Gatestone Institute, by Soeren Kern, August 9, 2017
- National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said that an ongoing review of Iran policy will be completed by late summer. In the meantime, however, he has fired opponents of the Iran deal, including Derek Harvey, who reportedly drafted a comprehensive plan on how to withdraw from the agreement. A White House insider described Trump’s Iran policy as “completely gutted” in the aftermath of McMaster’s purge.
- “Everything the president wants to do, McMaster opposes. Trump wants to get us out of Afghanistan — McMaster wants to go in. Trump wants to get us out of Syria — McMaster wants to go in. Trump wants to deal with the China issue — McMaster doesn’t. Trump wants to deal with the Islam issue — McMaster doesn’t. You know, across the board, we want to get rid of the Iran deal — McMaster doesn’t. It is incredible to watch it happening right in front of your face. Absolutely stunning.” — Former NSC official, Daily Caller.
- “The President’s ultimate success will in large part depend on the degree of commitment to his agenda among the people he appoints to ensure its success…. The most important rule of presidential personnel management is to appoint people who are fully committed to the presidential agenda.” — “Personnel Is Policy,” The Heritage Foundation.
The ongoing purge of people loyal to U.S. President Donald J. Trump at the National Security Council, the main organization used by the president to develop national security policy, is part of a power struggle over the future direction of American foreign policy.
Trump campaigned on a promise radically to shift American foreign policy away from the “globalism” pursued by his predecessors to one of a “nationalism” which puts “America first.” He also vowed to: “defeat” Islamic extremism; “tear up” the nuclear deal with Iran; “reset” bilateral relations with Israel by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “on Day One” of his administration; and “direct the Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator.”
Trump’s election has set in motion a bitter power struggle between two main factions: those led by White House strategist Steve Bannon — who are devoted to implementing the president’s foreign policy agenda, and those led by National Security Advisor Herbert Raymond “H.R.” McMaster — who appear committed to perpetuating policies established by the Obama administration.
Since becoming national security advisor in February, McMaster has clashed with Trump and Bannon on policy relating to Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Islam, Israel, Iran, Mexico, NATO, North Korea, Russia and Syria, among others.
McMaster has also been accused of trying to undermine the president’s foreign policy agenda by removing from the National Security Council key Trump loyalists — K.T. McFarland, Adam Lovinger, David Cattler, Tera Dahl, Rich Higgins, Derek Harvey, and Ezra Cohen-Watnick— and replacing them with individuals committed to maintaining the status quo.
An analysis of the foreign policy views of McMaster and some of his senior staff at the National Security Council shows them to be overwhelmingly at odds with what Trump promised during the campaign.
|National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has been accused of trying to undermine President Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda by removing from the National Security Council key Trump loyalists. Pictured: President Trump and McMaster at the announcement of McMaster’s appointment as National Security Advisor, on February 20, 2017. (Image source: White House video screenshot)|
National Security Advisor
President Trump selected Army Lieutenant General McMaster to replace retired Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who resigned as national security advisor on February 13 after leaked intelligence reports alleged that he misrepresented his conversations with a Russian diplomat. McMaster’s views on foreign policy are — by and large — the mirror opposite of those held by Flynn.
Flynn, for example, argued that the West is in a civilizational clash with Islam and that the war on jihadism cannot be won unless the ideology that drives it is defeated. McMaster, by contrast, categorically rejects the notion of a clash of civilizations; his public statements on Islam are virtually indistinguishable from those of the Obama administration.
On February 23, during his first staff meeting, McMaster reportedly urged National Security Council employees to avoid using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” because, according to McMaster, groups such as the Islamic State represent a “perversion of Islam” and are therefore “un-Islamic.” McMaster added that he is “not on board” with using the term because it targets “an entire religion” and may alienate Muslim allies in the Middle East.
McMaster pleaded with Trump to remove references to “radical Islamic terrorism” from the president’s speech to Congress on February 28. At the time, Trump held his ground: he stressed a commitment to protect America from “radical Islamic terrorism.”
More recently, however, McMaster appears to have prevailed. Trump’s May 21 speech in Saudi Arabia — the world’s greatest purveyor of radical Islam — was conspicuous for its moderation: “We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values.”
In a June 4 speech to the “Global Forum” of the American Jewish Committee, McMaster praised Trump’s Saudi address, calling it an “extraordinary speech” in which the president “outlined a path of unity and peace to people of all faiths.” McMaster also claimed that leaders throughout the Muslim world had condemned “those who are hijacking Islam to justify violence against innocents.”
