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Best Of 2016: President Trump

Posted by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on

Donald Trump thumbs upThe biggest shocker of the year was how Donald Trump’s candidacy for president evolved from marginal to “deplorable” to victorious. But what kind of president will Trump be? While Trump’s tendency to tweet from the hip has upset the defense industry and foreign allies alike, his statements on the campaign trail and, above all, his choices of key personnel give the careful observer a good window on what he’ll do.

[All this week we’ve been reprinting some of our best stories of 2016 on the biggest issues: future warfare, robotics & artificial intelligence, China, Russia, and, today, the defense policies of Donald Trump.]


The Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN 783) is under construction at at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, Nov. 1, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Newport News Shipbuilding/Released) Photo by Chris Oxley

Trump Proffers Pentagon Specifics: $60B More To Boost Troops, Ships (by CSIS’s Mark Cancian)

When Donald Trump discussed his defense program in Philadelphia on Wednesday, the bluster and lunacy of the primary season were gone and he offered a scripted position paper that reflected (mostly) mainstream Republican ideas.

There is still lots one might disagree with, but the discipline of the teleprompter meant that he read a staff-prepared paper that put forward a reasoned program and mostly got the facts right. His program is similar to those put forward by Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz during the campaign season, when Fiorina and Cruz were the only candidates who proposed specific numbers. Like theirs, his proposals come mostly from the conservative Heritage Foundation but also from the 2014 National Defense Panel. The problem is that the program he puts forward doesn’t really square with the foreign policy that he has been espousing.

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Michael Wynne

The Case for Donald Trump on National Defense (by Mike Wynne, leading candidate to be Deputy Secretary of Defense)

After eight years of reckless cuts to national defense, discarded “red lines”, emboldened competitors, and discouraged allies, the American people are ready for a new direction in Washington. The time has come for not just a different approach, but a fundamental rethinking of what it takes to keep the United States safe and to advance our national interests, in short, to make America great again in the eyes of the world. In all of the military domains — ground, marine, air, space, and cyberspace — we need to restore US leadership….

China and Russia are rapidly modernizing their militaries and their cyber abilities. Iran and North Korea are on track to obtain nuclear weapons with sophisticated ballistic missile capabilities. ISIS and other Islamist terror organizations remain serious threats. The United States military must be readied to meet each of these challenges, and only Donald Trump has proposed a serious plan to do so.

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Marine Corps photo

Trump’s Generals: How Wartime Service Shaped Mattis, Kelly, & Flynn (by James Kitfield)

While it’s raised eyebrows in terms of traditional civil-military relations, president-elect Donald Trump’s decision to lean heavily on generals in building his national security team has been received with sighs of relief by many foreign policy and national security experts. By the nature of their profession, senior military leaders tend to be pragmatic internationalists…..

If this group of veteran combat leaders belie cigar-chomping stereotypes, their wartime experiences have made them hyper-attuned to growing threats now confronting the United States, an array of challenges that is arguably more complex and varied than at any time since World War II. In terms of President-elect Trump’s picks of generals for top posts, another common thread unites them: Generals Mattis, Kelly and Flynn each became embroiled in disagreements with the Obama White House over the urgency of looming threats, specifically from Iran, ISIS and at a porous southern border. Their pasts may well act as prologue, foreshadowing Trump foreign and national security policy.

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National Park Service

Vincent Viola At Little Big Horn: Getting To Know Trump’s Army Secretary

Who is Vincent Viola, Donald Trump’s pick for Army Secretary? “He knows how to build teams of young men. And what is the Army? “Mostly teams of young men,” said Maj. Gen. Bob Scales. On the trading floor of Viola’s successful trading company, Virtu, which has earned billions from high-tech trading algorithms, “they’re all kids…from MIT and CalTech,” Scales told me in wonderment. “Vinnie whips them into a cohesive unit. That’s a rare skill….

“He told me, ‘I attribute my success as a CEO to the time I spent at West Point and in the Army,” said Scales. “He took the tenets of West Point… and applied them to his leadership style on Wall Street. I’ve been around Wall Street a long time and I’ve never seen anything that effective.”

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US White House.jpegTrump Advisers Press For Major NSC Changes

The administration of Donald Trump will probably slash the size of the National Security Council and return it to its traditional role of coordinating national security policy across the national security and intelligence communities. For most of the Obama Administration, conflicting cabinets ruled and battled to often bad effect, one staffed by the actual Cabinet officers and their subordinates, and one by the shadow cabinet of the NSC staff. It made policy, instead of coordinating policy as it is charged to do by the law that created it in 1947….

The National Security Council ballooned to more than 400 staff in the Old Executive Office Building and elsewhere…. Two advisors to President-elect Trump confirmed they hope to slash the NSC down to around the size it was before 9/11, between 40 and 60 staff.

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Donald Trump on 2016 election nightTrump Would Be ‘Most Reckless’ President Ever: Top GOP National Security Experts

Among the signatories who say they “are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history” are: Tom Ridge, the first head of Homeland Security; Kori Schake, former head of strategy at the National Security Council; John Negroponte, the first Director of National Intelligence; William H. Taft IV, great-grandson of Republican President Taft and former Deputy Defense Secretary; Dov Zakheim, former Undersecretary of Defense for policy; his son, Roger Zakheim, former deputy assistant Defense Secretary; and Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA as well as the National Security Agency…..

Here’s Trump’s response: “The names on this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place. They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power, and it’s time they are held accountable for their actions…..

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Donald Trump and Barak Obama shake hands first White House visitIt’s Time to Take Donald Trump Seriously (by CSIS’s Mark Cancian)

Donald Trump is going to be president, notwithstanding the handwringing in the national security policy community about whether they should agree to serve in his administration…. Concerns are understandable given Trump’s unorthodox campaign and often extreme statements.  But there is an element of hubris in these commentaries and in discussions I have had in the think tank community, where I work. The fact is that Trump does not need us. He is not going to come crawling to us for our expertise. He is going to govern no matter what we do. It is time, therefore, to take Trump seriously and to support, shape, or oppose his policies in specific ways.

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What do you think?