Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Trump flip-flops back to anti-war stance

Trump back to slamming Middle East wars as he pushes infrastructure spending

13 February, 2018

US President Donald Trump has revived the anti-war rhetoric of his election campaign days. Promising to boost infrastructure investment, he bashed the “stupidity” of spending $7 trillion on Middle East conflicts.

This will be a big week for infrastructure,” Trump tweeted on Monday morning. “After so stupidly spending $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is now time to start investing in OUR Country!”

This will be a big week for Infrastructure. After so stupidly spending $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is now time to start investing in OUR Country!

Trump did not explain where he got the figure of $7 trillion from, or what data it was based on.

The Washington Post claimed the US had spent $1.8 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although that estimate doubles to $3.6 trillion once indirect costs are factored in, according to a September 2016 Brown University study.

While Afghanistan is in Central Asia, US politicians typically refer to it as the Middle East.

Professors from Harvard Kennedy estimated in a 2013 working paper that the two wars would ultimately cost $4 trillion to $6 trillion.

US taxpayers also pay a fortune in military aid to Israel – delivered in the form of arms made by US firms. In 2016 Washington pledged another $38 billion in such aid over the next 10 years.

Unveiling the White House budget proposal on Monday, Trump earmarked $1.5 trillion for infrastructure out of a $4.4 trillion budget.

He called it “a roadmap for the Congress to draft and pass the most comprehensive infrastructure bill in our Nation’s history.”

Trump also asked for $686 billion in defense spending as part of a total $716 billion national security request. That included $617 billion in base budget expenditure and $69 billion in wartime spending.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said the two-year funding plan would take the military “back to a position of primacy.”

Before his election in 2016, Trump repeatedly spoke out against the cost of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – although he also accused his predecessor Barack Obama of failing to act to nip in the bud such groups as the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Last year, however, he surrendered to demands from Mattis and top commanders in Afghanistan to boost troop numbers there by 4,000. That was in a bid to turn the tide against a resurgent Taliban, which now controls around half the country, 16 years after former president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks.

The proposal, to be debated on Capitol Hill, will also provide “for a robust and rebuilt national defense,” White House budget office chief Mick Mulvaney said in a statement on Sunday night.

Last month the Department of Defense began – unannounced – to withdraw troops from Iraq and re-deploy them to Afghanistan. On Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s national security adviser told Britain’s Daily Telegraph that plan would only lead to the “prolonged agony” of a “perpetual war.”

"The new administration has opted for the old failed recipe, a recipe that has been tried for the past 16 years,” Nasir Khan Janjua said.

It is about winning the war, not finding a way to end it,” he said. “The Pakistani recipe is reconciliation and a negotiated settlement.”

The Pentagon has also doubled down on support for the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), despite Trump’s promise to NATO-ally Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to suspend aid for the militias.

The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish separatist People’s Protection Units (YPG), whose parent organization, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the sister-party of Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization in the US and across the EU.

White House Releases 55-Page, $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan


13 February, 2018

Just like Trump promised during his State of the Union address late last month, the White House has released an infrastructure package Monday that hopes to raise $1.5 trillion to help rebuild American roads, bridges and airports.

Since the initial draft was leaked last month, Trump has raised his fundraising goal to $1.5 trillion from $1 trillion.

Most of the 55-page plan's most salient details were leaked overnight.

At its core, the proposal will use the $200 billion, to be disbursed over a decade, as seed money to incentivize states, localities and the private sector to commit to spending the balance of the headline number...

It will also streamline the permitting process and improve training to get qualified workers ready to work on rural infrastructure projects...

However, Democrats have complained the plan relies too heavily on municipalities and states, and doesn't provide enough federal funding to have much of an impact. Some have described it as a "bait-and-switch" since it's unclear if the White House will be able to raise the headline number.

The White House's updated proposal was released Monday ahead of an 11 am meeting between Trump and mayors of cities and other l The $200 billion in federal spending will also be included in the White House's budget map, also to be released Monday, following a bipartisan deal last week that eliminated years-old spending caps, setting the stage for a two-year budget agreement.

And as CBS points out, Trump's plan leaves a little something to be desired...

But there's one major hole in the White House's proposal — Mr. Trump's plan relies almost entirely on funding from entities outside the control of the federal government. Only $200 billion of the $1.5 trillion proposal would come from new federal funding. The White House would offset the new spending with unspecified cuts in other areas of the budget. The rest is expected to come from state and local governments and private investment.

According to the Washington Post, the plan has plenty of details (unlike the early drafts of Trump's tax-reform package) but few guarantees about how it will all be paid for. In one particularly galling section, it even suggests cutting money from existing infrastructure plans and reallocating it to the Trump plan.

For now, the White House is suggesting that lawmakers cut money from elsewhere in the budget, including some existing infrastructure programs. That prospect seems unlikely given that Congress just last week reached a bipartisan deal to spend significantly more funds over the coming two years.

Per Politico, the plan is a statement of principles that Congress will have to translate into legislation, potentially leaving the fate of Trump’s proposal in the hands of 11 House and Senate committees that oversee slices of the policies in play. The kickoff will include a Monday briefing with state and local officials.

While light on federal money the proposal "could inspire a wave of toll roads, ease decades-old regulations and permanently change cities' and states' expectations for assistance from Washington. ...

Some critics have also blasted the plan's lack of funding to rebuild the tunnels beneath the Hudson River used to ferry commuters from New Jersey to New York City's Penn Station.

Several lawmakers said they don't expect the plan to pass in its current form since it would need 60 votes to clear the Senate. Without more commitments of federal funding, the plan is likely "dead on arrival", one lawmaker said.

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