When it comes to the art of the deal, at least where arms sales are concerned, American presidents, their administrations, and the Pentagon have long been Trumpian in nature. Their role has been to beat the drums (of war) for the major American weapons makers and it’s been a highly profitable and successful activity. In 2015, for instance, the U.S. once again took the top spot in global weapons sales, $40 billion dollars of them, or a staggering 50.2% of the world market. (Russia came in a distant third with $11.2 billion in sales.) The U.S. also topped sales of weaponry to developing nations. In these years, Washington has, in fact, peddled the products of those arms makers to at least 100 countries, a staggering figure if you stop a moment to think about the violence on this planet. Internationally, in other words, the U.S. has always been an open-carry nation.
Donald Trump has, however, changed this process in one obvious way. He’s shoved the president’s role as arms-purveyor-in-chief in everybody’s face. He did so on his initial trip abroad when, in Riyadh, he bragged ceaselessly about ringing up $110 billion dollars in arms sales to the Saudis. Some of those had, in fact, already been brokered by the Obama administration and some weren’t actually “sales” at all, just “letters of intent.” Still, he took the most fulsome of credit and, when it comes to his “achievements,” exaggeration is, of course, the name of his game.
And he’s just done it again on his blustery jaunt through Japan and South Korea. There, using the North Korean threat, he plugged American weaponry mercilessly (so to speak), while claiming potential deals and future American jobs galore. In the presence of Shinzo Abe, for instance, he swore that the Japanese Prime Minister would “shoot [North Korean missiles] out of the sky when he completes the purchase of a lot of military equipment from the United States.” Both the Japanese and the South Korean leaders, seeing a way into his well-armored heart, humored him relentlessly on the subject and on his claims of bringing home jobs to the U.S. (In fact, one of the weapons systems he was plugging, the F-35, would actually be assembled in Japan!)
Strangely enough, however, the president didn’t bring up an issue he raises regularly when it comes to weapons sales in the United States (at least, sales to white people, not Muslims, with an urge to kill): mental health. Isn’t it curious that, as he peddles some of the more destructive weaponry imaginable across Asia and the Middle East, he never brings that up? Fortunately, expert on American arms sales William Hartung raises the issue today in “Massive Overkill,” an adaptation of a piece he wrote for Sleepwalking to Armageddon: The Threat of Nuclear Annihilation, a book just published by the New Press. You might say that he considers the most mentally unnerving aspect of American arms sales: the way, since the 1950s, the nuclear lobby has sold planet-destroying weaponry of every sort to presidents, the Pentagon, and Congress. And if that doesn’t represent a disturbing mental health record of the first order, what does?
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