The next commander in chief won’t have time to slowly ease into the foreign policy turmoil facing America right now, one prominent defense expert is warning.
“The two and a half months between Election Day and Inauguration Day are simply not enough time to do this work well,” she wrote.
Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon's former undersecretary for policy and currently CEO of the Center for a New American Security, notes in the think tank's latest "Papers for the Next President" series that conflicts in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia will require the incoming president — whoever that is — to start work as soon as the election is decided.
“Rather, the Republican and Democratic nominees should each empower a team to begin working, even before the election, to assess the national security environment, develop a strategic framework and set of guiding principles, and articulate a clear set of priorities that will inform the administration’s early actions on national security.”
The comments from Flournoy, who served under President Obama and has ties to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, offer a Pentagon insider’s view on how each of the candidates should be prepping to take over military and diplomatic responsibilities.
Along with tangible security threats like the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, “growing uncertainty about the nature of U.S. global leadership” must be a priority for the next commander in chief.
“The next president will therefore need to articulate a clear vision of U.S. leadership in the world, and take concrete steps to demonstrate the United States’ willingness and ability to uphold its commitments and defend its interests, values, and allies around the world,” she said.
Doing that will mean setting up a national security team “who are deeply knowledgeable on the issues … and can lead and manage large institutions effectively.” She recommends top advisers have prior service in one of the national security agencies, but also calls for a redesign of the national security council to clarify and simplify each appointee’s role.
Along with being an outline for the next administration, the ideas serve as an indirect criticism of Obama’s own foreign policy team, whose members have sparred after leaving office and even during their time at the White House.
Flournoy notes that the president’s national security staff has steadily grown over the last two administrations, going “beyond its traditional writ of helping the president develop strategy, set policy priorities, and define the limits that should guide execution to become more engaged in managing the day-to-day details of how agencies execute national security policies and programs.”
She also said a lack of military veterans in top positions often leads to “frustration and disappointment” among Pentagon and foreign policy officials.
“Most presidents, and many members of the national security team, come into office without any military experience or even any experience working with the military,” the report states. “In some cases, they may have no clear concept for how civil-military relations should work; in other cases, they may arrive with misconceptions about how their military counterparts think and behave.
“Similarly, on the military side, senior officers may come to the table with unrealistic expectations about how the civil-military relationship is supposed to work (too often based on theories taught in war colleges that may have little grounding in reality).”
Managing and easing those misunderstandings is critical, Flournoy argues. Getting a mix of civilian appointees and individuals with military experience can help ease those tensions.
The full report is available on the CNAS web site.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.