonder it’s the only federal agency that still can’t pass an audit.

Yet Pentagon budget boosters are always on the lookout for new pretexts to make their case. The latest was the collision a couple of weeks ago between a U.S. guided missile destroyer and a tanker off the coast of Singapore. The bodies of the 10 sailors killed hadn’t even been pulled from the water before the talking heads began to opine that they died because the Navy is overstretched.

And what is the remedy? You guessed it. The venerable line that “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” has a corollary. It’s that under these conditions, the only visible solution is to spend more money on hammers. In the Navy’s case, they say, this means spending billions beefing up a 277-ship fleet to the nice round number of 350.

The goal of a 350-ship Navy was dealt a powerful counter-message when Harvey hit the shores of South Texas. While Congress and the administration were focused on paying to project more U.S. military power around the world, it was shortchanging the accounts needed to protect our own shores. The president’s proposed budget would make an 11 percent cut in FEMA’s budget, along with programs across numerous agencies to help people rebuild and make our infrastructure more resilient to withstand future storms.

No quantity of Navy ships could hold back Hurricane Harvey, of course. While the National Guard has a meaningful role to play in the recovery, a 350-ship Navy does not. The real contribution the Navy could make to protect our homeland from future Harveys is in helping to prevent them.

Preventing future attacks is, theoretically, the military’s bread and butter. And it has identified climate change as a major threat to our security. Climate change unquestionably made the storm surging over Texas and Louisiana worse — with warmer water increasing rainfall, the power of storms, and the surges pushed by our sea level itself, which has risen more than a foot since 1960.

The most important work the Navy could do to prevent future Harveys, therefore, is to do its part to slow climate change, in two ways.

First, it must drastically reduce its own greenhouse gas-producing emissions. The Navy actually has the best record among the service branches for its efforts and intentions to do so, but these have become distinct non-priorities in the Trump administration. Second, it needs to support a revised security budget that would apply some military money to help fund a clean energy transition for the U.S. economy as a whole.

Without such investments, we will be failing to address what the military itself calls the “urgent and growing” security threat of climate change. Meanwhile, as one defense consultant put it, “The president needs a better reason for a 350 ship Navy than his desire to command one.”

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To Pay For His Military Budget, Trump Will Have to Cut Services His Base Depends On

At CPAC, Trump vowed to greatly increase the military budget while simultaneously lowering taxes on the middle class, an idea that IPS’ Phyllis Bennis argued is not actually possible unless he also cuts funding to the social services his base depends on.

“I think he’s counting on people not doing the math,” Bennis said. “If you’re cutting everybody’s taxes, you’re not going to have a whole lot of money available for a massive military budget — unless you’re prepared to get that money from slashing social security, Medicare, education, jobs,” things that people in who voted for him strongly rely on.

With 54 cents out of every federal dollar going to the military, there’s already less money  available for jobs, healthcare, and education, an issue that’s only going to get worse if Trump’s proposed military budget goes through, Bennis argued.

“If he’s saying  we have to massively re-fund the military in whole new ways with new amounts  then we’re talking about slashing what’s left of the social safety net — and that’s going to play very, very badly in Trump’s heartland,” Bennis said.

Trump spewed rhetoric about the  U.S. being  unprepared to fight conventional wars as a way to justify building up an arsenal of war planes, submarines, and aircraft carriers. “You’re not talking about going to war against ISIS with an aircraft carrier,” Bennis said. “In that kind of a war, you’re talking about going up against Russia or China.”

This notion of entertaining the possibility of such a war “just speaks to the incredible chaos even at the messaging level,” Bennis said, when you have Trump supporters at the Committee waving Russian flags with ‘Trump’ written across them.

Watch the full interview on the Real News Network.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Trump’s Phony Populism on Military Spending

Pentagon Money

(Photo: oschene / Flickr)

There’s a lot of misdirection going on these days. Anybody whose head hasn’t been spinning over the last couple of weeks has probably been in a nice news blackout somewhere.

We’ll all need some strategies if we’re going to stay sane. One is making sure that in the midst of the controversy of the day, we keep track of the big picture. Here’s one attempt along those lines.

Donald Trump has been taking credit for cutting $ 600 million from the contract for the biggest Pentagon buy in history: the F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter” plane.

There will be all sorts of maneuvering to stop those cuts. But if they actually happen, they’ll shave some money off an outrageously expensive plane that’s drawn the ire of budget hawks for years.

Unfortunately for Trump, a few reporters have debunked his claim to credit for the price cut, pointing out that the contractor and the government had already agreed to it before Trump ever talked to them.

