Vetting Trump’s Foreign Policy Team
By: Roger Aronoff | Accuracy in Media
President Donald Trump fared much better in the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Monday than the left-wing, establishment media would have you believe. The American Spectator’s George Neumayr captured the essence of the findings: “…the core claim underlying Trump’s tweets is true: people acting on the authority of Obama opened an investigation into Trump’s campaign, then criminally leaked mention of it to friendly news outlets in an attempt to derail his election. When is Obama going to apologize for that?”
But for weeks now, CNN and MSNBC have been calling Trump a liar, saying that there is no evidence to support his tweets, and demanding that he back down and apologize for his accusations against former President Barack Obama.
But Trump is also taking hits from people who have generally supported him, but who feel he is failing to live up to his promises. One such example is a recent column by Ann Coulter, who criticizes Trump for supporting the Ryan-Trump American Health Care Act as the replacement for Obamacare, and for his slow start on getting control of the illegal alien issue and border security. Coulter says that “This is starting to look like every other Republican administration.” Yes, his administration is just two months old, so maybe it’s too early to judge on those issues.
Another issue that is raising concern is how Trump is doing on foreign policy and national security matters. Does President Trump need additional assistance in vetting his nominees to administration posts? An examination of his national security appointees raises the question of whether his team knows what questions to ask, and if they are properly vetting his staff.
The political activities of former Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn, who also served a short time as national security advisor to Trump, demonstrate the administration’s inadequate scrutiny. Flynn resigned for “withholding the full story of his communications with Russia’s ambassador,” reported The New York Times. But that wasn’t the end of the conflicts of interest. After leaving office, Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent working on behalf of Turkish interests; he had earned $530,000 for that work. If Trump’s team wasn’t aware of this, they should have been, just by paying attention to the public record, including a column that came out on Election Day that read like a paid advertorial for the Turkish government.
Although Flynn’s contract ended in November, the Times reported that a transition lawyer and a White House lawyer told Flynn that it was “up to him” whether to disclose his activities.
Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary, retired Marine General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, initially selected as undersecretary of defense for policy Anne Patterson, who inspired Egyptian protests due to her support for the Muslim Brotherhood. “She [Patterson] came under fire for cultivating too close a relationship with the regime and for discouraging protests against it—and White House officials are voicing concerns about those decisions now,” reports Politico. Criticism of Patterson, and an uncertain confirmation process, led Mattis to withdraw this nomination.
Personnel is policy, and Trump ultimately holds the reins of power in the administration—if he does not abdicate that responsibility. Calling on 46 U.S. attorneys to tender their resignation was a good first step, and in keeping with past presidents.
But President Trump has signaled his unwillingness to fill many of his political appointee posts. “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump told Fox News. He continued, “You know, we have so many people in government, even me. I look at some of the jobs and it’s people over people over people. I say, ‘What do all these people do?’ You don’t need all those jobs.”
That’s clearly true, but unfortunately, when key personnel spots go unfulfilled, the administration is ceding power to the bureaucracy, which may, in turn, empower those still loyal to Obama and intent on crippling the Trump presidency. “If you don’t have a philosophy, if you don’t have a view, the risk is extraordinarily high that the bureaucracies at the State Department, the CIA, the Defense Department will co-opt the new secretary, the new head of the agency,” argued former UN ambassador John Bolton, speaking as a guest on the Breitbart News Daily show. “The bureaucracy’s policies will become their policy, and then if the White House doesn’t resist, they’ll become the administration’s policy.”
Lee Smith of The Weekly Standard wrote a much talked about piece last week for The Tablet titled, “Will Obama’s Foreign Policy Wizards Save Trump?” “What’s really bizarre is that the Trump team keeps blaming damaging leaks to the press on Obama holdovers—when the Trump team is hiring Obama holdovers,” writes Smith. “They may have caught Anne Patterson before she got past the velvet rope, but Obama people staff key positions elsewhere, on Israel, Iran, ISIS, and Syria issues. Which makes sense, since the policies they are tasked with carrying out are so far exactly the same as they were under Obama.”
By leaving in place Obama political appointees President Trump risks that these people will work to undermine his stated agenda. For example, Michael Ratney, former U.S. consul to Jerusalem, who Conservative Review describes as “one of John Kerry’s closest confidantes,” now heads “the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio at the State Department.”
Smith describes another Obama holdover, “Yael Lempert, a National Security Council staffer from the Obama administration that the Trump team decided to keep on.” Smith quotes a former Clinton official who said that Lempert “is considered one of the harshest critics of Israel on the foreign policy far left. From her position on the Obama NSC, she helped manufacture crisis after crisis in a relentless effort to portray Israel negatively and diminish the breadth and depth of our alliance. Most Democrats in town know better than to let her manage Middle East affairs. It looks like the Trump administration has no idea who she is or how hostile she is to the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Are these rookie mistakes or does Trump not care if his campaign promises regarding Israel, combating the Islamic jihadis, and ripping up the Iran deal go unfulfilled? On the plus side, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is doing great things to re-define America’s role in that institution, after eight years of Susan Rice and Samantha Power occupying America’s seat at the UN.
Trump’s new national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, has stated that he believes that radical Islamic terrorism is a perversion of Islam—not an outgrowth of the principles contained within that religion. The New York Times reports that McMaster “told his staff” that “‘radical Islamic terrorism’ was not helpful because terrorists are ‘un-Islamic.’” That newspaper heralded this as McMaster rejecting “a key ideological view of other senior Trump advisers and signaling a potentially more moderate approach to the Islamic world.” Trump himself doesn’t hesitate to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” Shouldn’t they be on the same page?
What this demonstrates, in fact, is McMaster’s blindness toward the roots of Islamic terror. As long as he remains the national security advisor to Trump, his rhetoric should be considered sanctioned by the administration.
Even more disturbing are rumblings that Trump may renege on his promise to “rip [the Iran deal] up.” In an opinion column for CNN, “Why Trump won’t tear up Iran nuclear deal,” David Andelman argues that “you don’t hear that ‘rip it up’ language any longer. And you won’t.” Reuters reports that the Trump administration is using the same messaging to the Board of Governors as used under Obama: “Iran must strictly and fully adhere to all commitments and technical measures for their duration.” Lee Smith pointed out that “former National Iranian American Council (NIAC) staffer Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, Obama’s NSC director for Iran, is now on the policy-planning staff in Trump’s State Department.” NIAC is effectively the Iran Lobby in the U.S.
If Iran is supposed to honor their commitments in the unsigned deal, will Trump also uphold the misguided U.S. political commitments as well? Trump’s pick to head the CIA, former Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS), has called this agreement “nothing more than a press release and just about as enforceable.”
It is the media’s responsibility to hold Trump accountable for keeping his promises to the American people, instead of working to undermine his policies. But Trump needs to do a better job of filling key positions and vetting the people who are making and carrying out his policies. Otherwise, his administration could turn out to be a disaster.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi. He can be contacted at [email protected]. View the complete archives from Roger Aronoff.