Home/The State of the Union/Before COVID Strong, Navarro Was Big War’s Man in the White House

Before COVID Strong, Navarro Was Big War’s Man in the White House

Trump's dedication to Raytheon and foreign weapons sales has been a bigger priority than we thought.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro at the White House on April 2, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

In the battle between Trump’s stated desire to extract the U.S. from unnecessary wars in the Middle East and his dedication to making the defense industry boom, it seems that the president has been more laser focused on the latter.

According to an exhaustive report in The New York Times  on Saturday, his administration has made a deliberate effort to grease the skids for U.S. weapons manufacturers since he was inaugurated, using the unpopular war in Yemen to increase total U.S. arms sales to $51 billion a year (the weapons market totaled about $36 billion under Obama.) According to new documents obtained by the paper, when Senator Mike Lee wanted to cut off the weapons to Saudi Arabia (which is responsible for most of the human carnage there) in 2017, it was Trump’s trade guru Peter Navarro (you know, the guy who has been successful at arguing the president’s America First manufacturing plan during COVID), who put a stop to it. From the NYT piece by Michael LaForgia and Walt Bogdonich:

Weapons supplied by American companies, approved by American officials, allowed Saudi Arabia to pursue the reckless campaign. But in June 2017, an influential Republican senator decided to cut them off, by withholding approval for new sales. It was a moment that might have stopped the slaughter.

Not under President Trump.

With billions at stake, one of the president’s favored aides, the combative trade adviser Peter Navarro, made it his mission to reverse the senator. Mr. Navarro, after consulting with American arms makers, wrote a memo to Jared Kushner and other top White House officials calling for an intervention, possibly by Mr. Trump himself. He titled it “Trump Mideast arms sales deal in extreme jeopardy, job losses imminent.”

Within weeks, the Saudis were once again free to buy American weapons.

According to their reporting, Navarro’s role as a conduit between the administration and the defense firms has paid off big especially for Raytheon, which was crawling out of a financial hole when Trump came in. Thanks to a more aggressive push for sales by the State Department, which oversees the foreign arms market, Navarro’s facilitation, and full scale lobbying by Raytheon, the arms manufacturer has thrived off the war in Yemen. More:

Intent on pushing the deals through, Raytheon followed the industry playbook: It took advantage of federal loopholes by sending former State Department officials, who were not required to be registered as lobbyists, to press their former colleagues to approve the sales.

And though the company was already embedded in Washington — its chief lobbyist, Mark Esper, would become Army secretary and then defense secretary under Mr. Trump — Raytheon executives sought even closer ties.

They assiduously courted Mr. Navarro, who intervened with White House officials on Raytheon’s behalf and successfully pressured the State Department, diminished under Mr. Trump, to process the most contentious deals.

They also enlisted the help of David J. Urban, a lobbyist whose close ties to Mr. Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo go back to the 1980s, when all three men were at West Point.

I’ve said it a million times before, but welcome to the swamp. There was always the hope that Trump’s “better angels” on one shoulder— telling him to turn U.S. resources and attention back home by ending our involvement in military interventions overseas—could knock those fat venal creatures off the other shoulder. You know, the ones who’ve convinced him that blowing up people in other countries’ wars is good for business back home.

If this administration has taught us anything, however, it is that the defense industry has the ability to devour any president as long as it knows his weaknesses. For Trump, it is his desperation to outdo his predecessor and be able to say he has “created an amazing economy” no matter the cost. It won’t be long until the truth is revealed: you cannot “end wars” if your chief constituency is a war making machine. Furthermore, if  Navarro’s “hard stance against China was well known,” it would make his role in the president’s new resolve to face “the threat” that more auspicious, especially if he’s already serving as the administration’s point man with the defense industry. Something to chew on.

 

about the author

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, executive editor, has been writing for TAC since 2007, focusing on national security, foreign policy, civil liberties and domestic politics. She served for 15 years as a Washington bureau reporter for FoxNews.com, and at WTOP News in Washington from 2013-2017 as a writer, digital editor and social media strategist. She has also worked as a beat reporter at Bridge News financial wire (now part of Reuters) and Homeland Security Today, and as a regular contributor at Antiwar.com. A native Nutmegger, she got her start in Connecticut newspapers, but now resides with her family in Arlington, Va.

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