Up in the Air

Yeah, it’s about the Boeing thing.

Full disclosure: I love Air Force One. I think it’s one of the coolest aircraft ever built, and just the idea that our executive branch can run the country from a sky fortress tickles me as a science fiction writer in ways that aren’t polite to discuss on the Internet.

Which is weird because everything is polite to discuss on the Internet, unless of course you’re our incoming President.

Mr. Trump today tweeted that a replacement for Air Force One was going to cost $4 billion and that he wanted to cancel the order. Boeing, which is the only company that could fulfill such a plane order, plummeted briefly— despite the fact that Trump was incorrect and we have not yet ordered a new plane. What we *have* done is budgeted $2.7 billion to develop one and contracted with Boeing for $170 million to explore how that research and development should proceed.

All told, the flyaway cost of two new planes to serve as Air Force One was supposed to come out to $3.2 bn, though it is possible that it could have gone to $4 billion. Still, that number appears to be something that Mr. Trump estimated himself, not something based on reality.

There are some sides to this story that take digging to put together. For one thing, Trump must have gotten this $4 billion number from somewhere, and it adds to the worry that Trump is listening to inaccurate information coming from close advisors. What happens when he is given a bad estimate for the number of refugees who are terrorists?

Another aspect is that this is Donald Trump attacking, and damaging the financial stability, of one of the biggest US defense contractors for the supply of the aircraft that make our military able to compete. Considering how Mr. Trump wanted to “replenish” our “depleted” military, killing the market value of one of the key companies that supplies that military sounds like a bad idea. I have a suspicion that also involved was a report that the Pentagon has tried to bury, showing that $125 billion dollars, more than Russia’s entire defense budget, goes to waste on needless bureaucracy — that definitely casts light on the foolishness of Mr. Trump’s campaign claims that the military budget needs to be expanded. But of course, if we can start a scandal using Twitter, that little story goes away.

Then finally, there is the fact that Boeing and Lockheed have both been in talks about manufacturing fighter jets in India. Of course, if a major US defense contractor moved huge operations to India under Mr. Trump’s watch his supporters would lose a tremendous amount of faith in him. At the same time, canceling this plan to manufacture fighter jets would undermine a relationship with India that the Obama administration has worked hard to solidify.

That relationship is one that Mr. Trump has already worked to undermine, by telling the President of Pakistan, an ally that he once criticized as not really a US ally, that we would do “anything” to support them. India and Pakistan have been enemies for a long time, and that feud has been getting worse in recent months. Worse, they both have nuclear weapons. What Mr. Trump did could be seen as the incoming President picking a side.

So, let’s recap. Mr. Trump’s tweet, seemingly designed to scare Boeing, did the following:

  • Hurt a company that has over 125,000 employees in the US
  • Threatened the security of Presidents who come after him, which I hope will be a great many Presidents and that they’ll be kept safe
  • Destabilized a potential relationship with an important ally and a nuclear nation

And all of this based on a number that he apparently decided upon…himself. On top of that, his motives are not entirely clear, but he may well have been making a specific threat, against a specific US company, just to ensure that he doesn’t personally lose a political battle.

This is what things are like before he gets into office. What happens when instead of shooting his mouth off on Twitter, he can shoot his mouth off to the Pentagon decision makers who control our defense contracts? When the President says “Cancel order!” to a General, you know what the General does? He cancels the order — difficult if the order isn’t real, like in this case, but maybe still damaging to American workers. The military is commanded by the President, and already, our President elect has shown that he doesn’t think before he commands.

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