By Siona Peterous
RICHMOND, Virginia – In a conference call this week with Virginia Commonwealth University students, former CIA Director John Brennan slammed several national security moves by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Brennan said some aspects of foreign relations are the same under Trump as they were under President Barack Obama. They include progress on defeating ISIS in Iraq, a stagnation on counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, and strained relationships with Iran and North Korea.
However, Brennan, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency under Obama, criticized the Trump administration for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem. He said the move undermines efforts toward a two-state solution that would give both Israelis and Palestinians equal access to land.
“It’s inconsistent with our votes in the United Nations that would leave Jerusalem’s status to negotiation for both parties,” Brennan said Wednesday. “Though that may have received immediate accolades from some corners, I do think it’s going to be a setback for prospects for a viable peace process in the two-state solution.”
The conference call was hosted by the Council of Foreign Relations, a think tank that specializes in U.S. foreign policy and national security.
Brennan was critical of the Trump administration’s decision to suspend aid to Afghan and Pakistani counterinsurgency forces. He also said U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017 ceded ground to China’s growing international influence.
“Right now, Venezuelan stability and security depends on continued Cuban and Chinese support,” Brennan said in a response to a question about civil strife in the South American country. “If the Chinese are becoming more involved and engaged in our hemisphere or if we’re distracted, then we can’t fulfill what I believe is our hemispheric obligations.”
In May, the Trump administration signed America’s largest arms deal, giving Saudi Arabia $350 billion over 10 years. Since then, the U.S. has been accused of funding a proxy war in Yemen, which Brennan said exacerbates American security in the region.
“I don’t know what the Trump administration is doing on this front, but I do hope they are counseling restraint so that the Saudis don’t feel they have carte blanche as far as bombing in Yemen,” Brennan said.
Brennan said the most significant security threats in the year ahead are a lack of leadership in the State Department, distractions caused by the investigations into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential elections led by special counsel Robert Muller, and a combination of increasing political partisanship and nationalism.
In recent days, Trump announced his support for the Pentagon to plan a military parade through Washington. The last military parade in the capital was in 1991 following the victory of the First Gulf War. According to Pentagon spokesman Charlie Summers, the plans are in their “infancy.”
“This idea of a military parade in Washington – I just shake my head in disbelief. These are the things I’ve seen in third-world dictatorships and authoritarian regimes,” Brennan said.
“I feel pretty strongly that the United States is strong and respected because of who we are and what we are and how we conduct our foreign policy on national security, but this very bombastic rhetoric is very antithetical to our values, to our history, to who we are.”
Despite concerns with the current administration’s national security efforts, Brennan remained hopeful as a new generation of national security professionals enters government agencies.
“I do hope that there are many aspiring national security professionals out there because your country and your governance need you,” Brennan said. “We need the best talent to deal with the challenges we face ahead.”