What to Watch Out For, Mr. President
17 tips for the new Trump administration, from heavy hitters on Obama's national security team.
By Foreign Policy's Shadow Government Contributors
In their first post marking the relaunch of Shadow Government as a blog by foreign-policy officials who served under President Barack Obama, co-editors Derek Chollet, Colin Kahl, and Julie Smith promised to cultivate a loyal, respectful, and prescriptive opposition. The blog’s extraordinary roster of contributors has stepped forward to offer just that — practical advice for unsettling times.
Collected here: 17 pieces of advice for President Donald Trump and his administration as it assumes the reins. From how to dance with Russia to how to set up the National Security Council in times of crisis, these insiders aren’t playing politics, they’re offering pearls of wisdom gleaned from years of experience.
Get the Secretary of Defense Out on the Road
By Derek Chollet
Perhaps the only reassuring thing to happen last weekend was the speedy confirmation of retired Marine Generals James Mattis at the Pentagon and John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security. They are both strong leaders, levelheaded, fact-based, and non-partisan. (Full disclosure: I worked with them when I served at the Pentagon.) To help calm the world’s nerves — and to show that some pockets of stability and sanity still exist in the U.S. government — it is imperative that Mattis fire up the E4-B (the “doomsday plane” that doubles as the secretary of defense’s ride) and make several key stops. Ash Carter finished his Pentagon tenure with a backbreaking around-the-world trip, and that’s how Mattis should begin. He’s reportedly already making counterpart calls, which is good, but nothing is better than showing up.
I’d start by heading West, stopping in Hawaii for a visit to United States Pacific Command, then onward to Japan and South Korea. From there, he should go to India (where the defense relationship has been blossoming), then to Afghanistan, which seems once again to have slipped into its status as the forgotten war. From there, he should go to Iraq, a place he knows well, for an update on the Islamic State campaign he now inherits. I’d then make three other quick stops in the region — Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi.
What about Europe? I’d actually wait on that — in mid-February, Mattis should go to NATO headquarters in Brussels, where there is the customary meeting of defense ministers prior to the Munich Security Conference. This time I’d recommend that Mattis travel with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s new secretary of state, and ask for a joint meeting to include foreign ministers. Then to Munich, where they could do an appearance together (much like Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel did in 2014). After that, Mattis should head to the Baltics, and finally Ukraine, where the United States has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance.
The message? The same one that Mattis conveyed in his confirmation hearing: That U.S. commitments will endure, that alliances matter, and that the administration will stand up to those who are trying to revise or destroy the liberal international order (e.g.; Russia). Of course, that’s very different than America First, which may just accelerate the collision course Mattis seems to be on with his commander-in-chief.