The general chosen by President Obama to replace the Pentagon’s top military officer has put the administration in an awkward position after remarks Thursday in which he called Russia "the greatest threat to our national security" -- a stance taken by 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and lambasted by the president during the 2012 campaign.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, nominated to replace Gen. Martin Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the comments in response to a question by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., at Dunford's confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“My assessment today, Senator, is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security,” Dunford told lawmakers.
“So if you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia."
- Gen. Joseph Dunford
“In Russia we have a nuclear power. We have one that not only has the capability to violate the sovereignty of our allies and to do things that are inconsistent with our national interests, but they’re in the process of doing so,” Dunford said.
“So if you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming,” Dunford said.
Dunford’s views align with Romney's, who during the 2012 presidential campaign labeled Russia “the number one geopolitical foe” of the United States, a remark that Obama mocked during the third presidential debate.
“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama told Romney.
The Obama campaign even used the quote as part of a campaign ad in which Romney’s comments were dismissed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said Romney was “showing little understanding of what is going on in the 21st century.”
Dunford’s comments also drew criticism from the White House Thursday, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest calling the nominee’s views out of line with the President’s national security team.
“Certainly, General Dunford is somebody who has spent a lot of time thinking about these issues and has his own view, but I think that he would be the first to admit that that reflects his own view and doesn't necessarily reflect the consensus analysis of the President's national security team,” Earnest said.
The State Department also distanced itself from Dunford's comments.
"The Secretary doesn't agree with [Gen. Dunford's] assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China quite frankly," Mark Toner, a State Dept deputy spokesperson, said.