Two names who would give Trump an all-star security team after Bolton
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump knows exactly what he wants when it comes to foreign policy. He wants a clear definition of the American strategic interest across the globe and a commitment that war is always a tool of last resort.
His stubborn loyalty to those two objectives sometimes is derided as nationalistic and non-interventionist by his critics.
But for those of us old enough to remember, those principles used to be endemic to U.S. foreign policy for decades, until Bill Clinton and Barack Obama took the Iranian appeasement bait and George W. Bush mispositioned America as the unrelenting, trigger-happy global cop.
The murky foreign policies of the past two decades moved America away from defining its strategic interest on each global issue to a more populist, hair-trigger approach, giving us such blunders as Bush’s bogus Iraq WMD claim and Obama’s feckless erosion of a red line in Syria.
With John Bolton’s departure as the president’s national security adviser on Tuesday, President Trump has the rare opportunity to restore the American strategic interest to foreign policy and create a clear global doctrine to govern for years to come.
But it will require something he hasn’t always done well — picking the right people.
Sometimes it’s not the blustery media persona, which the relentless neocon Bolton offered, or the flashy uniforms of Gens. Kelly, McMasters and Mattis, or the establishment appeasement that Dan Coats presented that work best on the senior team.
Rather, it’s finding the strategic executioners who share the president’s policy vision or can, at the very least, subjugate personal ego to carry out the president’s plan with determination, clarity and competence.
New Attorney General William Barr has shown the difference that very approach makes in corralling and calming a wayward Justice Department after the Russia “collusion” fiasco. Secretary Mike Pompeo has done the same at State after Rex Tillerson’s diplomatic equivalent of a toxic oil spill.
Trump has two candidates — both confirmed by the Senate to other jobs on his watch — who can rival Barr’s and Pompeo’s contributions by stepping into the vacant, critical roles of national security adviser (NSA) and director of national intelligence (DNI).
The first is Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, who has shown remarkable competence in downsizing the once-giant European Union lioness Angela Merkel on the world stage and achieving numerous strategic wins for America from Berlin.
Almost immediately upon his arrival in Berlin, Grenell punched like a heavyweight when he finally got the reluctant Germans to extradite a 95-year-old Nazi labor camp guard who had sought safe haven in New York City for decades.
Multiple U.S. administrations had vowed to get the job done. Trump and Grenell were the ones who succeeded.
- galled the Europeans to up the ante on their anemic NATO spending — a key strategic goal for Trump;
- persuaded the Germans to open new liquid natural gas facilities for U.S. exports;
- relentlessly pressured the Germans to resist a new Russian gas pipeline known as Nord Stream 2; and
- successfully forced the Germans to block an Iranian airline from servicing the country.
And just this week Grenell showed the power of his bully pulpit in softening Berlin’s resistance to banning Hezbollah from Germany.
The list of accomplishments proves Grenell can get done what Trump wants done with his take-no-hostages approach to winning. He also loves Twitter about as much as the president, which creates a natural affinity.
But Grenell, a student of Bolton, also brings one trait that his former boss — however brilliant — sometimes lacked: the ability to pragmatically place strategic interests ahead of ideology.
My sources tell me Bolton resisted the idea that American oil and energy companies should stay on the ground during Venezuela’s upheaval. For Bolton, it was a principled stand. But for much of the rest of Trump’s national security team, the importance of keeping America business interests on the ground until the Maduro regime falls was essential to ensuring Russia and China don’t steal that strategic foothold.
The ability to discern such opportunity is important for an NSA.
Pompeo may be tempted to pressure Trump to install one of the secretary of State’s own allies, such as Iranian-crisis envoy Brian Hook, into the NSA job. While Pompeo’s word should always carry weight, Hook’s selection would repeat a mistake Trump has made multiple times in elevating a onetime critic into a trusted position.
Hook helped found the John Hay Initiative, a group of ex-Mitt Romney foreign policy advisers who organized a prominent letter in 2016, signed by 121 conservative thought-leaders, arguing that Trump would make America less safe. Though Hook did not sign the letter himself, he made clear his criticism of the eventual 45th president.
Hook has done a strong job as the Iran point man and is better served staying there than taking on the NSA job, where his past criticisms of his boss almost certainly would endanger his authority to lead.
Like Grenell, another ambassador in Europe, former Congressman Peter Hoekstra, who is America’s top diplomat to the Netherlands, could help fill an essential void as the DNI.
Coats never really clicked with Trump and slow-walked important transparency opportunities that would have exposed problems with the Russia probe, including the declassification of important congressional interviews.
Hoekstra was respected by both parties as the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, understands the intelligence community well and enjoys the president’s confidence. And he brings a commonsense Midwesterner’s approach to getting things done without the need for personal glory.
With Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Russia, Syria and many more foreign challenges brewing, Trump needs a unified, competent national security team capable of oaring in a single direction.
If he gets these next two personnel picks right, he also has a chance to cement the Trump doctrine that defines the American interest clearly in each country and reserves the might of the American military as a last resort. In so doing he will fulfill another promise he made as a candidate.
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He serves as an investigative columnist and executive vice president for video at The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @jsolomonReports.
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