While a lot of white-hot issues will be hammered on in the coming weeks during U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for the incoming administration’s Cabinet secretaries, no topic will generate more sparks than Russia.
No real surprise.
Moscow has been a huge headache for the Obama administration, which attempted to “reset” relations with Russia in its early days in office. I mean, who can forget Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her big red Russian reset button?
Obama ends his time in power with U.S.-Russian relations arguably as frigid as they’ve ever been, including during the iciest days of the Cold War. President-elect Donald Trump is going to have his hands full.
As such, here are some of the issues you can expect that nominees for secretary of State (Rex Tillerson), Defense (James Mattis) and CIA (Mike Pompeo) will have to field this week from searching-for-answers senators.
Cyber: The computer hacking issue won’t be limited to just what happened during the U.S. election. It’ll also focus on what the Trump foreign policy and national security team intends to do about it.
Besides shoring up our cyber defense, some senators seem to want to generate some offense against Russia; they’ll want to know what the plans are for avenging Moscow’s attempted meddling.
Europe: Lawmakers will also want to discuss concerns about Russian saber-swinging and rattling across the Atlantic. Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and its role in the ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine will be of keen interest.
There’ll also be questioning about plans and policies for dealing with Russian intimidation and assertiveness in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, where frontline NATO allies (for example, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland) are knee-knocking nervous.
Another matter: Any plans for NATO enlargement?
Middle East: The congressional cross-examiners will also want to know the incoming administration’s thoughts on the Russian intervention in the Syria civil war, where Moscow proved to be a game changer for Damascus.
Key question: What could Russia’s role be — if any — in fighting ISIS?
Senators may also delve into Moscow’s machinations and motives in the Middle East, boring in on its seemingly friendly ties with Iran — a relationship that is still very tense for us despite the nuclear deal.
Other: Arms control aficionados will want to hear about Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, withdrawal from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and nuclear and missile modernization.
Senators will get also want to get at Moscow’s moves as an Arctic neighbor — competing territorial claims, energy/resource issues and steps to militarize the “Great North.”
While in the hot seat, nominees will also have to answer questions about their plans for dealing with terrorism, China, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan — not to mention ties with friends and allies (such as Britain, Israel and Japan).
Even with that exhaustive list, Russia will get top billing.
We should wish these nominees well not only in their confirmation hearings but in dealing with the vast, global foreign policy, national security and intelligence challenges that lie ahead.
Their success in office is critically important to all of us.
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