Trump vows 'one of greatest military build-ups in US history'

A supporter wearing patriotic clothing listening as US President Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday in Maryland. Mr Trump reiterated his election campaign themes.
A supporter wearing patriotic clothing listening as US President Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday in Maryland. Mr Trump reiterated his election campaign themes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He also extols nationalist themes to support base in campaign-style rally

NATIONAL HARBOR (Maryland) • United States President Donald Trump has said he would make a massive budget request for one of the "greatest military build-ups in American history", in a feisty, campaign-style speech extolling robust nationalism to eager conservative activists.

Mr Trump used remarks on Friday to the Conservative Political Action Conference, an organisation that gave him one of his first platforms on his improbable journey to the US presidency, to defend his unabashed America First policies.

Ahead of a nationally televised speech to Congress on Tuesday, Mr Trump outlined plans for strengthening the US military, already the world's most powerful fighting force, and other initiatives such as tax reform and regulatory rollback.

He offered few specifics on any initiatives, including the budget request that is likely to face a harsh reality on Capitol Hill: At a time when he wants to slash taxes for Americans, funding a major military build-up without spending cuts elsewhere would add substantially to the US Budget deficit.

Mr Trump declared: "The era of empty talk is over. It's over. Now is the time for action."

He said his administration was "putting in a massive budget request for our beloved military" to carry out substantial upgrades.

"Offensive. Defensive. Everything. Bigger and better and stronger than ever before." He added: "And, hopefully, we'll never have to use it, but nobody is going to mess with us. Nobody. It will be one of the greatest military build-ups in American history."

Appealing to people on welfare to go to work and pledging to follow through on his vow to build a wall on the US-Mexican border, Mr Trump drew rounds of applause from the large gathering of conservatives, many of them wearing hats emblazoned with the president's campaign slogan Make America Great Again.

His speech was heavy on the nationalist overtones from his campaign last year, focusing on promises to boost US economic growth by retooling international trade deals, cracking down on immigration and boosting energy production.

Mr Trump is looking to put behind him a rocky first month in office. An executive order he signed aimed at banning US entry by people from seven Muslim-majority countries became embroiled in the courts, and he had to fire his national security adviser Michael Flynn for having contact with Russians before Mr Trump took office.

With the federal Budget still running a large deficit, Mr Trump will have to fight to get higher military spending through Congress.

In his speech, he complained about spending caps put in place on the defence budget dating back to 2011.

He also heaped criticism on what he called purveyors of "fake news", seeking to clarify a recent tweet in which he said some in the US news media should be considered an "enemy of the people". He said his main beef was the media's use of anonymous sources. "They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be out there," Mr Trump said.

His comments came on the same day CNN reported that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) deputy director Andrew McCabe to deny a Feb 14 report in the New York Times that said Mr Trump's presidential campaign advisers had been in frequent contact with Russian intelligence officers. The request came after Mr McCabe told him privately the report was wrong.

A senior administration official said on Friday that FBI director James Comey told Mr Priebus later that the story was not accurate.

Mr Priebus asked if the FBI could set the record straight, but Mr Comey said the bureau could not comment, the official said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Trump vows 'one of greatest military build-ups in US history''. Print Edition | Subscribe