Hugh Hewitt hosts a nationally syndicated radio show and is the author of the forthcoming “The Fourth Way: The Conservative Playbook for a Lasting GOP Majority.”
Candidate Donald Trump never had much in the way of support from the traditional Republican foreign policy establishment. President-elect Trump is changing that. He has surprised again, assembling a team of national security heavyweights, both impressive and diverse.
The Republican foreign policy “establishment” is hardly a monolith and, since the end of World War II, has been divided into “camps” including the Taft-Goldwater quasi-isolationists, the Eisenhower-Nixon-Rockefeller-Kissinger internationalists, the Reagan peace-through-strength anti-communists and, the converts from the left to his cause, the neocons.
There was always some crossover among the camps. Former secretary of state George P. Shultz is probably the great unifying figure, a Marine who went ashore on the beaches of Peleliu and who today defends the ozone treaty as a model for dealing with climate change concerns. Shultz was of a piece with former vice president Richard B. Cheney and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and they all supported George W. Bush.
Then came 9/11, the war with many fronts, the exhaustion of the United States and the splintering of the GOP foreign policy consensus. By the time the 2016 presidential campaign got underway, there were a half-dozen camps within the party, twice as many serious candidates to lead it, and scores of national security advisers and specialists staffing the campaigns and commenting from the sidelines.
And very few, if any, were publicly attached to the eventual nominee. Candidate Trump repeatedly deflected calls for him to reveal his national security advisers. Only late in the campaign did some names surface; even then their roles were hazy. Trump kept his own counsel and won his own mandate.
So what has happened since Election Day to the GOP national security establishment, a large slice of which signed “Never Trump” letters and advocated, explicitly or implicitly, for Hillary Clinton?
First, the president-elect has assembled an experienced team. Retired Gens. James N. Mattis and John Kelly and retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg have 44, 46 and 36 years in uniform, respectively, and a long record of exemplary service in complicated commands and on many battlefields. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, leading the president’s National Security Council, was hailed by no less a figure of stature than retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as one of the finest officers to have served with him. Kathleen “KT” McFarland spent seven years in the Nixon-Ford White House at the beginning of her career, as a low-level staffer in the Situation Room, rising to join Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council staff and to a career as a longtime figure in the debates about the international order. Monica Crowley, best known as a Fox News contributor, is the incoming NSC spokeswoman; she began her career as an aide to Richard Nixon in his retirement and picked up a Columbia University PhD along the way to her high-profile television gig. The incoming CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), and the incoming Army secretary, Vincent Viola, are both West Point grads, with Pompeo graduating first in his 1986 class.
Rex Tillerson, the nominee to lead the State Department, is a new name to foreign policy but a man with decades of experience dealing with heads of government and state. Tillerson was recommended for his job not only by Cheney but by Cheney’s perceived opponents, former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and James Baker, and by former defense secretary Robert M. Gates, the model of bipartisan public service.
Also in the Trump Tower mix are an original Reaganaut in John Bolton; an original neocon in Elliott Abrams; the quintessential establishmentarian Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations; and former senator Jim Talent, a procurement expert. Familiar figures such as Richard Grenell are being mentioned for senior diplomatic posts, and the maneuvering for the scores of assistant secretary posts at Defense and State is intense.
The conclusion: Trump is — quite surprisingly — unifying the fractured GOP foreign policy establishment. Winning does that. As does the dire situation of the world. President Obama’s short-hand foreign policy legacy is easily recognized: “leading from behind,” the red line, JVs, Crimea, Aleppo, the South China Sea. It also telegraphs the urgent nature of the challenges facing the new president. Patriots are willing to serve.
The result is reassuring. Most of Trump’s incoming team has three or four or even five times as much serious national security experience coming into their new jobs as has, say, Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes going out.
Of these, the strategist in chief may well turn out to be the “warrior monk” at the Pentagon. Few people in the country have spent as much time studying history and geostrategy as Mattis, and those who have haven’t been in the thick of battle as often as Mattis, if at all. With that single selection, Trump “won” the transition. Like Mattis, Kelly brings to the Department of Homeland Security nonpartisan expertise to rally a beleaguered but still vital agency. On these two experienced warriors rests much of the burden of America’s safety.
The grown-ups are back. And they have agreed to support the new guy.
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