Former Reagan defense official says next president needs new toolbox for 2017 challenges

by WorldTribune Staff, September 22, 2016

The next U.S. president will have to abandon “assumptions and ideas that have been outrun by global reality,” although they are held dear by foreign policy elites from both parties, a former Reagan administration defense official told an online strategic forum.

Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will assume office in what is “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,” Ed Timperlake wrote for the Second Line of Defense Forum.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the American Legion Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Sept. 1. /Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the American Legion Convention in Cincinnati on Sept. 1. /Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

“World events inherited by the next president and U.S. actions in the global strategic environment can mean the difference between peace or war.”

Timperlake interviewed Reagan-era defense figure John A. “Jack” Shaw to inquire on the kind of change Trump might actually promote:

Shaw worked on defense and foreign policy initiatives during the Reagan years. He held positions at the Department of Defense under both President Gerald Ford and President George W. Bush, the State Department under Ford, and Commerce Department under George H.W. Bush.

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 is 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 U.S. 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 then leave, rather than simply parking our troops on foreign soil? …. 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.”

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