But let’s stand back to get a better view, since this is a bigger problem than just another Trump lie.

For starters, we shouldn’t be buying any F-35s. It’s a terrible plane.

It’s been in development for more than 20 years. New flaws have been discovered all along the way — the latest round of tests alone found 276 different faults. And it weighs too much, so the fix for this has involved — wait for it — removing fire protections for the pilots (who are flying a plane that’s definitely prone to fire.)

Attempting to fix all these problems has sent the price ever higher. The total program estimate is now $ 1.5 trillion, making it the most expensive weapon system in U.S. history.

The stop-the-F-35 crowd is bipartisan. John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the F-35’s record on cost, schedule, and performance “a scandal and a tragedy.” And a writer for the conservative National Review flatly declared that the program couldn’t be fixed and needed to be canceled. He’s right.

Trump wants to impress us with his tough talk about hard bargaining with the crony capitalist Pentagon contractors. But we shouldn’t be impressed. Trump’s plans for boosting the defense budget will be the biggest boon those folks have had in years.

For the record, we already give the Pentagon more money to spread around than it’s had since World War II. More than the next seven or eight countries put together, depending on whose numbers you use.

Increases to the Pentagon budget have been kept modest in recent years because of 10-year spending caps Congress set a few years ago on Pentagon spending and on things like transportation, education, and clean air and water — the works, basically.

The new administration wants to get rid of these caps, but only for the Pentagon. No more ceiling on military spending, they say — the sky’s the limit.

With this display of “hard bargaining,” Trump’s laying claim to defending taxpayers and workers. Don’t buy it. Economists at the University of Massachusetts have repeatedly shown that a billion dollars given to the Pentagon creates fewer jobs than the same amount invested in education, health care, or transportation.

Taxpayers and workers, in other words, would get more bang for their buck making things we actually need, instead of building ever fancier ways to kill people.

This is phony populism, and we can’t let him get away with it.

The post Trump’s Phony Populism on Military Spending appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Miriam Pemberton is the director of the Peace Economy Transitions Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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This Could Be the Year to Close America’s Surplus Military Bases

Philadelphia Naval Shipyard

(Photo: Robert J. Sitar / Wikimedia Commons)

Describing the current policy landscape as “turbulent” would be understating things.

But some things haven’t changed. Like the perennial effort to convene a new Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) to look at shuttering military bases that the Pentagon doesn’t need. And the pushback from members of Congress who are hell bent on shutting down any discussion of this.

They’ve been successful with the shutdown for 11 years now. But this year may be different.

In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense budget last week, Sen. John McCain, who chairs the Committee, accused his colleagues of “cowardice” in refusing to even talk about convening a process to decide which facilities should be closed and repurposed.

The Pentagon has estimated that the previous base closure rounds have saved taxpayers about $ 12 billion each year. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who pledged to go after Pentagon waste in his confirmation hearings, should be interested.

Will Congress be?

Read the full article on The Hill.

The post This Could Be the Year to Close America’s Surplus Military Bases appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Miriam Pemberton is the director of the Peace Economic Transitions Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Civilian Control of the Military is Core to Our Democracy

“What we need is a civilian, not a war-monger,” Phyllis Bennis told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell in regards to Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis.

Mattis has only retired from the military three years ago, which goes against the law that the defense secretary cannot have served in the past seven years.

A core principle of our democracy is civilian control of the military, Bennis said. But what’s also troubling is General Mattis in particular.

This is a general who hasn’t come out of the war wary of fighting again, Bennis said. “The name ‘mad dog Mattis’ didn’t come out of the sky.”

Bennis adds that Mattis has glorified killing and has said that he loves to kill. “These are not the words of a person who is thoughtful or cautious about going into war,” Bennis said.

Former DOD Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash argued that Mattis has had a significant “cooling off’ period” from the military. But Bennis reminds us that Mattis has been on the board of General Dynamics since his retirement.

“Someone who has spent his years with a corporation like General Dynamics, which is one of the most powerful military corporations, has not left the military behind,” Bennis said.

Watch the full interview here.

The post Civilian Control of the Military is Core to Our Democracy appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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In Second Debate, Clinton Escalates Her Call for a Military Solution in Syria

In the second presidential debate, Phyllis Bennis told the Real News Network, Trump gave no insight into how he’d proceed in U.S. dealings with Syria beyond vaguely stating that he would “get” ISIS.  Hillary Clinton, on the other hand actually escalated what’s been her already highly-militarized set of proposals for the region.

