When the Soviet Union fell everyone assumed that America’s greatest adversary in the world was dead. The policies of Mikhail Gorbachev, who oversaw the breakup of the nation, and his successor Boris Yeltsin, who became the first president of the Russian Federation, signaled to the U.S. and our western allies that the new Russia was more likely to be a friend to the west than an adversary.
That soon changed, thanks to Vladimir Putin. Upon becoming president the former KGB spy set out to directly challenge the west and present Russia once again as a check on American power and influence, as the USSR had been under communism. Putin’s posturing and his aggressive actions in Ukraine have created a new wariness about Russia.
This past August Pentagon Joint Chiefs Of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford warned Congress that Russia would be “our greatest challenge.” But all through the presidential campaign, president-elect Donald Trump took a different course, repeatedly calling for closer ties with Russia.
Now, following days of discussions about Russian hacking of the presidential election, the magazine Foreign Policy has obtained a Pentagon memo that outlines the new administration’s defense priorities. Missing from the memo is any mention of Russia.
The top four defense priorities of the Trump administration, according to the memo, are:
- Develop a strategy to defeat/destroy ISIS
- Build a strong defense. (Eliminate caps from Budget Control Act; improve force strength/size/readiness)
- Develop a comprehensive USG cyber strategy
- Find greater efficiencies (pursue/build on “great work” led by DSD Work; open to new ideas from the department)
Not a single word about anything regarding the country the top general in the land pegged as the “greatest challenge” for the U.S. moving forward.
Fears over Russia may prove to be overblown. For the sake of peace let’s hope so. But this whole episode harkens back to what took place during the transition from the Clinton administration to that of George W. Bush. President Clinton warned his successor that Osama bin Laden would be the greatest security threat the country would face. But Bush was laser-focused on Saddam Hussein. Both he and his advisors chose to ignore Clinton’s advice. And we all know where that led.
History has an uncomfortable way of repeating itself. This time we won’t be faced with a handful of hijackers who are using airplanes as weapons. This time we’ll be dealing with another superpower that has nuclear weapons. And Trump apparently couldn’t care less.
MSNBC’s Chris Jansing talked about the memo with Foreign Policy’s Dan De Luce, one of the reporters who broke the story. Here’s that conversation.