Pentagon Memo Shows Trump Not Seeking Military Confrontation With Russia

Priorities Memo Focuses on ISIS Fight, Increasing Size of Military

A newly released memo from outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Brian McKeon to other officials within his office detailed the defense priorities of the incoming Trump Administration. Little focus among analysts was given to the priorities listed, instead focusing on the absence of Russia as a target.

This is already provoking criticism from some hawkish analysts, despite President-elect Trump repeatedly indicating over the last several months that he seeks improved diplomatic ties with Russia and thought it would “be nice” for the US and Russia to cooperate in fighting ISIS.

It would seem unsurprising, then, that the memo set out fighting and destroying ISIS as his top priority. The memo also said the administration wants to eliminate spending caps on the military to increase its overall size, to develop a “comprehensive” cyber-war strategy, and to generally find ways to improve efficiency.

Fighting ISIS has always been a talking point for Trump throughout the campaign. It is worth noting, however, that while most such memos lay out a whole series of enemies to target militarily, Trump’s priorities begin and end with ISIS, with the memo also mentioning in passing briefings on China and North Korea, but not including them on the list itself.

This may reflect Trump’s comments since the election, which have faulted the US as having a “policy of intervention and chaos” around the world, and needing to focus more narrowly on ISIS and not “fighting in areas that we shouldn’t be fighting in.”

On the other hand, Trump transition officials warned against drawing too many conclusions from the memo, saying it would be “misleading” to think this is a complete list of Trump’s military priorities.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.