Whether it’s Russia, terrorism, or cyberattacks, President Trump will be managing a diverse and some say growing group of foreign threats. We asked President Obama’s former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, David Shedd, to help us navigate the biggest challenges ahead.
David Shedd: I am concerned that there is a certain naïveté that has been introduced over the last several years into our foreign policy, that if we are open and kind and very permissive in terms of our outreach, that that will be reciprocated. We live in a badly broken world where oftentimes that is seen by our key adversaries as a weakness rather than a strength.
Sharyl: What are the top National Security threats you see President Trump will be facing when he comes into office?
David Shedd: By way of threats, I think the president-elect faces a North Korea that is not too far down the path from getting an ICBM, an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that could have a nuclear tip to it. I think is within the distance within the first two or four years of a Trump Administration.
Sharyl: And a missile that could reach the continental US?
David Shedd: It would reach the U-S in terms of certainly California and the West Coast and I think that that is something that he will have to face with along the instability of North Korea and the Korean Peninsula with South Korea, of a more conventional nature.
Sharyl: During the campaign, Trump explicitly said he’s against proliferation -- more countries getting nuclear weapons -- but his critics said he implied Japan and South Korea should obtain nukes to protect from a hostile and dangerous North Korea.
Donald Trump: You have so many countries already -- China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia -- you have so many countries right now that have them. Now, wouldn't you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?
Sharyl: That comment drew a harsh critique from President Obama.
Barack Obama: They tell us that the person who made the statements doesn't know much about foreign policy, or nuclear policy, or the Korean Peninsula, or the world generally.
Sharyl: I asked Trump about Obama’s criticism in an interview last April. You don’t know much about foreign policy or nuclear policy or the Korean peninsula or the world generally what do you have to say about president Obama.
Donald Trump: I’ve been very critical because I happen to think he’s been very incompetent as president, I know more about nuclear than he will ever know.
Sharyl: CIA Director John Brennan agrees Trump’s greatest direct challenge is posed by North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong-un.
John Brennan: He is somebody who has demonstrated irresponsibility when it comes to nuclear proliferation. He sees this as his ticket to international recognition. He continues to develop intercontinental ballistic missile capability, along with a nuclear program. Anybody who has the record that he and North Korea has, and has this type of capability, I think it presents a direct threat to the United States' national security.
Sharyl: Another major area of concern is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism: Iran. A year ago this week, President Obama announced the official start of a deal designed to keep Iran’s nuclear program peaceful and extend the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.
Barack Obama: This is a good day. Because once again we’re seeing what’s possible with strong American diplomacy.
John Brennan: I think we should be very satisfied with that deal, from a national security perspective, from an intelligence perspective, I think it was the right thing to do, and I do think it's the right thing to continue to hold Iran's feet to the fire, making sure that they adhere to it, but I do believe it would be ill advised, from a national security standpoint, from a regional stability standpoint, to sideline that deal.
Sharyl: But as the Islamic extremist terrorist group ISIS expanded into Iraq in recent years, Iran has responded by backing an estimated 100,000 troops there. Shedd says the nuclear deal – and the U.S. return of $150 billion that had been frozen under economic sanctions—may have emboldened Iran.
David Shedd: I'm not here to say you've got to rattle the war machine every time anything happens, but you do have to lead in a world that in terms of our friends and allies are pleading for us to lead again, because there is this sense of a vacuum, whether real or perceived, and it's probably some combination thereof, that we have sort of abandoned our best friends in the Middle East in exchange for a deal with Iran.
Sharyl: Cybersecurity is another key issue that’s taken center stage with the U.S. accusing Russia of hacking into Democratic National Committee computers. What could a cyber threat lead to in the United States that's very serious that threatens our national security?
David Shedd: If a cyber-attack were to take down the banking system in terms of Wall Street or the investment uh world where people's uh retirement funds are sitting, that would be an attack of, of a cyber version of 9/11. It would have a, a fundamental life changing impact on our, on our country. Think about your electric group, grid being attacked. Think about our weapons systems at the very high end of the F-35 coming under a cyber-attack in terms of the ability for them to, to fly and to have very smart weapons onboard that are guided by largely a cyber component to them as to how they operate. And finally, the spread of terrorism will continue to be a top challenge for the Trump administration.
Donald Trump: Our new approach, which must be shared by both parties in America, by our allies overseas, and by our friends in the Middle East, must be to halt the spread of Radical Islam.
Sharyl: Brennan says the Obama administration has done a good job fighting ISIS.
John Brennan: When I look over the last couple of years, I see that the momentum of the so-called Islamic caliphate ISIL really has been stopped and reversed. The numbers of their fighters have been diminished significantly, it's about 50% less than what they had two years ago. The territory that they had occupied has been taken away from them. I think we're making progress as far as reclaiming the areas inside of Syria and Iraq that were overtaken by the ISIL fighters.
Barack Obama: over these last eight years, we have demonstrated that staying true to our traditions as a nation of laws advances our security as well as our values.
Sharyl: Shedd sounds less optimistic.
David Shedd: I think the fact that President-elect Trump inherits a much stronger ISIL, or ISIS, after, after these years. Are we safer today than 15 years ago? I truly believe that we are, but we're less safe than eight years ago.
Sharyl: How so?
David Shedd: The the fact that ISIS has expanded in terms of the number of countries, whether it's in the 16 to 18 to 20 countries, depending on how you count them, but now a relationship in Nigeria with Boko Haram, a relationship, if not outright standing, in Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and I could go on and on. So, they're in more places, there are parts of Libya, which are largely ungoverned, in Sirte, Libya and a post-Gaddafi world there, so they're in North Africa, they're in East Africa, they're in West Africa. So, to, to say that we're safer overall is, is simply not true as in the last eight years.