Clinton added to her plan for a so-called no-fly-zone: the assassination of the leader of ISIS and additional arms to the Kurds. Killing the leader of ISIS will only leave the role easily-filled by other ISIS leaders, Bennis said, and when talking of arming the Kurds, Clinton made no mention of how that would impact the U.S.’ relationship with NATO ally Turkey.

As for establishing a no-fly-zone, Bennis said that failing to explain how we’d do so without evoking war with Russia is “thoroughly irresponsible.”

Bennis also challenged the U.S. on insisting that Russia and Iran stop arming the Assad regime, when the U.S. is guilty of supplying weapons to the opposition.

“As long as the U.S. is arming everybody and their brother on the other side, they’ve got no credibility to ask the Russians to stop arming the Syrian regime,” Bennis said.

The same goes for Secretary of State John Kerry calling on nations to be accountable for war crimes. “There should be accountability for war crimes,” Bennis said. “But it’s not going to happen as a result of the one-off political posturing of U.S. diplomats” when the U.S. itself is bombing in Syria and enabling war crimes like the most recent Saudi-attack on a funeral home in Yemen.

Bennis later challenged the U.S. on insisting that Russia and Iran stop arming the Assad regime, when the U.S. is guilty of the same, in that they directly, and through allies, supply weapons to the opposition.

“As long as the U.S. is arming everybody and their brother on the other side, they’ve got no credibility to ask the Russians to stop arming the Syrian regime.”

Listen to the full interview on The Real News Network’s website.

The post In Second Debate, Clinton Escalates Her Call for a Military Solution in Syria appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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U.S. Military Names Climate Change an Urgent Threat, But Where’s the Money?

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(Photo: Tobin / Flickr)

Our military calls climate change “an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water.”

And this month the Obama administration announced a comprehensive strategy to incorporate climate change into our national security strategy. But there was no mention of money: how much this would cost or where the money would come from.

Next month, we’ll know whether we’ll have a climate denier or an advocate for climate action in the White House, and a Congress either continuing to resist or ready to tackle this threat. They’ll need to know what we’re currently spending as a baseline for debate over what we need to spend. Next to regulation, money is the key tool government has to spur CO2 reductions in the atmosphere.

But the federal government hasn’t produced a climate change budget since 2013. Meanwhile, we’re at the white-hot center of the refugee crisis in Syria. And though the conditions leading to this tragedy were laid by geopolitics and internal politics, one of the worst long-term droughts in history that gripped the country from 2006 to 2010 also played a major role.

Read full article on U.S. News & World Report’s website.

The post U.S. Military Names Climate Change an Urgent Threat, But Where’s the Money? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Miriam Pemberton directs the Peace Economy Transitions program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Record $38 Billion in Military Aid to Israel is a “Statement of Absolute Support” for Israeli Occupation

“The package is again a statement of absolute support for Israeli occupation, colonization, and apartheid,” Phyllis Bennis told the Real News Network in response to the $ 38 billion package of U.S. military aid promised to Israel.

Bennis said this deal is not about Israeli defenses. The Obama administration has said that Israeli’s occupation of Palestine is not sustainable. But it becomes sustainable, Bennis said, when the U.S. finances billions in American tax dollars, “more than has been given to any other country for military assistance, including even Iraq in the ten years of the Iraq War, from 2003 to 2011.”

Bennis called the amount of money “outrageous,” for the 23rd wealtlhiest country in the world. She also said that to call the stipulation that Israel must spend some of the aid on the U.S. war industry rather than building their own a concession “simply doesn’t stand up,” as that standard applies to all of the other countries the U.S. provides aid to.

As for the provision that Israel is not to ask for more money unless there’s an emergency, Bennis said, “As we know, Israel creates the emergencies. Israel is the one who goes to war against Gaza and then demands that the U.S. send more bullets when they use them up, or more planes or more bombs.”

Independent journalist Rania Khalek said it’s “stunning” that Israel is prioritized over the interests of Americans during a time when “our government seems to be incapable of providing basic services in parts of this country, like clean drinking water and like functioning schools.”

“We’re able to always come up with this money to spend to not only enable but literally fund Israel’s ongoing destruction of Palestinian families and communities,” Khalek said.

This comes at a time when, Khalek said, the current Israeli government is the most racist government that’s been elected in Israel’s history. She said government officials have called for beheadings of disloyal Palestinians, “ISIS language,” and slaughtering  mothers in their beds to prevent them from birthing ‘little snakes,’ “the language of genocide.”

“We’re arming this government and giving them the weapons they need to commit absolute savagery against a totally defenseless population,” Khalek said.

Bennis says Obama is “seriously misreading” where the American people are on the Palestinian question.

