A Turbulent World: Trump and Strategic Re-Direction

By Ed Timperlake and the SLD Team

The United States now faces an increasingly turbulent world.  And if one were to ask the question is the United States closer to war with a peer competitor now than 7 years ago, the answer is clearly yes and sadly are we less equipped, yes again.

The decade ahead will almost certainly see significant strategic discontinuity, yet much of the strategic discourse is that shaped in the 1990s with an update for 9/11 and the land wars.

But are the strategic thrusts of the 1990s – the creation of the Euro, EU and NATO expansion, and the intended starving of US power projection forces – the way ahead?

Those thrusts were then modified by 9/11 and the land wars, but both the strategic elites of the Republicans and Democrats seem committed to the use of the U.S. military to reshape the world in their image, whether that face being neo-conservative or liberal.

Does this trajectory make any sense or is a fundamental strategic redirection need to be made?

The Brexit vote certainly will force reconsideration of the 1990 trajectory of the European Union and the election in France could prove interesting in shaping new ways ahead as well. European turmoil provides a clear challenge to U.S. policies and raises fundamental questions.

Putin pushing the envelope in Europe and the Middle East has raised fundamental questions about the ability of NATO as currently funded, constructed and deployed to deal with a power capable of pushing into the seams and challenging Western leadership.

And simply reading through the litany of NATO declarations about the way ahead and matching those to real capabilities on the ground, air and sea, can lead to intellectual shock and disquiet.

The barrier to change is as much a failure to rethink the foundations of Western defense and foreign policy as it is a failure of those policies themselves.

Recently, former military chief Sir Richard Barrons, former UK head of the Joint Forces Command, wrote a 10-page private memorandum to Michael Fallon, the Defence Minister, where he highlighted the challenges facing the UK in its defence policies, and focused on a central one:

According to Sir Richard, the challenge is not merely one of resources or money. More fundamentally, he wrote, the issue is one of strategic oversight and planning.

In the MoD and the security organs of Whitehall, he said, there was now “almost no capacity left to think and plan strategically or generate resources for the unforeseen … our own bureaucracy struggles to get its head above managing details and events”.


The U.S. Presidential campaign is unfolding in the context of emboldened “peer competitors. ” Russia and Peoples Republic of China activities concurrently with greatly increasing dangers from the Middle East, including the growing reach of Islamic Terrorism to a very real nuclear threat from North Korea and eventually Iran.

World events inherited by the next President and U.S. actions in the global strategic environment can mean the difference between peace or war. A key question is whether the new President will roll up his or her sleeves and appoint people capable of meeting the challenge raised by Sir Richard, namely “to think and plan strategically.”

Candidate Hillary Clinton has promised to be “rock solid” on foreign and security issues, but that can be easily interpreted as reinforcing the past 15 years of behavior, whether from Bush or Obama, and projecting it forward into the future.

President Trump clearly is challenging that idea, and is putting forward a clear message that he intends to not follow the conventional wisdom and seek new answers to the new strategic situation.

One can simply put aside the question of which candidate one will support or vote for, but it is clear that Clinton sides with continuity and Trump for change.

But what kind of change might Trump actually promote?

To get some insight into this question, we sat down with former senior Defense, State, and Commerce figure John A. “ Jack” Shaw to discuss what the potential impact of a Trump presidency might be from the standpoint of change.

Shaw has many decades of experience in Republican administrations, and comes at this question with the experience of going through the Reagan Revolution on Defense and Foreign Policy initiatives, which with the continuity of President George H.W. Bush won the Cold War. He has held multiple positions at the Department of Defense under both President Ford and President Bush 43, State under President Ford, and Commerce under President Bush 41 and served in four White Houses.

Question: How do you view the potential impact of a Trump presidency?

Shaw: “Trump promises significant change. His belligerent sounding personal style which brought him so much success as a businessman was seen as uncouth and threatening to the Washington mandarin class which has dominated U.S. foreign and domestic policy ever since Franklin Roosevelt.  His demand for change was an affront and a threat to them so they individually and collectively want symbolically to kill the messenger.

The foreign and defense elites of both parties inside the Beltway agree with each other more than they disagree.  They still are operating on a series of assumptions and ideas that have been outrun by global reality.

The challenge is not simply to rotate personnel like musical chairs from the Ds to the Rs and back again, but to change the fundamental assumptions.   We need to redesign what we are doing globally, both in foreign and defense policies.

The elites, however, have wallowed for three or four generations in the near universal corruption of language that has characterized and anchored the evolving Washington social and political scenes. The corruption comes from their intellectual insights turning into moral precepts.

To them Donald Trump is both a threat to their credibility and a Neanderthal who neither understands nor appreciates the nuances they have grown to personify. He is ipso facto the incarnation of the mad bull bringing his own china shop into the sanctuary of policy they have consecrated.

Trump thus promises much creative disruption in his demand for change. It is about strategic leadership, not simply playing musical chairs to support policy continuity. The idea that Hillary Clinton has raised that “this election is about language’ is only true in one sense: She is the embodiment of the linguistic and cultural status quo, while Donald Trump is the agent of change and new leadership.

We need to fundamentally re-fabricate what we’re thinking and saying as well as what we are doing, but Trump and the elites have now become part of a truly Revolutionary political dialogue about a new way forward.”

Question: How might this be done?

Shaw: “My own experience in the Bush I Administration may be instructive as I had the chance to staff the Commerce Department with political appointees and evaluate the career people that were there.