McMaster’s public position on the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran remains ambiguous. In July, he spoke at length about why the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a bad deal and how it has not changed Iran’s behavior. On the other hand, he pressed Trump into certifying to Congress — twice in six months — that Iran is complying with the agreement, despite many indications that it is not.
McMaster said that an ongoing review of Iran policy will be completed by late summer. In the meantime, however, he has fired opponents of the Iran deal, including Derek Harvey, who reportedly drafted a comprehensive plan on how to withdraw from the agreement. A White House insider described Trump’s Iran policy as “completely gutted” in the aftermath of McMaster’s purge.
McMaster has also refused to publish the secret side deals the Obama administration signed with Iran which allow Tehran to maintain critical aspects of its nuclear program. Not surprisingly, many observers are convinced that McMaster will try to prevent Trump from honoring his campaign pledge to rescind or renegotiate the nuclear deal.
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly described the JCPOA as a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated.” On February 1, after Iran launched a ballistic missile, the White House signaled a tougher line on Tehran. “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” Flynn had said.
Flynn’s ouster less than two weeks later was rumored to have been orchestrated by Obama loyalists in order to preserve the Iran deal:
“The effort, said to include former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes — the architect of a separate White House effort to create what he described as a pro-Iran echo chamber — included a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn’s credibility, multiple sources revealed.
“The operation primarily focused on discrediting Flynn, an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, in order to handicap the Trump administration’s efforts to disclose secret details of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been long hidden by the Obama administration.”
Meanwhile, McMaster has been described as being “deeply hostile” to Israel, which he reportedly considers an “occupying power.” American-born Israeli journalist Caroline Glick, citing White House sources, elaborated:
“According to senior officials aware of his behavior, he constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews….
“McMaster disagrees and actively undermines Trump’s agenda on just about every salient issue on his agenda. He fires all of Trump’s loyalists and replaces them with Trump’s opponents, like Kris Bauman, an Israel hater and Hamas supporter who McMaster hired to work on the Israel-Palestinian desk. He allows anti-Israel, pro-Muslim Brotherhood, pro-Iran Obama people like Robert Malley to walk around the NSC and tell people what to do and think. He has left Ben (reporters know nothing about foreign policy and I lied to sell them the Iran deal) Rhodes’ and Valerie Jarrett’s people in place.”
On May 16, just days before Trump’s visit to the Middle East, McMaster refused to comment on whether the Western Wall is within sovereign Israeli territory and dismissed the matter as a “policy decision.” McMaster also downplayed the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount: “He [Trump] is going to the Western Wall to connect with three of the world’s great religions,” McMaster said.
According to Glick, it was McMaster, not the U.S. consul in Jerusalem as initially reported, who pressed Trump into rejecting a request from Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu join the president during a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. “No Israeli leaders will join President Trump at the Western Wall,” McMaster confirmed.
McMaster has also attempted to thwart Trump’s outreach to Russia. On July 20, the Associated Press reported that McMaster objected to an extended dinner conversation between Trump and Putin on the sidelines of the recent G20 summit in Germany. McMaster then insulted Trump behind his back by expressing his disapproval of the president to several foreign officials:
“McMaster specifically said that he disagreed with Trump’s decision to hold an Oval Office meeting in May with top Russian diplomats and with the president’s general reluctance to speak out against Russian aggression in Europe.”
McMaster also advised the president against holding an official bilateral meeting with Putin. In the end, Trump held his ground: McMaster was not allowed to attend the meeting. Only Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a translator made up the U.S. side.
In April, Trump said that he wanted South Korea to pay for the $1 billion THAAD missile defense system being deployed in the country to protect against missiles from North Korea. South Korean officials responded that, under a bilateral agreement reached with the Obama administration, the United States is responsible for bearing the cost. McMaster then “corrected” Trump by reassuring South Korean officials that the United States will indeed pay for the system. “The last thing I would ever do is contradict the president of the United States,” McMaster told Fox News.
A former NSC official told the Daily Caller that McMaster is “subverting” Trump’s foreign policy at every turn:
“Everything the president wants to do, McMaster opposes. Trump wants to get us out of Afghanistan — McMaster wants to go in. Trump wants to get us out of Syria — McMaster wants to go in. Trump wants to deal with the China issue — McMaster doesn’t. Trump wants to deal with the Islam issue — McMaster doesn’t. You know, across the board, we want to get rid of the Iran deal — McMaster doesn’t. It is incredible to watch it happening right in front of your face. Absolutely stunning.”