“The public discourse on this question has shifted,” she said. “There is massive opposition to Israeli actions in the United States today, particularly importantly in the Jewish community, where there’s been an enormous shift in that discourse.”

Obama has had public confrontations with Netanyahu, Bennis explained, but if the administration continues to give billions in military aid every year to Israel, and continue to “provide absolute impunity at the United Nations, using their veto or a threat of veto or a threat of other punishments to make sure that Israel is never held accountable for its potential war crimes,  that’s what matters in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and all the rest is just words.”

Watch the full interview on the Real News Network’s website.

The post Record $ 38 Billion in Military Aid to Israel is a “Statement of Absolute Support” for Israeli Occupation appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Would Americans Ever Back a U.S. Military Coup?

turkey-coup-erdogan

(Photo: deepspace / Shutterstock.com)

News of the military coup in Turkey was dribbling in on Saturday afternoon when I was having lunch with a group of six friends in West Virginia. Suddenly, one person looked up from her salad and said, “If Trump gets elected, I’d support a military coup in this country.” At least one other person at the table seconded her opinion.

I was astonished. Since when had the “military option” become a viable political strategy in the United States? Maybe it was the ghost of John Brown or something in the drinking water out there near Harpers Ferry. Or perhaps the peculiar conjunction of Turkey and Trump had elicited what must surely be an unpopular sentiment in America.

Then I did some research. It turns out that the views around the table matched those of average Americans. According to a September 2015 poll by YouGov, nearly one-third of respondents (29 percent) “could imagine a situation in which they would support the military seizing control of the federal government.” That number went up to 43 percent in a hypothetical situation in which the government was beginning to violate the U.S. constitution.

Back in September, Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to back the coup scenario. It would be interesting to redo the poll today, as voters begin to contemplate a Trump presidency. Consider, for instance, journalist and Bernie Sanders supporter Shaun King, who recently created a firestorm on the right when he tweeted, “If Donald Trump becomes President, you are fooling yourself if you think we’re far from having a coup our own selves. I’m dead serious.”

Trump’s rhetorical flouting of international and national laws has prompted many an unexpected speculation. In an interview with Bill Maher back in February, ex-CIA head Michael Hayden talked about Trump’s pledge to kill the family members of terrorists. Hayden said:

“If he were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.”

“That’s quite a statement, sir,” Maher said.

“You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Hayden added. “That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.”

“You’ve given us a great reason not to support Trump. There would be a coup in this country,” Maher joked.

Hayden said he didn’t mean to imply that the military would provoke “a coup.”

Indeed, many members of the military brass would likely resign rather than openly defy their commander in chief. As for the rank and file, they support Trump over Clinton two to one. But that doesn’t mean they’re particularly enthusiastic about the choice. According to a Military Times poll, “More than 61 percent indicated they are ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with Trump as the Republican nominee, including 28 percent of those who intend to vote for him.” It’s hard to predict from these statistics how the military would respond if a Trump administration began to shred the constitution.

But it’s not hard to predict how Americans feel about the military overall. Americans have long trusted the military more than any other institution in society. In 2016, according to Gallup, Congress achieved a 9 percent trust rating, the Supreme Court and the presidency 36 percent, organized religion 41 percent, the police 56 percent, and at the top of the list, the military at 73 percent. Only small business has ever approached the same level of trust as the military, according to the averages Gallup has collected over 43 years.

So, it’s no real surprise that, when given a choice, Americans would lean toward the military to safeguard their laws and their liberty. But before you start weighing the relative merits of accepting either Trump or the U.S. military going rogue – the former upending the constitution and the latter sticking up for it – let’s take a closer look at what just transpired in Turkey.

Keystone Kops Craft Kemalist Coup

When it comes to coups, the Turkish military should be the experts. After all, they’ve successfully executed 3.5 of them over the last half-century: in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997 (the last being a half-coup since the military, rather than intervening directly, pressured the government to resign).

It’s been nearly 20 years since this last half-coup, and obviously the Turkish military has gotten rusty after deviating from its once-a-decade routine. Last weekend, the coup leaders looked more like rank amateurs than seasoned pros. They failed to take out or otherwise neutralize President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was vacationing on the Mediterranean coast at the time. They seized control of the least important state TV channel. They didn’t secure important government buildings. They told their supporters to go home and then fired on the civilians who did come out onto the streets. They seemed to have forgotten about the existence of social media. They weren’t even able to forge a pro-coup consensus within the military itself.

The attempt was so botched that it generated numerous conspiracy theories – that Erdogan had engineered the whole thing, that the president had heard rumblings and deliberately ignored them, that the Americans were somehow behind it all.