When I joined the Commerce Department as a non-career appointee, we did not seek to load up the department with political appointees just to meet some sort of political quota system. We managed to find the very best people we could find to carry out the diverse missions of that department without much interference from Presidential Personnel. The result was one of the best run Commerce Departments in the past fifty years.

We also combed the bureaucracy to find people ready to lead innovation.  There are many folks in the bureaucracy who have solid innovative ideas but who have been bottled up by political correctness and the drone mentality. Political appointees can change that or enhance it.

My boss at Commerce had been president of the sexy part of Westinghouse and he reckoned  that the percentage of senior effective personnel both at Westinghouse and in the government — those  that could provide strategic change for innovation — was the same, about 40% percent  What was needed was removing barriers to innovation to allow them to move the organization forward.

These innovators need to be sought out and promoted to positions where they can help lead a fundamental shift in how the U.S. defines and executes its foreign and defense policies. I believe that the Trump revolution will allow that to happen across the government.

There would, however, be virtual continuity between those persons serving in the Obama Administration and a new Clinton Administration, for many of the appointees in the Obama Administration came from the Clinton stable, and are aching to continue.

But to be clear, at best, Hillary Clinton offers more of the same-old, same-old, with a new twist.  The truly imaginative pay-to-play graft she brought to the State Department with the donations of foreign contributors to the Clinton Foundation represents a quantum jump in governmental corruption which will go government wide if she is elected president.

She will introduce a New Deal, which will join the cultural and linguistic corruption of the last fifty years with a venality, which would have embarrassed Tammany Hall. We will indeed have a continuity of policy with the Obama administration:  It will be as she says, “about language” and lies…and about the diminution of America at home and abroad.

The question is whether the country wants continuity or fundamental change.  But it is also the analytical question of whether these policy continuities can provide any more effective answers to a world in fundamental change than those of Barack Obama.

We need to shape policies, which deal with the world as it is becoming; not the world we wish was there.” We need dynamic change and Donald Trump is the only one who is offering it.”

Question: How would characterize the Trump movement from that perspective?

Shaw: “We have an entrenched world of ideas, which Trump is running against.  What he promises is both to challenge the entrenched ideas and to appoint persons who think differently and seek change.  He won the primaries effectively by himself but endured the death of a thousand cuts from media and the cultural elite.

We need to bring forward the persons capable of transforming the institutions as well as the concepts, which those institutions embody.  And that is what the strategic elite is most concerned about; Trump simply does not accept the inherited questions and answers proscribed by the strategic elites.

You’ve got to break eggs to make omelets.

It is a seismic moment in U.S. politics; Trump himself highlights that he part of a movement, not simply a candidate.  The foundations are shaking; Trump is not the cause but the consequence of the global shift.

The Trump self-funding process also has freed him to embrace fundamental changes, which a normal candidate funding process would clearly curtail and constrain.”

Question: How does this translate into changes in military policies?

Shaw: “There clearly needs to be change with regard to how civilians think about the use of military power and how the US military is transformed.

How do we commit ourselves to the use of military force?

What is the level and focus of military capability, which needs to be built, and modernized?

How can we commit troops, and achieve clear and limited objectives when we commit those troops, and the leave, rather than simply parking our troops on foreign soil?

It is not about deploying U.S. troops to serve the unclear objectives of neo-cons or liberal interventionists.

In that respect Donald Rumsfeld was given a bum rap as Secretary of Defense. He was a genuinely decisive iconoclast who was conned into Iraq by the neo-cons. So his withering eye was wasted on limiting the invasion force instead of limiting the mission and he became the first POW as well as the scapegoat in the Iraq War.

And it is getting clear focus on how to deal with the near and present danger of the nuclear threat to the United States, rather than sweeping this under the rug until we face the brink.”

Question: How might this be done?

Shaw: “A number of key tasks could be addressed as an integrated whole,

First, the structure of the government needs to be streamlined and layers of bureaucracy not needed eliminated.  Restructuring of how policy is made is critical.

Second, surging capabilities which can deter peer competitors while  enhancing American and allied competitiveness and to shape more credible deterrence is crucial.  And most of the weapon systems already needed are being built or on the pipeline.  We just need to get serious about surging the buying capability of the Government and then turn it on!

Third, we can look carefully at the military officer corps and the civilian structures to promote those who have sound ideas about how to accelerate the defense and diplomatic capabilities of the United States to prevail in an uncertain world. They have been undervalued and denied fast promotion for decades.

Fourth, appointing senior leaders capable of providing strategic leadership rather than tactical maneuvering in the bureaucracy can provide the path to realistic innovation and rapid upgrading of American capabilities. We need thinking warriors in our leadership, not analytic time servers.”

The U.S. presidential contest is unfolding within a broader global context, in which Brexit, Putin’s reassertion of Russian power, the growing activism of illiberal powers like Iran or China, and many other dynamics are fundamentally reshaping the global competition.

Ironically, Donald Trump, despite his army of critics, has a better preparation for the presidency than Barack Obama did in 2008 or Hillary Clinton has now, as he had had to make important international decisions, which mixed political considerations with huge personal financial downsides for himself.

President Obama was indeed right the other day when he added Bill to that list of the ostensibly prepared.  Their preparation, in reality, was a corrupt combination of half truths and lies, legal distinctions and devalued and deconstructed language: It was little more than he stock in trade of slick and dishonest lawyers. We deserve better than that and have a real option.

The choice is stark but easy; if you believe Hillary’s promises and like the record of what she has done to diminish America’s position in the world, vote accordingly.  There is only one candidate who promises and will and can deliver change, and his name is Donald Trump. Vote for him!”

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