Pentagon Is At Odds With White House Over Russia, But The Reality Is Somewhere In Between

(REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin)

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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Top U.S. military commanders are warning Russia is the country’s greatest threat, frustrating a White House reluctant to discomfort an antagonist, indeed a rival, it sees as just one threat among many.

The White House is worried the Pentagon is unnecessarily paving the way for an escalation with Russia that could lead to war, reported The Daily Beast. But the generals see the threat as serious enough to warrant a top threat designation that would allow them to devote more resources to the fight. Specifically, potential arms shipments to Ukraine, the Baltic states, and at least a conversation about missile defense shields in Poland.

“The administration thinks the ranking of threats is not the most productive way to devise a strategy,” a senior defense official told The Daily Beast. “But we are saying, ‘How else do we allocate increasingly limited resources?'”

The White House strategy is to avoid “getting involved in any kind of conflict,” another senior defense official told The Daily Beast. “They’re being a little too timid,” the official added.

Russia’s apparent willingness to use its nuclear arsenal, sophisticated cyber attacks on the U.S. and complex, asymmetrical provocation in Ukraine has startled the America’s top defense minds. They increasingly push to arm the Ukrainians to resist Putin’s aggression. (RELATED: By The Way, Russia Hacked The Pentagon)

A number of top generals and former generals have named Russia as the biggest threat while testifying before Congress. But White House officials aren’t buying it. To them, Russia is just one of a number of threats which include Iran and the Islamic State. Arming the Ukrainian rebels, and they see it, would antagonize Russia and potentially screw up efforts for a sustainable cease-fire in the region.

“We’re making Russian aggression in Europe completely cost free,” U.S. Naval War College Professor Tom Nichols told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The Pentagon has a perfectly reasonable concern to say: ‘How do we stop this from going any further?'”

“People who resist the idea of U.S. intervention, it’s either too early, too complicated or too late,” he added. “That’s why I call it the Goldilocks problem. It’s the same problem with Syria. ‘Well it’s too early, things aren’t really that yet — well now things are really bad, it’s really complicated.’ And then two years go by: ‘Now it’s just too late to do anything.'”

“They’re going to escalate in any case, and the more passive we are the more encouraged they are to escalate.”

Ryan Evans, War on the Rocks Editor-in-Chief, acknowledged Russia has the most significant capabilities, but aemphasized that any kind of conventional attack is still highly unlikely. “Russia and Putin in particular are doing a lot of saber rattling on their conventional and strategic power — nuclear weapons — out of a feeling of insecurity,” he told TheDCNF.

“They’re talking a big game, but as they’re trying to do these actually pretty small things, they’re straining themselves,” he said, referring to a series of reports of recent military technical failures and Russian Air Force crashes. “So their bark is a lot worse than their bite.”

“They’ve been promising to spend all this money on new weapon systems and new tanks and new this, but everyone knows they can’t actually afford to do that,” he added.

Top generals have been naming Russia as the biggest threat for years before Congress, he says.  “Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, set to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified last month.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded almost immediately. “These kind of assessments are dynamic,” he said, according to The Daily Beast. “I think he would be the first to admit that that’s — reflects his own view, and not — and doesn’t necessarily reflect the view of—or the consensus analysis of the president’s national security team.”

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