The truth is much more mundane. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have been weakening the military for more than a decade, systematically working to remove the military’s influence on government. They’ve used earlier coup rumors to go after military officers – as well as journalists and officials – supposedly involved in a “deep state” controlling Turkish politics behind the scenes. As a result, the Turkish military is a far cry from the all-powerful institution of the 1970s and 1980s.

I was convinced, after visiting Istanbul in 2013, that the military had become a spent force. At the time I wrote:

The AKP has effectively contained the Turkish military through judicial and constitutional means. The threat of a coup, so prevalent in modern Turkish history, has largely disappeared. Not only have constitutional changes and court cases reduced the power of the army, the Erdogan government has also come close to resolving the decades-long civil war with the Kurdish PKK. The end of this conflict would go a long way toward removing the military from public affairs.

But then the Erdogan government decided to initiate two wars: against the Gulen movement and against the Kurds. The Gulen movement, named for its leader Fethullah Gulen who currently lives in the United States, preaches a liberal variety of Islam and runs a number of schools worldwide. It was also a major supporter of Erdogan and the AKP. But Erdogan began to worry about the spreading influence of Gulen supporters in the police, the judiciary, and the government itself. They began to resemble the “deep state” that Erdogan wanted to extirpate. In late 2013, he turned against the Gulen movement. The Erdogan government subsequently accused Gulen of orchestrating the coup and has demanded that the United States extradite him.

Meanwhile, Erdogan was concerned that domestically the Kurdish minority stood in the way of greater centralized power in Ankara and that Kurds in Syria stood in the way of greater Turkish influence over the outcome of the war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But taking on the Kurds meant ushering the military back into public life in Turkey. As Erdogan pushed for a new constitution to grant the presidency more powers and cracked down on any segments of society that might stymie his ambitions, he had to ensure that at least part of the military was on his side.

Some in the military were not happy with the bargain, whether because they disapproved of Erdogan’s power grab, the campaign against Gulen or the renewed conflict with the Kurds, or the AKP’s challenge to the Kemalist tradition, which respects a strict division between religion and state. According to the statement they released to the press, the coupsters offered to restore precisely what many in Turkey believe Erdogan has taken away from them: “Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the general security that was damaged.”

If they couldn’t count on the military closing ranks behind them, the coup leaders at least needed the support of the Turkish population. This wasn’t going to be easy, given that Erdogan’s party won around 50 percent of the vote in the last election. Even Turks who vehemently oppose Erdogan and would agree with the content of the coup statement did not believe that the military was the agent of their salvation. “The worst democracy is better than the best coup,” one Turkish liberal told The New York Times.

Having quashed the coup, Erdogan is moving quickly to consolidate his advantage by purging the military and the courts. The Turkish government has detained more than 7,500 people, including 2,800 officers and soldiers and more than 100 generals and admirals, and dismissed 2,700 judges and 9,000 civil servants. Most recently, the government suspended more than 15,000 educators and asked 1,500 university deans to resign. Call it a counter-coup, but it’s just an industrial-strength version of what Erdogan has been up to now for several years. In fact, for the government to act so quickly, it must have had lists of its targets drawn up well in advance.

That doesn’t mean that Erdogan planned the coup. It just means that sometimes your adversaries help clear your path to power.

Which brings us back to the Donald.

A Man, A Plan, A Coup

According to the aforementioned YouGov poll, 43 percent of Republicans could imagine the necessity of a military coup in the United States, rising to 55 percent in the event of constitutional violations. Those numbers look a lot like the kind of support Donald Trump enjoyed during the Republican primaries when a plurality, but not a majority, voted for him. Only when the primary season was coming to an end did his numbers rise above 50 percent among Republican voters.

It’s tempting to conclude that the same folks who approve of a military intervention into politics support Donald Trump’s intervention into politics. Trump is, in a way, a one-man coup. He is an outsider. He has contempt for the normal workings of democracy. As he has amply demonstrated in his dealings in the business world, he rules by fiat and by twisting arms.

But the mechanism by which Trump seizes power will not be a coup. For the moment at least, the ballot box still rules. If he manages to attain the White House in November, it will not because of the brilliant organizing of the Republican Party, which is divided, feckless, and craven. It will be because his adversaries hand him the opportunity on a platter.

I know Recep Tayyip Erdogan – well, not really – and Donald Trump is no Erdogan. But the Donald’s will to power is comparable. It’s up to Trump’s adversaries to prevent him from crowning himself president – or else there will be many more conversations next fall about the plusses and minuses of military coups.

The post Would Americans Ever Back a U.S. Military Coup? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer directs Foreign Policy in Focus, a project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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