|Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Proclaiming Claudius Emperor, 1867. Wikimedia Commons.|
A Pentagon memo outlining the incoming Trump administration’s top “defense priorities” identifies defeating the Islamic State, eliminating budget caps, developing a new cybersecurity strategy, and finding greater efficiencies as the president-elect’s primary concerns. But the memo, obtained byIt doesn't mention Iran either, for whatever that's worth; the only named countries in the memo are North Korea and China (plus ISIS or ISIL—both stylings are used, irritatingly). , does not include any mention of Russia, which has been identified by senior military officials as the No. 1 threat to the United States.
This isn't equivalent to Obama's view in 2012, in opposition to candidate Willard Mitt Romney, that Russia was not the most serious military threat to US interests, if only because the DoD agreed with Obama, and it was a moment (near the end of the presidency of Dmitri Medvedev) of really warming Russian-US relations, important cooperation on the Syria and Iran issues, and no signs of Russian designs on foreign territory since the Georgian war of 2008, for which the Georgian government seemed (to the USG) to be to blame.
Since then, Vladimir Putin has resumed the presidency and more or less acknowledged that he personally ordered the invasion of Georgia*; Russia has brutally invaded Ukraine, annexing Crimea and maintaining an endless conflict in the Donbass region; Russian bombers have given Bashar al-Assad the edge in the prosecution of an unspeakably murderous counterrevolution (while giving little time to their professed aim of attacking Da'esh fighters, not to say the anti-Assad forces are innocent, but the Syrian government, Hezbollah, and now Russian allied forces are guilty of the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties
and that's just not debatable); and Russia's emerging capacity for cyberwar, as seen in its interference in recent British, Italian, and Dutch elections to say nothing of the US. So the situation has really changed in some fairly extreme ways in the past four years.
It's really startling how willing Trump is to get into public conflict with the defense establishment, not just with respect to Russia. I'm thinking of the fact that almost all his generals, the remarkable quantity of generals he's filling up his cabinet with, got fired;
- Mattis, the incoming defense secretary, accused of war crimes in Iraq in 2004 and forced into retirement from his job as chief of Central Command because he couldn't get behind Iran policy and wouldn't publicly shut up about it;
- the revolting wingnut national security adviser–designate Flynn, sacked from heading the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 not just because of his undisguised Islamophobia but mainly because nobody could stand working with him;
- Keith Kellogg, to be Flynn's deputy, who came out of retirement in November 2003 to serve in Iraq as chief operating officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the organization that disbanded the Iraqi Army, lost $12 billion in hundred-dollar bills, and utterly failed to rebuild Iraq's destroyed infrastructure, not that that could all be Kellogg's fault, since he was relieved after just five months on the job, but it's telling that his replacement, Vice Admiral Scott Redd, was brought back after a month to "lead the commission that examined the intelligence failures that led up to the Iraq war" and the whole mess was dissolved by June, while Kellogg wasn't invited to share his wisdom with anybody; and
- John Kelly, who will be Secretary of Homeland Security, who not fired when he retired as chief of the Southern Command, burt was an outspoken opponent of Obama administration policy on closing the Guantánamo prison camp, women in the armed services, control of the southern border, etc.; not to mention
- unofficial adviser David Petraeus, need I say more?
There may be a good many old colonels and generals who agree with Kelly especially on some of the issues, but I don't think they care for public insubordination and disrespect—it's a tradition thing. And then there's Trump's own extremely noisy disrespect toward the serving, as opposed to retired, general officers: "I know more about ISIS than the generals do.... [they] don't know much because they're not winning." And old Senator McCain, who Trump thinks isn't much of a hero.
And the Central Intelligence Agency, which he has been insulting insistently, again over Russia and the Agency's finding that that country was working to get him elected president. It's bizarre how he can't bring himself to say something like, "I certainly hope they weren't trying to get me elected." (Come to think of it, he can't bring himself to say that about the Ku Klux Klan either.)
Dick Cheney worked to undermine the CIA during his pre-inauguration, trying to get Bush to dump DCI George Tenet in favor of Paul Wolfowitz, and if you think that sounds like building advance support for a war in Iraq a year before 9/11, you're probably not alone. By the way, when Trump adds, "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction" he is missing the detail that the Agency analysts had a very good understanding of what Hussein was up to until Cheney started coming around to Langley to lean on them to give him a story he liked better.
Anyway Cheney did his messing around with the CIA behind the scenes, except that one time when he lost his temper and had his thug I. Lewis Libby finger agent Valerie Plame Wilson, essentially destroying the CIA's nuclear weapons anti-proliferation efforts in Iran and Pakistan, setting them back ten years.
Trump attacking and insulting the military and intelligence out front this way is looking for trouble. He needs to remember if you want to be Emperor, you really need the armed forces on your side.
*It is still possible to assert that Georgia provoked the war; Wikipedia's very thorough article doesn't take a position. But the preponderance of their evidence is that the whole thing was the realization of a longstanding Russian plan. Putin's own role as prime minister in "kicking" President Medvedev is laid out there:
On 5 August 2012, a new documentary "A Lost Day" (Russian: "Потерянный день") was released on YouTube. The authors of the documentary were unknown. Several high-ranking military officials were featured. Yuri Baluyevsky, former Chief of the General Staff of Russia said that President Dmitry Medvedev didn't want to make a decision to go to war for some time. Baluyevsky said that it was Putin that had ordered to "retaliate" militarily against Georgia "after the first tensions", however "high-level officials" in Moscow had the fear of responsibility "until a kick in one place from Vladimir Vladimirovich in Beijing followed." Baluyevsky said that Putin made a decision to invade Georgia before Medvedev became President in May 2008 and a detailed military plan was worked out and specific orders were issued in advance.
On 8 August 2012, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that the intense fighting began on 6 August 2008. "The information what was happening at the time of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th of the (August 2008), I received directly from Tskhinvali. Oddly enough, from journalists. Because the journalists had taken to my press secretary,Dmitry Peskov, and he came to me and, with reference to them, the witnesses of events taking place there, informed of hostilities," he said. Putin also underlined that not one day, but three days passed before the decision was made to send troops to South Ossetia. Asked about his personal role, Putin said, "While in Beijing, I called Dmitry Medvedev and the defense minister twice, on August 7 and 8." Putin's statement about his phone talks with Medvedev after the outbreak of large-scale hostilities contradicted Medvedev's 2011 statement that he had no phone talks with Putin and they had contact only the next day. Putin's statement on Russia having a plan since 2006 contradicted earlier claims that Russia acted in response to Georgia's "surprise attack" to prevent a "genocide" and to defend Russian citizens.