Another former official confirmed that sentiment:
“I just fear there is a real creeping of status quo thinking that is taking over the place. I was upset while I was there in seeing how empowered Obama holdovers under McMaster were to essentially perpetuate Obama-era policies.”
Jed Babbin, a former Pentagon official who served during the first Bush administration, reported that McMaster has retained “several dozen” Obama loyalists, many in positions of significant responsibility. In an essay for the American Spectator, he wrote:
“There are four people in positions of responsibility in the NSC who have been identified by a source as people who had been “direct reports” to Rhodes — i.e., who worked under his direct supervision — who McMaster has protected and retained. They are: Abigail Grace (Special Assistant), Fernando Cutz (NSC Director for South America), Andrea Hall (NSC Senior Director for WMD, Terrorism & Threat Reduction), and Merry Lin (Director for Global and Asia Economics).
“Why would any national security advisor working for Trump not rid the NSC of these people immediately and the dozens of others as soon as he could? One source told me there are over fifty such holdovers on the NSC staff.
“None of the four — and the other holdovers — should remain employed at the NSC. Every one of them should be viewed as a political operative dedicated to thwarting whatever Trump wants to do.
“McMaster recently told an NSC staff meeting, “There’s no such thing as a holdover.” That is simply bizarre.
“The problem is that McMaster is the ultimate holdover. He comprises a significant threat to national security.”
White House insiders told the Washington Free Beacon that McMaster is purging Trump loyalists who dare to clash with career government staffers and holdovers from the Obama administration “on issues as diverse as military strategies for Syria and Afghanistan, whether to tear up Obama’s landmark Iran deal, the controversial détente with Cuba, the U.S. role in confronting Islamic radicalism, and the Paris Climate Accord.”
More purges are said to be on the way: “McMaster basically has this list…. They’re taking out people who were chosen to best implement the president’s policy that he articulated during the campaign.”
Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy
McMaster’s first personnel decision was to name Dina Habib Powell, an establishment Republican and a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, to serve as Deputy National Security Advisor — a post already filled by K.T. McFarland.
Powell, an Egyptian-American, was originally brought into the White House as an informal advisor to Ivanka Trump. Powell, a former executive at Goldman Sachs, is said to have a “centrist” approach to politics; critics fear she will push for a softer line on national security, climate change policy and trade.
McFarland, a former official in the Reagan administration, has advocated for a hardline foreign policy. She has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s timidity in the face of radical Islam, which she has described as “the most virulent, lethal, apocalyptic death cult in history.” McFarland has warned that “global Islamist jihad is at war with all of Western civilization” and that “we are losing this war.” McFarland added:
“If we are to defeat radical Islam, it will be only with a multifaceted, comprehensive strategy that calls on all the aspects of the national power of ourselves and our allies — like we summoned to defeat the Nazis in World War II or the Communists in the Cold War.”
McFarland has also been a vocal supporter of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy: “Too many times in the last eight years, or even more, we’ve always thought, ‘What’s better for the global community?’ The question should be: ‘What’s better for America?'”
Powell, by contrast, was hired by the Bush administration to “defuse some of the misperceptions” about the United States in the Arab world. At a World Economic Forum event in Jordan, for example, Powell apologized for America’s alleged insensitivity to Arab culture. “So enthusiastic is our desire to help that we sometimes forget to stop and listen to others,” she said.
McFarland has criticized the 2015 Iran nuclear deal: “We gave them everything up front — the money, the sanctions, the path to nuclear weapons — and we demanded nothing in return.” She has also advocated stirring up popular discontent in Iran in order to bring about regime change.
Powell, however, is said to have a strong personal relationship with Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett, the brainchild of the nuclear deal with Iran and one of Barack Obama’s closest advisors. Jarret reportedly has moved into Obama’s home in Washington, D.C. to lead a resistance movement against Trump’s efforts to reverse his predecessor’s foreign policies.
In an interview with The Hill, a Republican operative said of Powell:
“This is not who we voted for. The base voted for Trump and his policies. Not Gary Cohn’s, not Dina Powell’s. Not the left wing of the Democratic Party. This is a Republican White House. No one is questioning their competence, but there are a lot of questions about whether they are trying to pull away from Trump’s agenda.”
