The sense of duty and loyalty likely driving Trump’s Asia director

The sense of duty and loyalty likely driving Trump’s Asia director
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A “former official from a past Republican administration who worked on Asia policy” recently commented on the supposedly higher-than-usual job stresses that people working in President Donald Trump’s White House apparently must endure.

Referring specifically to Matthew Pottinger, the president’s Asia director on the National Security Council, the unnamed former official remarked in a Politico Magazine profile on Mr. Pottinger: “It evokes a lot of sympathy from me, but also evokes a sense of, ‘What the hell are you still there for?’”

Mr. Pottinger, a former China correspondent for Reuters who enlisted in the U.S. Marines and did several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has demonstrated he knows all about duty, loyalty and service. He joined the Trump administration in 2017, recruited by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and now seems presently occupied helping to facilitate a summit meeting between President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — which is itself a partial response to the rather insouciant question of why he stays.


Outside observers might readily suggest a fuller list of reasons why such a highly capable and dedicated individual might wish to serve his country in that position:

  • Because the People’s Republic of China (once commonly known as Communist China) constitutes a multi-dimensional and growing security threat to the United States and its friends and allies in the region.
  • Because, after decades of insisting the North Korea problem is purely a bilateral one between Washington and Pyongyang, and just as the Trump administration seems on the verge of making progress, Chinese leader Xi Jinping intervenes to stiffen Kim Jong Un’s resistance against the American position.
  • Because China is blatantly violating international law and norms on navigational and overflight freedoms in the East and South China Seas and endangering the flow of vital world commerce.
  • Because China uses its economic and military power (facilitated by generous Western aid and investment) to coerce its smaller neighbors into accepting Chinese regional dominance, reducing their security cooperation with the United States.
  • Because China uses its economic and diplomatic clout to isolate democratic Taiwan from the international community and prepares to use force to bring its 23 million freedom-loving people under communist rule.
  • Because China has built an armada of attack submarines and an arsenal of anti-ship missiles to block Western access to the international waters of the Taiwan Strait.
  • Because, directly and indirectly, China has proliferated the technology for weapons of mass destruction and the systems to deliver them to rogue and terrorist anti-Western regimes in Asia and the Middle East, earning itself the title of “Proliferator of Proliferators” and, with a few other countries, has refused to join the Proliferation Security Initiative.
  • Because China uses trade relations and military-to-military cooperation to steal Western technology that it uses to advance its massive military expansion.
  • Because China uses the cyber domain to undermine the security of Western systems and further acquire the military-related technology of other nations.
  • Because China is expanding its nuclear arsenal and offensive missile capabilities, and is developing offensive space-based weaponry that enhances its already powerful military threat to the West.
  • Because, contrary to decades of Western expectations, China never abandoned its core communist ideology that sees the West as its inevitable mortal enemy.

The short answer to why Pottinger and his colleagues are still there is that the China and North Korea crises — which prior administrations were unable or unwilling to resolve — are still there, only worse. Other Americans should be grateful for their willingness to serve.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010.  He previously taught a graduate seminar in the Asian Studies Program at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies and has held nonresident appointments in the Asia-Pacific program at the Atlantic Council and the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.