WASHINGTON (CN) – Speaking to the Senate about geopolitical threats that loom over the incoming administration, a public-policy expert warned that President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric might have ramped up the timeline.
"By reinforcing the impression that the U.S. is out of the world-power business, by not supporting NATO or by coming out against the Trans Pacific Partnership deal,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “All of these elements of this campaign only sent even greater shockwaves throughout the world about what the U.S. stands for.”
Kagan delivered these remarks Tuesday after the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee blamed the “failed policies” of President Barack Obama for the threats Trump will inherit.
"Our next president will look out at a world on fire and have several consequential and strategic choices to make," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican.
"Our next president will need $100 billion over and above [our current budget] just to execute our current defense strategy, and even that is insufficient since it predates events in Ukraine and ISIL's spread through Iraq."
Gen. John Keane seconded McCain's concern.
A former vice chief of staff for the U.S. Army, Keane said threats to America include the ongoing and "unwinnable war" in Afghanistan, an aggressive and increasingly technologically advanced Russia, a power-driven China, and the spread of violence by ISIL.
Keane described that group, short for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as a force that is "less concerned with defeating the U.S. but more concerned with breaking our will,” and with exhausting forces and funding.
Kagan from the Brookings Institution meanwhile told the Senate that threats from other superpowers, not power-hungry fledgling organizations like ISIL, are a bigger concern.
Potential domestic attacks and border-security issues are a natural focus, but Kagan urged the leadership not to “lose sight of the greatest threats we face: Russia and China.”
"What they threaten is in some way more profound,” Kagan said. “The world order, the global-security order, the global-economic order, the global-political order, which the U.S. created after World War II ... wasn't a favor by the U.S. to the rest of the world or an act of generosity.”
It was a decision based on hard lessons the U.S learned in the first half of the 20th century, Kagan added.
Citing the frequent warring between Germany and France or Japan and China, Kagan said the United States took it upon itself to "put a cork in activity in those theaters."
"If there was not a power that was willing and able to maintain the world order, you didn't have some smooth ride into something else,” Kagan said. “What you had is catastrophe and powers hostile to liberal values.”
Kagan predicted fallout from "the increasingly activist, revisionist great powers of Russia and China, combined with a U.S. which is lacking will and capacity to continue playing the role it's played since World War II.”
“As these intersect,” Kagan warned, “we begin to enter a period that is increasingly dangerous.”
The committee also heard Gen. Keane argue that the greatest threat to national security may actually be the lack of legal framework around how the military or its commander in chief should respond to sudden attacks on the nation's cybernetwork.
Vulnerable mechanisms, like military communication satellites that feed crucial data back to aircraft carriers and naval vessels, could be a potential target for hackers who wish to bring down critical components of the defense system, Keane said.
Upgrading the U.S. military's tech resources will be helpful, the retired general added, but he urged senators to take his testimony as "a political priority and not just a talking point."
"The next president will need to introduce reforms to the nation's defense," added Keane.
One reform Keane proposed is a rigorous financial review of military spending to expose inefficiencies and identify wasted dollars.
Keane said the private sector could also help cut bureaucratic red tape.
"We should bring in a No. 2 guy to the DOD,” Keane said. “A CEO guy who has a ton of experience with the major turnaround of an organization. We need business people to help us do this. We need a CFO, not a comptroller at the Department of Defense.”
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