Week of September 13, 2019

Bolton Out at National Security Council

On Tuesday, National Security Advisor John Bolton was fired by President Trump – or he resigned, depending on who one believes.

It became a media event, with both sides defending their point of view.  Trump supporters said that Bolton disagreed with Trump’s ideas.  Bolton supporters said that Trump doesn’t take criticism well.

This is a far cry from the days when National Security Advisors were unknown academic types like Henry Kissinger, Brezenski who were only known for writing scholarly papers.

Clearly, Trump and Bolton had differing world views.  Bolton, a neocon was a supporter of taking a hard line against Iran and North Korea.  He also opposed pulling out of Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

Bolton wasn’t the easiest person to work for either.  Several NSC people quit after he was named National Security Advisor.

Trump, a businessman preferred to find a peaceful solution to Afghanistan, while trying to find some common ground with North Korea and Iran.   In fact, one area of disagreement with Bolton was Trump’s idea of easing sanctions on Iran in order to restart negotiations.

It was the attempt to find a solution to Afghanistan that led Trump to invite the Taliban to Camp David for negotiations.  He cancelled after learning the Taliban was behind an attack that killed an American.  Evidently, Bolton was opposed to negotiation with the Taliban and has been accused of leaking the information to the media.

Although Trump was criticized for wanting to deal with an enemy like the Taliban, even during World War Two, American officials, with the direct blessing of President Roosevelt, dealt with Nazi officials in Switzerland throughout the war.

Fact is that Bolton and Trump are two different personalities.  Bolton a policy person who worked in the government and Trump is a businessman, very entrepreneurial in temperament and very open to trying new things.  This would explain the flap over the Taliban meeting and the controversy over the Venezuela meetings with the likes of Diosdado Cabello, who helped bring Chavez to power.

As a policy person, Bolton may not have been the right person for the job while Trump was president.  One can’t always be disagreeing with the boss and expect to have a smooth road.  Plus, Trump probably isn’t all that easy to work for, given that he can shift focus and change his mind quickly, and obsessed now by how can be reelected.

Who is next at the National Security Council?

Now that Bolton is out at the NSC, the next question is who will replace him?

This is more than a policy issue.  Other factors are their background (military, academic, business, etc.), how they relate to the Secretary of State (Pompeo and Bolton rarely talked even though they were the key foreign policy people for Trump), their worldview and how it relates to Trump’s, and how they handle the media.  In the past, presidents have picked NSC advisors that reflected their views and how much influence the Department of State should have.  For instance, President Nixon picked Henry Kissinger for NSC Advisor because he wanted to keep foreign policy out of the State Department’s hands.

Although the State Department as a whole doesn’t approve of Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, like Trump, has run a business from the top and, again like Trump, has a good head for seeing the big picture, as well as operating very directly, is unlikely to be pushed out of the picture by the new NSC Advisor.

Trump may look at former NSC people that were pushed put by Bolton.  In that case one potential choice is Major General Ricky Waddell.  Waddell was Deputy National Security Advisor for Trump under NSC advisor McMaster.  He was opposed by White House Chief of Stall Priebus and was one of those who left after Bolton was appointed to the National Security Advisor post.  He is currently the Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He has served in the Middle East, but much of his experience is in South America.

If Waddell is picked, expect closer relations with the new Bolsonaro Administration in Brazil.  He speaks Portuguese, lived in San Palo, Brazil for 12 years, and was Deputy Commander of US Southern Command, which is responsible for South America.

Another possible choice is former Colonel Douglas McGregor, who has gone on news shows often to criticize Bolton and his policies.  He recently accused Bolton of trying to create a “Gulf of Tonkin” event to push the US into war with Iran.

McGregor agrees with Trump’s America First policy.  He would also clean out the NSC because he has frequently said that many in the US foreign policy establishment dislike Trump policies and are active in undermining them.

McGregor recently spoke at a Ron Paul Institute conference.  His speech was titled “National Security without Constant Conflict.”  In it, he focused on developing a policy that focused on decreasing US intervention abroad.

If Trump wants to move more aggressively on North Korea, he may pick Stephen Biegun.  Biegun is the US Special Representative for North Korea.  He served as Sarah Palin’s foreign policy advisor during 2008.  He was considered as a potential replacement for NSC advisor McMaster.  He was also executive secretary for the NSC while Condoleeza Rice headed the NSC.

Biegun is also a Russia expert, which can help in moving North Korea out of the Chinese sphere of influence.  He received his BA in Russian at the University of Michigan and was the director of the International Republican Institute in Moscow and a member of the US-Russia Business Council.  He also headed Ford Motor Company’s joint venture in Russia.

If Trump wants someone close to Secretary of State Pompeo and who knows how the Department of State works, he might choose Brian Hook, who currently serves as Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State.  He also served as Director of Policy Planning under Secretary of State Tillerson and Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs under President George W. Bush.

Hook was a foreign policy advisor for Romney when he was running for president in 2012.

The downside to a Hook selection is his close relationship with moderate Republicans.  In addition to working with President Bush and Mitt Romney, he is also a co-founder of the John Hay Initiative, which opposes the America First policy.

Picking Hook may help placate Senator Mitt Romney, who seems destined to be a thorn in Trump’s side in the US Senate.  However, there is more potential for conflict between Hook and Trump than there was with Bolton.

Another pick that has political implications would be the choice of Ambassador Richard Grenell.  Grenell is ambassador to Germany and the highest ranking openly gay American official ever.

Grenell was a national security spokesman for Romney during the 2012 campaign and was nominated to be ambassador to Germany by Trump in 2017.  He was Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy for the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations under President George W Bush.  He has been a Fox News contributor and has written articles for several news publications.

As ambassador to Germany, Grenell has made statements that have upset the German ruling party.  He has called upon German companies to stop doing business with Iran and criticized Merkel’s immigration policies.  He is also on record complaining about German newspaper Der Spiegal’s “anti-American institutional bias.”

Grenell stirred controversy in June 2018 by telling Breitbart News, “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe.”

Unlike Biegun, who has close relations in Russia, Grenell has warned Europe about Russia and its growing reliance on Russian natural gas for energy.  This year he told Handelsblatt that the with the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Europe will “always be in danger, because sanctions are always possible.”

As a strong conservative gay Republican, who supports Trump’s policies, picking Grenell for NSC advisor could be a political choice designed to garner gay support in the 2020 presidential election.

In the end, Trump will have to make a choice based on several factors.  Those who are closest to his style like Grenell don’t have the deep foreign policy experience.  Those with the experience in the State Department like Hook are too closely tied to Republicans who oppose his foreign policy and may pose a “leak” threat.

If he picks Biegun, he will be criticized for picking someone who has worked with Russia and Sarah Palin.  If he picks McGregor and McGregor cleans out the NSC, he will be accused of “destroying” the foreign policy establishment to eliminate the views of others.  A Waddell choice will find critics complaining that Waddell has too much experience in South America and not in the “hot spots’ like the Middle East.

However, the best thing for Trump to do is look at the various backgrounds of the candidates to see how their experience will dovetail with his views and what direction his foreign policy will take in the future.But his reelection campaign priorities may lead him to a surprise pick to someone serving this goal not necessarily American National Security.