You can't tell the players without a scorecard! Real Clear Politics provides an updated list of those selected for Cabinet and senior administration positions, and those under discussion for yet-open slots. With the Democrats planning to oppose everybody in order to highlight policy differences, there is little chance that they will be able to block anyone unless something unexpected comes out in their confirmation hearings. (Cabinet appointments require confirmation by a simple Senate majority under rules adopted by Harry Reid. White House appointments do not require confirmation.) The process will, however, show that this is an unusually strong group of achievers, with most having been selected for their focused experience rather than for their connections to a political constituency.
Let's start with the National Security team - broadly defined. This is a serious group, unconnected to the establishment which has driven American foreign policy for the last several decades. That will bring criticism from Republicans (John McCain; Lindsey Graham; the Wall Street Journal) as well as Democrats, but two decades of failure in the Middle East and the reemerging nuclear arms race require a new team.
An observation: Three generations removed from the existential challenge of World War II, many in America and Western Europe have lost track of how high the stakes are and how important a strong, judicially engaged America is to the world. Adolph Hitler was responsible for 30 million deaths, many in his own country. Joseph Stalin was responsible for 40 million deaths, mostly in his own country. Mao Zedong was responsible for 65 million deaths, mostly in his own country. A generation later, Pol Pot was responsible for a million deaths in Cambodia. The barbarity of ISIS is not unique; nor is Kim Jong-un, who executed the entire family of his uncle who had managed the ascendancy of Jong-un after his father's death in 2011. These are real problems: ISIS does want to kill as many Westerners and impure Muslims as possible; Kim Jong-un really does want to be able to incinerate Tokyo or San Francisco; Iran really does have a nuclear weapons program. Speeches are not adequate.
Trump's key selections have been unconventional, but significant upgrades from the Obama administration in most cases:
- Gen Jim Mattis for Secretary of Defense. (Ashton Carter) Mattis, a Marine's Marine, has successful senior command experience for the Middle East, Northeast Africa, and Central Asia. If the mission is to eradicate ISIS, he is the guy. If the intent is to shift the personnel focus from diversity to traditional combat capabilities, he is the guy. If the plan is to redirect procurement or downsize the Pentagon bureaucracy, a good deputy will be needed.
- Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State.(John Kerry) Tillerson's job at Exxon Mobil was not marketing, engineering, or finance - it was geopolitics. In order to make multi-year, multi-billion dollar commitments, he needed to profoundly understand the national interests and politics of the locations where Exxon-Mobil operated - Russia; Iraq; Venezuela; Nigeria; the South China Sea. He knows the players personally and is a realist.
- Gen. John Kelly for Secretary of Homeland Security. (Jeh Johnson) After appropriate Iraq experience, Kelly has run Southern Command, responsible for our military engagement in Latin America. He knows the Mexican border, gangs, drugs, weapons trafficking, and Guantanamo. He will have everything from the Coast Guard to TSA, to the Border Patrol - all of whom he knows.
- Lt General Michael Flynn for the head of the White House's National Security staff. (Susan Rice) Flynn had a strong record in Iraq and Afgnhanistan, and ran the Defense Intelligence Agency, but has had issues with unauthorized sharing of intelligence with allies, has a reputation as a loose cannon, and was fired by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in 2014. Most relevant, he was an early and vocal supporter of Donald Trump. A more stable voice so close to the President would be better.
- Representative Mike Pompeo for the Director of the CIA. (John Brennan) Pompeo graduated first in his class from West Point, graduated from Harvard Law, was a Tea Party activist, and is outspoken about radical Islamic terrorism. After 9/11 the position of Director of National Intelligence was created to oversee all federal intelligence functions, including the CIA which had previously loosely coordinated the work of other agencies as well as its primarily responsible for collection of Human Intelligence and covert operations. Trump has not yet named a Director of National Intelligence, and will be restructuring the community to make it less political and to push Washington staff into the field.
- Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. (Loretta Lynch) An early Trump supporter, Sessions is a hard liner on immigration and a defense hawk. Where President Obama has issued executive orders to avoid immigration laws, Sessions will favor strong enforcement. Where Obama thought terrorists should be treated under the criminal law, Sessions will see them as prisoners of war.
There are a number of lesser players who represent question marks. Tom Bossert, an aide under George W Bush's NSC staff, will be Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism - perhaps with a focus on cybersecurity. KT McFarland, a former NSC staffer and Fox News analyst, will provide experience and reason. General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will continue as the primary military adviser to the National Security Council in a limited role.
Nothing is certain, but as a group the national security team surrounds Trump with experience and gravitas. He has avoided potentially disruptive players like Rudy Giuliani and David Petreus. They are well prepared to address Russia, ISIS, and the southern border. What hey will do with Kim Jong-un is to be determined.
This week's video is a short speech by Senator Chuck Shumer, promising to lead a strong Senate Democratic opposition to Donald Trump's cabinet nominations.
bill bowen - 1/6/17