- - Sunday, January 12, 2020

America is never as solipsistic as it is in election years. This one will be no exception because Congress, the media and public debate will be almost totally dominated by election news and the Democrats’ impeachment melodrama.

We need to shake off that self-hypnosis to consider what can and should be done this year to improve our national security and America’s standing in the world. Here’s a national security wish list for 2020.

President Trump has already made a significant step toward accomplishing the first thing on the list, which is to bring the conflict with Iran to a successful conclusion. Success must be defined in terms of ending Iran’s continued aggression. But how? Iran is a revolutionary power that is not susceptible to long-term deterrence.

Mr. Trump drew a red line — the killing of any American — and enforced it. For the ayatollahs, the U.S. drone strike that killed their chief terrorist, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, was frightening and proof of their vulnerability. Never before had any member of the ayatollahs’ inner circle been killed by the United States.

Iran has stood down after its missile strikes on Iraq that caused no U.S. or Iraqi casualties. Substantial covert support for Iran’s revolutionaries should follow along with continuation of the president’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran’s regime.



Equally important is for the president to order U.S. Cyber Command, the CIA and the NSA to conduct both defensive and offensive cyber operations to protect the November election. Cyber Command has, only recently, developed a general strategy and plans for offensive cyber operations. Now is the time to begin implementing them, sometimes pre-emptively. The rules of engagement should be that there are no rules.

Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and others will attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities in states’ voting systems as well as those of polling companies and the media. Since 2016, some or all of them have been testing the vulnerabilities of states’ voting systems (and other targets) to refine their capabilities. Some of those tests will have been detected by our cyber warriors. Whichever nations or groups attempt to interfere with the November vote should have their cyber systems rendered useless. 

Perhaps the most unlikely event on the list is a change in the way that Mr. Trump thinks and speaks about our adversaries. Since he became president, Mr. Trump has taken too casual an attitude toward many autocrats, including Russian President Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Turkish President Erdogan.

Last year, Mr. Trump said that the Soviet Union was right to invade Afghanistan and pressured other G7 members to re-admit Russia despite its annexation of Crimea. He congratulated Mr. Xi on the 70th anniversary of his odious regime. When asked if he sided with the Iranians protesting against the Tehran kakistocracy, he said no. 

Mr. Trump has taken actions against some of these regimes, but his inconstancy betrays the lack of guiding principles. The president should always be outspoken in defense of freedom. It is possible to have cordial relations with autocrats such as Mr. Putin and still heap scorn on them when they deserve it. 

Next on the list is for Mr. Trump to sanction Turkey for its purchase of Russian weapons, as the law requires. Mr. Erdogan has threatened to force the closure of Incirlik, the U.S. air base near Ankara, and a nearby key U.S. radar site. During a bilateral meeting in New York, Mr. Trump said Mr. Erdogan was a “good friend.”

Turkey is an adversary, not an ally. Its treaty with Russia and Iran to protect Syria’s Assad regime and its new intervention on Russia’s side in Libya are redundant justification for tougher American action. Mr. Trump needs to sanction Turkey and begin withdrawing all U.S. assets from Incirlik and the radar site.

Mr. Trump has rejected nation-building but has continued it for the lack of a better idea. Our 2020 list must contain a presidential speech both firmly rejecting nation-building and announcing a new strategy to replace it which includes the destruction of the Islamist ideology. 

The U.S. Space Force has been created as part of the Air Force. But the Army and Navy have independent space forces, budgets and strategies. They need to be either consolidated under the Space Force or at least subjected to coordination of strategies and budgets.

Though the National Defense Strategy requires 355 ships, the Navy has –- wisely –- cut its plan to buy more DDG-51s, which are 1980s technology. The Navy needs a plan to rapidly reach the 355-ship level with ships of greater capability. It needs to pressure the Huntington-Ingalls shipyard to get the USS Gerald Ford to function as promised without further delay.

The Air Force similarly needs to require that Boeing does what it takes to ensure that the KC-46 tanker performs as promised. There’s no excuse for the KC-46’s failures. Without the ability to put up the “tanker bridge” that enables fast deployment in a crisis, we are not a superpower.

The list would not be complete without Mr. Trump’s re-election. Whatever his faults, any of his possible Democratic opponents would be immeasurably worse for our nation’s security.  

It may be that some, all or none of the things on this list will be accomplished in 2020. America will be a stronger, safer nation if they are. 

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.” 

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