As we roll into a new week, some folks are still beating a drum about Russian involvement in our election. Just give it a rest. The other topic du jour was the failure of the first Donald Trump foray into domestic policy: healthcare. Sadly, President Trump did not evidence himself as some superior “negotiator,” but he gave witness to a lack of comprehending policy.
I truly believe if he’d had a better team advising and counseling, he wouldn’t have fallen for the Speaker Paul Ryan debacle. And as we’ve shared here, this whole episode could have been averted with a definitive plan. The aftermath of the GOP healthcare fiasco is the question, can the GOP govern? We know the Democrats cannot — unless you like progressive socialism.
But, the point of this missive isn’t to revisit the GOP healthcare failure, it is to examine and discuss what does the Trump administration do now?
President Trump has said he’s moving on to tax reform — another domestic policy frontier. However, the most important title for a president is commander in chief, so where does President Trump go with our defense, national security, and foreign policy?
Our friends over at Breitbart have shown concern on that issue as well: “The Navy has made several requests to conduct operations that would challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, but the administration has not granted them, Breitbart News has learned. The operations are known as Freedom of Navigation Operations, or FONOPs, which would challenge China’s claims to its man-made islands in the South China Sea.
The Navy has requested to conduct several “Tier Three” FONOPs, which require White House approval. Those could entail sailing within 12 nautical miles of the islands, which would signal to China that they do not own the waters surrounding the islands. Officials gave conflicting reasons the Trump administration is not conducting the FONOPs. Some officials believe they have been approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, but have not been acted upon by the NSC.
While Mattis has been in the position for more than two months, he does not yet have top policy advisers in place who would advise him on FONOPs, including an under secretary of defense for policy or an assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security. Currently at the Pentagon, out of 53 presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed positions, only Mattis is in place. The rest of the positions are being filled by a mixture of Obama holdovers and civil servants.
The Navy has requested to conduct several “Tier Three” FONOPs, which require White House approval. Those could entail sailing within 12 nautical miles of the islands, which would signal to China that they do not own the waters surrounding the islands. Officials gave conflicting reasons the Trump administration is not conducting the FONOPs. Some officials believe they have been approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, but have not been acted upon by the NSC.However, several officials say those requests have not made it past Mattis’ desk. “The NSC is not holding [South China Sea] FONOPs,” said an NSC official on background. The White House directed questions to the NSC. Some experts point to the lack of Pentagon appointees and an overall Asia policy as the main reason the FONOPs are not getting done.
While Mattis has been in the position for more than two months, he does not yet have top policy advisers in place who would advise him on FONOPs, including an under secretary of defense for policy or an assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security. Currently at the Pentagon, out of 53 presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed positions, only Mattis is in place. The rest of the positions are being filled by a mixture of Obama holdovers and civil servants.A recent Politico story detailed troubles Mattis is having with bringing on appointees. “These are really complex issues. And not only is this a president with no experience in these issues, there are vast staffing gaps across the foreign policy and national security bureaucracy. So given this, it’s not a surprise that the Trump administration is still formulating its policy,” said Asia scholar Jennifer M. Lind, associate professor at Dartmouth College.”
Yes, I recall lots of folks stating it would be best to have someone who has actually run an organization, a business, as president. But, just let me offer a cautionary recommendation: running a business is nothing like being the head of your political party, the leader of the free world, the chief executive of the federal government, and the commander in chief of U.S. Armed Forces.
Now, some of you believe in “discovery learning” and on-the-job training, but I do not subscribe to that line of thinking. Did we need someone from outside Washington DC to be president? Absolutely. But then again, one must recognize his shortcomings and ensure he does indeed have a team of the best around him. And with all the pressing global issues, you’d think having a solid national security, defense and foreign policy team lined up would be critical. Yes, I know, Senator Chuck Schumer has been an obstructionist, but if you’re the president, you have the highest of high ground to crush ants.
Remember during the GOP presidential primary season debates, there was one that focused on national security. Candidate Trump was asked about the “nuclear triad,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_triad and he didn’t know what it was. Now, do I fault him for not knowing? Yes, because it’s all about preparation and that means sitting down and getting position briefs that familiarize a businessman with the nuances of defense, national security, and foreign policy.
We need to be conducting these FONOPs in the South China Sea. If we don’t take a strong stance against China, we’ll get more belligerence from North Korea. Furthermore, we we should be demonstrating resolve to Xi Jinping who will be heading this way soon to sit with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago. We need to be forcing Jinping to come to the table and make concessions as to their regional hegemonic designs, such as the South China Sea expansions, which are in violation of U.N. resolutions. I must ask a question that may be on the mind of others, but who is briefing President Trump on these global national security issues?
So now I know what’ll happen. I’ll become the target of sycophantic attacks and rants — no worries. Always remember that Warriors, those of us who’ve served in uniform, take an oath to the Constitution, the embodiment of our Republic, not to a person.
I don’t want to see a major foreign policy or national security debacle, like we just saw on healthcare last week. We need to have policy solutions, and when it comes to the deplorable global security situation inherited by President Trump, this requires focus and deliberate action.
The world is full of despots, dictators, autocrats and theocrats who over the past eight years have benefitted from the pure definition of national security and foreign policy weakness. They’re now sitting back and assessing President Trump. And what they’re seeing early on is someone who talks a good game, tweets a lot, but has not focused on developing his defense, national security, and foreign policy staffs and positions.
They heard President Trump talk about spending $54 billion more for defense — sure, but how will those additional funds be appropriated? Yep, I’m glad we have a strike force in the vicinity of Raqqa to deny ISIS their established sanctuary. But will President Trump declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization — a simple executive order would suffice.
How are we going to contend with China’s expansionism, and what message do we send to Kim Jung “short fat fella with the bad haircut” Un? How do we restore our military capability and capacity to erode the global Islamic jihad and its expansion?
President Trump talked a lot about the Iranian nuclear deal and how bad it was…so what shall President Trump do about it? How do we reestablish our relations with Iraq and push out Iranian influence? President Trump talked a lot about moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel out of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — last week the American Ambassador to Israel was confirmed — are we going to do so?
My concern is that if I am asking these questions here on this page, there are others doing the same. And if President Trump becomes known globally as the twittering rhetorician that bodes just as bad for America as the abject weakness of Barack Obama.
President Trump has to get these positions filled. Perhaps no one is taking action of the FONOPs is because we don’t have a SecNav nominee — the fella originally selected by President Trump withdrew his name. Coming off the domestic policy faux pas of healthcare, President Trump can ill afford to botch foreign policy as well. We’re still in the first 100 days, and it should have been recognized that the media was not going to oblige Trump a honeymoon. Other administrations have had rough starts, but the media would turn it into a Waterloo moment for Trump.
Mr. President, get serious about policy, put down the Twitter, stop looking at TV, and have in-depth discussions with your team. But first, get your team in place.