Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Robert Harward plans a housecleaning of Trump’s National Security Council staff

If, as expected, Harward accepts the job today, he is likely to bring in his own team, from deputy on down, with a focus on national security types with some experience under their belts.

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President Donald Trump offered the job of national security advisor to retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward on Monday night, and was a bit surprised when Harward responded by saying he needed a couple of days to think it over.

If, as expected, Harward accepts the job today, he is likely to bring in his own team, from deputy on down, with a focus on national security types with some experience under their belts.

I think he would look especially to people he knows from his time working for the George W. Bush NSC from 2003 to 2005. No more Fox News talking heads. Instead, I think he would try to take a Scowcroftian approach to trying to run the interagency policy formulation process — deliberate, rigorous, careful. Just how that will fit with the style of the Twitterer-in-Chief, I don’t know.

President Donald Trump offered the job of national security advisor to retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward on Monday night, and was a bit surprised when Harward responded by saying he needed a couple of days to think it over.

If, as expected, Harward accepts the job today, he is likely to bring in his own team, from deputy on down, with a focus on national security types with some experience under their belts.

I think he would look especially to people he knows from his time working for the George W. Bush NSC from 2003 to 2005. No more Fox News talking heads. Instead, I think he would try to take a Scowcroftian approach to trying to run the interagency policy formulation process — deliberate, rigorous, careful. Just how that will fit with the style of the Twitterer-in-Chief, I don’t know.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see J.D. Crouch and David Trachtenberg appear at the White House gate in the next few days, with Crouch the leading candidate to be Harward’s deputy. Perhaps also Juan Zarate and Mike Singh.

Harward is, like the ousted Michael Flynn, a retired military flag officer. But I think he would be very different from Flynn.

Most importantly, he is not an ideologue, as Flynn seemed to have become in the last few years. Harward thinks of himself as a national security professional — and indeed once served on the NSC staff, during the Bush Administration. Before that, early in the Afghan war, he headed the Special Operations task force in Kandahar.

Harward also would work well with Defense Secretary James Mattis. When Mattis was chief of Central Command, Harward was his deputy. Mattis trusted him enough to put him in charge of planning for war with Iran. Mattis has urged Harward to take the NSA job.

If Harward becomes NSA, Mattis would emerge from the Flynn mess in a uniquely powerful position: He would have two of his former deputies at the table in some meetings. The other one is John Kelly, now secretary for Homeland Security, who was his number two when Mattis commanded a Marine division early in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

At this point, Mattis has far greater influence over former military officers than the president does. His presence at the Pentagon is the sole reason some are considering climbing aboard Trump’s sinking ship.

Photo credit: U.S. Military/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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