Trump brings disruption to national security team

Trump brings disruption to national security team

President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout MORE’s disruptive style hasn’t been reflected in his national security team — but that may change with the appointments of John Bolton and Mike PompeoMike PompeoIt will be Vice (or) President Harris against Gov. DeSantis in 2024 — bet on it DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Pompeo not ruling out 2024 White House bid MORE.

Bolton, who wants to strike down the Iran nuclear deal and has advocated pre-emptive strikes on North Korea, is replacing H.R. McMaster as national security adviser. Pompeo, the hawkish CIA director, is Trump's pick to replace Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonLawmakers to roll out legislation reorganizing State cyber office New State Department cyber bureau stirs opposition Blinken tells State Department staff 'I have your back' MORE as secretary of State.

The changes shift Trump away from a more establishment-friendly team, and in the direction of one that would change today’s order.


And it comes after other moves that also suggest Trump is embracing the disruptive nature of his campaign — including the imposition of new tariffs on steel and aluminum that led to the resignation of former economic adviser Gary CohnGary David CohnOn The Money: Wall Street zeros in on Georgia runoffs | Seven states sue regulator over 'true lender' rule on interest rates | 2021 deficit on track to reach .3 trillion Former Trump economic aide Gary Cohn joins IBM The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience MORE.

“The broader context is that you had previously — if you’re looking at McMaster, Tillerson, [Defense Secretary James] Mattis and Cohn — you had a pretty standard national security establishment team,” said James Goldgeier, former dean of American University’s School of International Service.

“You could have imagined that four in any recent administration,” Goldgeier said. “So you’re starting to see a shift away from an establishment team more toward a team that fits Trump’s more disruptive style.”

Trump seems to agree, in that he’s said he is making moves to get the “Cabinet and other things that I want.”

And the latest changes are likely to have a huge impact on policy.

The Iran deal was already hanging by a thread after Trump announced earlier this year he would reimpose nuclear sanctions on Tehran in May if European allies do not agree to a supplemental agreement to punish Iran for issues not addressed in the nuclear accord.

On North Korea, Trump has recently embraced diplomacy, agreeing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But he’s previously threatened “fire and fury” if Pyongyang doesn’t curb its nuclear threats.

Pompeo is a fierce critic of the Iran deal, which he has said “virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

Bolton, meanwhile, argued the case for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in February and encouraged Trump to “abrogate the Iran nuclear deal in his first days in office” last year.

“I hear the drumbeats of war,” Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeePro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget Progressives push White House to overturn wage ruling Lawmakers, Martin Luther King III discuss federal responses to systematic racism MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement reacting to the Bolton news.

Voices who wanted to improve the Iran deal but not scrap it suggested that is now a lost cause.

“I think my long-standing hope for a fix to the Iran deal just died. Time of death: Afternoon of March 22, 2018. Now what?” tweeted Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz.

After Pompeo’s nomination last week, one former State Department official said that Trump is likely to send a signal that he has no interest in fixing the Iran nuclear deal. By installing a staunch opponent of the agreement as his chief diplomat, the official said, Trump could pre-emptively weaken the U.S. position in negotiations.

“I think the real risk here is that the Europeans see the writing on the wall and believe the president has no intention of making an agreement work to try to salvage the deal, and decide to go their own direction, and see what they can do to try to preserve things with the Iranians,” the official said.

Brian Hook, the State Department’s policy planning director who’s in charge of the Iran deal negotiations, declined to comment during a briefing this week about how the transition to Pompeo’s leadership would affect efforts to hammer out changes to the agreement.

Not everyone thinks the personnel changes will lead to significantly new policies.

James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation who’s close with the administration, said he does not anticipate a shift.

“I never bought into the axis-of-adult narrative,” Carafano said of the idea that Tillerson, McMaster and Mattis temper Trump’s policies. “Trump from day one has been the decider in chief.”

Carafano also argued that many big policy stances have already been staked out in documents such as the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy.

“I just don’t think at the end of the day Trump wants a war. He keeps holding up Reagan as his model,” he said. “Reagan wasn’t a warmonger. He wanted to show a strong face to have enemies’ respect, but he didn’t want to fight wars, and I don’t think Trump wants to fight a war.”

Still, Carafano said he thinks some “tactics” might change as he believes Trump moved Pompeo and brought in Bolton for his vision to move faster and to have out-of-the-box ideas to achieve that vision. Carafano highlighted previous actions such as cutting off aid to Pakistan, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel and agreeing to meet with Kim, suggesting such unconventional decisions could happen more frequently now.

With similar worldviews, Pompeo and Bolton could forge a closer relationship with one another than their predecessors, potentially resolving the issue of competing power centers among Trump’s foreign policy team.

McMaster and Tillerson were known to clash often. On North Korea, for example, Tillerson urged a more cautious approach to the crisis, while McMaster held out a potential military strike on the Korean Peninsula as a real option.

But others have warned Pompeo and Bolton’s uniform viewpoint could be an issue.

“Trump will now be surrounded by people with very similar views on key issues,” John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA, told The Cipher Brief. “This can be a problem and can close off options unless Bolton rises to the occasion as a national security adviser — whose principal job is always to tease out a range of views and present them fairly to the president and lay out the pros and cons of each option.”

Goldgeier highlighted Mattis’s continued place in the administration as a possible temper on Trump’s more hawkish tendencies, saying Mattis is a “formidable figure” with a strong department and allies on Capitol Hill.

But, he added, “it’s always a question as to whether anyone can temper Trump’s impulses,” and Pompeo and Bolton could reinforce those impulses.

“He has people in place who are going to reinforce his own instincts, and I think, particularly with Iran, we’ve heard for some time from him that he wants to walk away from the Iran deal. Now has a national security adviser that’s going to say, ‘Yeah, you should do that,’ ” Goldgeier said. “I think we should be worried that we have people who have argued that military force against Iran and North Korea would solve the problems that we have associated with those two countries.”