Jack Lichtenstein Leaves ASIS, Offers Insights on Trump
At this, the end of my 22 years as staff executive for ASIS International’s legislative and public policy work, I have been asked to provide some insights into the political near-future of security.
These are unnerving times. Rarely has there been such uncertainty about America’s direction at home and abroad as there is at the end of 2016. All this is in the face of mounting threats to our security and to that of our friends.
Eventually, Americans will sort it out; they always have. But there are dangers. The sorting may be long and uncertain. And uncertainty is not the friend of security. Security requires planning, analysis, and agility, none of which can be done well in an environment filled with unknowns. Security is the antithesis of politics, which tends to be careless and messy in democracies.
The new American administration will be led by a man without credentials in government, who has pledged to change how Washington works. He was elected not as much to keep America secure but because so many Americans feel alienated from their own political and governmental institutions. They see their standard of living in decline; they sense that they have been overlooked, even disdained. More than anything, that explains the election of Donald Trump.
Trump seems to espouse two overarching themes, both recurring repeatedly in his pronouncements and appointments. One is to restore the U.S. economy to a position of world leadership. The other is to keep America and Americans secure.
The president has tools to invigorate the economy. His early aims will include accelerating job creation via infrastructure programs and tax and regulatory relief. Nearly all avenues will be aimed at job creation in the United States, despite many economic factors that are out of his control.
Security is more manageable by the White House, a result not only of presidential control of the bureaucracy but of strong (some would say excessive) executive actions in the form of Presidential Directives issued by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
It is too early to tell which of Trump’s positions—many of which have been incomplete, infeasible, or conflicting—will find their way into practice. But I offer the following recommendations based on what is possible and likely:
• Pay attention to what he does, not what he says. Trump is known for impromptu statements, which get attention but are not always useful to understanding.
• Expect emphasis to be on U.S. domestic issues during the first two years. Trump will enjoy a Republican majority in Congress for that long, which he will need to get his domestic agenda passed. He is most comfortable with economic and infrastructure issues, including job creation. He knows he was elected by Americans who want first to restore their country’s economic vitality.
• “The Wall” is a metaphor, but border security will be real. U. S. Department of Homeland Security selectee and retired U.S. Marine Corps General John F. Kelly commanded the U.S. Southern Command. He understands border issues and security and will be charged with assessing vulnerabilities and determining the right combinations of physical, technological, and personnel means for dramatically reducing illegal immigration.
• In other matters of security, America will continue to be a reliable ally if for no other reason than that conflict disrupts growth. Trump will expect U.S. allies to invest heavily in their own security. This means that there will be more spending on prevention and response programs, but also avoidance of political positions, for example immigration policies, that lay bare their vulnerabilities.
• Finally, in any dealings between the United States and other countries, America must emerge a winner. That does not mean the only winner; there can be many. But the United States will not be a loser. As those familiar with Trump’s pronouncements know so well, he abhors the very thought of being a loser.
As I move on to new professional challenges, I believe more than ever that government relations is an essential role for security professionals. Its aim must be creation and maintenance of effective public-private partnerships in security. This should be part of the mission not only of ASIS but of every ASIS chapter in every country.
The people of democracies expect those overseeing government and corporate security to coordinate in the public interest. Failure to do so is unacceptable. It not only weakens security, it leaves private practitioners exposed to needless government oversight and overreaction when politicians respond, as they will, to security failures that are sometimes unforeseeable.
I thank the membership of ASIS International for the privileges of being their counsel and representing their interests these many years. Few pursuits are more vital, and few professions more important.
Jack Lichtenstein, former vice president, ASIS Government Affairs and Public Policy