SitRep: No One Knows What Trump Means for National Security; Russian Aircraft Carrier Posts on Syrian Shore
- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London., Adam RawnsleyAdam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring.
Who wants jobs? The Trump campaign is working quickly to fill hundreds of national security posts across the Pentagon and the intelligence community, a long-term process that seems to be starting only now, with 72 days until inauguration day.
The biggest hurdle may be in overcoming the near total rejection of Trump’s candidacy by the core of the Republican national security brain trust in Washington. The seasoned advisors recoiled from Trump’s embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his rejection of NATO, calls to ban Muslims, his stated willingness to allow more countries to obtain nuclear weapons, the campaign’s winking embrace of domestic hate groups, and inability to articulate a coherent and consistent national security policy.
“One person who met last month with Trump’s national security and homeland security transition team leader said that she confessed that many candidates had flatly rejected attempts to recruit them, believing that Trump was unfit to hold the office of commander in chief” the Daily Beast’s Kim Dozier and Shane Harris tell us.
Transition. The Trump transition team is expected to meet with Pentagon officials possibly next week, defense officials tell FP’s Paul McLeary, but “the meetings have the potential to be awkward, given Trump’s claims that he knows more about the Islamic State than the generals running the war, declarations that the U.S. officer corps has been ‘reduced to rubble,’ and threats to find ‘different generals’ to fight the Islamic State. He has also repeatedly been dismissive of the U.S. intelligence community and its work.”
Who’s coming. FP’s John Hudson and Colum Lynch have a solid run-down of the rumored NatSec picks, writing, “individuals familiar with the Trump campaign’s thinking tell Foreign Policy the real estate tycoon’s cabinet is likely to include a mix of outside-the-box iconoclasts and establishment Republican allies, including even Bush-era foreign policy hawks.”
Among Washington-based defense experts, early Trump supporter Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is the front-runner to be nominated as the next Secretary of Defense. Also in the rumint mix is Stephen Hadley, who served as national security advisor to President George W. Bush, and former Sen. Jim Talent, (R-Mo.). Sessions has led Trump’s national security advisory committee since March, and sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Other names that are being bandied about for top national security positions at the White House and in the Pentagon include a host of conservative politicians like former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and onetime CIA chief James Woolsey. Rogers currently heads Trump’s National Security transition team, according to an org chart obtained by Politico. The AP also has more on the transition struggles here.
The Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman reports that military officials and civilian defense watchers aren’t sure whether the Trump administration would walk back some of the Obama White House’s famous micromanagement of the Pentagon, or if things could get even worse.
Intel community nervous about Trump. “It’s fear of the unknown,” said a senior U.S. national security official told the Washington Post’s Greg Miller. “We don’t know what he’s really like under all the talk. . . . How will that play out over the next four years or even the next few months? I don’t know if there is going to be a tidal wave of departures of people who were going to stay around to help Hillary’s team but are now going to be, ‘I’m out of here.’ ”
What it all might look like. The Post’s Missy Ryan surveys some of the more outlandish comments President-elect Trump has made about national security issues and finds that many analysts are afraid that the new White House could bumble or bluster into more wars.
“He’s got a fundamental decision now about whether he’s going to continue in the same vein as president,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “If you literally implement his [campaign’s] security policy, you’re probably risking war in multiple theaters simultaneously.”
All of these fears are real. National security guru Richard Kohn pleads in a new op-ed for Republican defense officials to jump into the fray for the good of the country, writing, “a president as seriously deficient in knowledge, experience and temperament as Trump is going to need a lot of help, and he will need it from the A-Team.”
Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is wasting no time in trying to figure out the landscape of a Trump administration, heading to the United States to meet with him as early as November 17, according to the Japan Times. Trump has criticized American defense commitments to Japan for failing to compensate the U.S. for the security guarantee it provides. Japanese officials, nervous about an increasingly capable Chinese military defending expansive territorial claims, are eager to find out what a Trump administration will bring.
If I did it
WikiLeaks and its supporters swore up and down that Russia had nothing to do with the hacked emails from the Clinton campaign it published, but a Kremlin-connected pundit isn’t so sure. The Guardian reports that Russian political analysts Sergei Markov said “maybe we helped a bit with WikiLeaks” but denied interfering in the U.S. presidential election. The Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Homeland Security linked the hacked emails from the Clinton campaign to Russian intelligence. Trump, famously, disagrees.
The Russian carrier battle group accompanying the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov has made its way to the eastern Mediterranean but the Russians are claiming it’s picked up a shadow along the way. The BBC reports that Russian defense officials say they found a Dutch submarine following the battle group from a distance of about 20 miles. Russia’s defense ministry says two of its submarines, the Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov, chased the Dutch sub away, but there’s no independent confirmation of the incident and Dutch officials aren’t talking.
On Tuesday, Russian officials telegraphed that the Kuznetsov and its battle group would soon begin carrying out strikes in Syria. And the Pentagon isn’t happy. A defense official confirmed to FP’s Paul McLeary that at least one Russian carrier-based airplane had already flown a mission near Aleppo. The official, who would only speak about military operations under the condition of anonymity, said Moscow appears to be “more interested in the world seeing Russia’s naval capabilities in action than the world seeing Russia live up to its word” to work toward a political solution to end Syria’s five-year civil war.
Iran responded to Trump’s electoral victory with a reflexive defense of the nuclear deal signed last year with world powers. AFP reports that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that there’s “no possibility” of going back on the deal now that Trump is set to be president. Trump famously declared that the deal was ill-advised and that’s he’d scrap the deal and renegotiate it. Rouhani, however, argued that the deal was signed with a number of countries, not just the United States, saying that America can no longer “create a consensus against Iran.”
Business of defense
The markets are betting big on the defense industry under a Trump administration. Defense One reports that trading for big contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and other was up when the markets opened on Wednesday morning. The expectation is that a Trump administration will repeal budget caps placed on defense spending and increase defense spending.
The Defense Department chose the day after a historic election to release figures on the number of civilians it has killed in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in the war against the Islamic State. The Pentagon estimates that it’s killed 119 civilians since 2014, according to the New York Times. Officials, however, tell the Times that “significant precautions were taken” in order to prevent civilian deaths and that the airstrikes comport with international law.
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