The Role of the Pentagon in the Trump Administration by David Barno and Nora Bensahel, War on the Rocks
On January 20th, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. More than any other president in living memory, he will enter office with an unclear foreign policy agenda and few certainties about his real views of the world. His campaign trail was littered with contradicting statements regarding America’s role in the world, and the 10 weeks since election day have clarified little. Without a doubt, we are entering into a period of upended assumptions and vast uncertainty in U.S. foreign and national security policy, with numerous indications that suggest the 70-year bipartisan consensus about U.S. global leadership is now about to shift in major and unprecedented ways. This period of looming unpredictability will make the role of the Department of Defense — the nation’s largest department of government — unusually important in shaping the Trump team’s thinking during its first year and beyond.
Trump’s foreign policy team is divided into three competing factions, as Thomas Wright recently argued. The “America First” circle questions the value and contributions of America’s allies around the world and believes that the United States has been disadvantaged by nearly all free trade deals. The “religious warriors” see radical Islam as an existential threat to the West and believe that protecting America from this rising threat demands a massive re-prioritization of our policies. The “traditionalists” continue to support the post-World War II bipartisan consensus, where the United States plays a strong global leadership role backed by a strong military and sustained engagement with allies and friends. These three factions will battle for dominance over the next year as Trump settles on what direction the United States should take in this new era.
The Pentagon and its military and civilian leaders always play a large role in shaping national security and foreign policy. But in this potentially tumultuous period for U.S. defense and foreign policies, Secretary of Defense-designate Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, and the rest of the Pentagon team will also have five broader responsibilities in this new and untested administration…