President-elect Donald Trump has alienated many of the nation’s most senior national-security officials and veteran foreign-policy experts, leaving him with an apparent shortage of qualified Republicans willing to serve in his administration.
Trump’s transition team — many of whom are relative political outsiders who apparently didn’t realise that President Barack Obama’s entire West Wing staff would have to be replaced — are reportedly scrambling to fill Trump’s transition team before Inauguration Day.
A sampling of the troubles: Mike Rogers, a former FBI agent and Michigan representative chaired the House Intelligence Committee, was leading Trump’s national-security transition team before he abruptly left Monday, Bloomberg reported. He was one of the few political insiders on Trump’s team.
Some staff on the National Security Council, meanwhile, are thinking of quitting before Trump even enters the White House, The Daily Beast reported last week.
And at least 100 GOP national-security leaders — most of whom served in previous Republican administrations and would be among the most highly qualified Republicans to advise Trump on foreign policy — effectively ruled themselves out after signing open letters in March and August declaring him “hateful,” “dishonest,” “dangerous,” “erratic,” and generally unfit for the presidency.
Trump has consistently brushed off criticism from establishment figures. He dismissed the August letter as the “failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power,” thanking them for “coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place.”
But the letters were a preview of the animosity between Trump and veteran policy advisers that has made it difficult for him to find qualified personnel — especially given his notoriously vengeful nature.
Eric Edelman, a former
US ambassador to Turkey and a signatory to the August letter, told Business Insider on Monday that he was never willing to serve in a Trump administration.
But he noted that he wouldn’t be surprised if “people like me” were blacklisted by Trump and his aides for speaking out against him during his campaign.
“They just won an unexpected victory. They were reviled by people like me and now they are exulting in their success,” said Edelman, who has served in senior positions at the State Department, Defence Department, and the White House. “That is politics and, as the saying goes, it ain’t bean bag.”
Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security in the under George W. Bush, put it even more bluntly in an interview with The Daily Beast.
“Everybody who has signed a Never Trump letter or indicated an anti-Trump attitude is not going to get a job,” he said. “And that’s most of the Republican foreign policy, national security, intelligence, homeland security, and Department of Justice experience.”
Indeed, Peter Feaver, who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said that when he and his peers signed the letter in August they understood they were moving their names from the “available to be considered” list on to the “very unlikely to be considered” list.
“While every administration reaches beyond its narrow base of hard-core supporters to build out its staff, it would be very rare for an administration to hire people who actively spoke out against the President-elect during the campaign,” Feaver, who now teaches political science and public policy at Duke University, told Business Insider.
“Fortunately, there are many very capable people who did not sign or speak out and so should not be on any blacklist,” he added.
According to The Daily Beast, however, many of the people being vetted by Trump’s transition team with respect to national security have field experience from serving in the military, but have never navigated the politics of Washington’s intelligence community.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, meanwhile, are among Trump’s top picks for secretary of state. Bolton, generally more of a foreign-policy hawk than the views Trump espoused on the campaign trail, served for less than two years and has long been highly critical of the UN.
Giuliani, who was mayor during the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, joined the Iraq Study Group when it was formed in 2006 as a bipartisan assessment of the situation on the ground there. But he missed all of the meetings and was later replaced. He also has said he is “not sure” that waterboarding is torture, though the practice has been banned according to US law.
“It depends on how it’s done,” the former mayor said at a
town hall meeting in 2007, when he was running for president. “It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it.” Minutes later, he said that “America should not allow torture” but “should engage in aggressive questioning of Islamic terrorists.”
The Republican national security officials who denounced Trump in their letters mentioned his generally favourable stance on torture as a major reason why they could not support his candidacy.
Stephen Biddle, an adjunct senior fellow for defence policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Business Insider last week that there will likely be “serious civil-military tensions over issues like torture that raise legal and ethical questions” in a Trump administration.
Amid those ethical and legal questions, many national security veterans are prepared and even proud to not be associated with a Trump White House.
Eliot Cohen, a former State Department officer and Defence Department official who signed the August letter, said it would not surprise him “in the slightest” if Trump had effectively blacklisted those in the national security community who spoke out against him during the campaign.
“If its true, I’ll wear it as a badge of honour, though,” Cohen told Business Insider on Monday. “And you can quote me on that.”
Cohen wrote last week that rather than move to Canada, Americans dismayed by a Trump administration should maintain “constant vigilance” over the US’ free institutions and “say yes” if they’re asked to work for him.
But by Tuesday morning, he’d changed his mind.
“After exchange with Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: Stay away,” Cohen tweeted. “They’re angry, arrogant, screaming “you LOST!” Will be ugly.”
The Trump transition team didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.
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