McFarland has been offered the post of U.S. ambassador to Singapore.
White House Coordinator for the Middle East
On July 27, McMaster fired retired Army Colonel Derek Harvey, Trump’s top Middle East advisor. Harvey, who is fluent in Arabic and holds a Ph.D., served for more than two decades in the military and later joined the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). He has been described as an “out-of-the-box thinker who has shown a keen knack for identifying threats before they’ve matured.”
The Weekly Standard reported that Harvey was “driving a more aggressive approach to Iran than that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Sources tell TWS that Mattis, in particular, had disagreements with Harvey and that he raised the issue with National Security Adviser HR McMaster. McMaster met with Harvey this morning to deliver the news.”
In May, Bloomberg reported that Harvey had compiled a list of Obama holdovers at the National Security Council who were suspected of leaking to the press. When Trump and Bannon pressed McMaster to fire those on the list, he refused, asserting his prerogative over personnel decisions.
In January, a month before McMaster was hired, Harvey was instrumental in pressing the U.S. State Department to reverse the Obama administration’s last-minute $221 million payment to the Palestinian Authority.
Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane called Harvey “one of the finest intel analysts that I’ve ever encountered.” Keane told NBC News he was “befuddled as to why he is being removed.”
Harvey has been replaced by Michael Bell, another retired colonel with a Ph.D. He reportedly sees eye-to-eye with McMaster.
Bell, who served in the first Iraq war, was the lead writer for the 2006 National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism, the U.S.’s global military strategy in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The 40-page document does not once include the word jihad; it refers to the enemy only as “violent extremism” and “violent extremists.” The document, in fact, repeatedly denies any link between terrorism and Islam. It states:
“The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) is not a religious or cultural clash between Islam and the West, although our extremist enemies find it useful to characterize the war that way. These violent extremists see the U.S. and the West as primary obstacles to achieving their political ends.”
A section called “Nature of the Enemy” states: “The primary enemy is a transnational movement of extremist organizations, networks and individuals — and their state and non-state supporters — which have in common that they exploit Islam and use terrorism for ideological ends.”
Elsewhere the report states: “The belief that violent extremist efforts are harmful to the Islamic community, and contrary to the teachings of Islam, must come from within Islam itself.”
In a February 20 Washington Post hit piece on Sebastian Gorka, one of President Trump’s top counter-terrorism advisors, Bell accused Gorka of being an “uneven scholar” because of his belief that jihadism is rooted in Islam and the violent passages of the Koran. Bell, a former chancellor of the College of International Security Affairs (CISA), part of the Pentagon’s National Defense University, said that Gorka’s former supervisors had pushed him to incorporate other perspectives on Islam and to publish in peer-reviewed journals where his ideas would be challenged and perhaps tempered. Gorka insisted that he wasn’t interested in that kind of scholarship, Bell said.
Senior Director for Israel and Palestinian Issues
On May 4, McMaster hired Kris Bauman to be the Trump administration’s new senior advisor on Israel. Bauman’s views on Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are indistinguishable from those of the Obama administration.
Bauman’s first official function was to attend a reception honoring Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas — whose term of office expired eight years ago. Those in attendance included Martin Indyk, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, who has blamed Israel for the failure of peace talks. Indyk’s chief of staff during the negotiations, Ilan Goldenberg, was also in attendance.
In September 2016, Bauman and Goldenberg published a document outlining “a security system for the two-state solution” based on “1967 borders with reciprocal swaps.” The report was presumably prepared with the expectation that Hillary Clinton would win the presidential election and eventually implement the plan.
Trump, by contrast, has said that Israel must be allowed to maintain defensible borders; Israeli leaders have long insisted that the 1967 borders are militarily indefensible. It is safe to assume that Bauman will use his new position on the NSC to advocate for pressing Israel into making substantial territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
Investigative journalist Daniel Greenfield has reviewed Bauman’s 320-page doctoral thesis on the Middle East peace process:
“In the hundreds of pages, Bauman makes occasional efforts to pretend that he’s delving into the narratives of both sides, but his conclusion makes it painfully clear whose side he’s on. Kris Bauman is eager to whitewash the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists of Hamas…. Bauman accuses, ‘Israel and the Quartet refused to engage with Hamas and instead turned Gaza into an open-air prison.’ This isn’t even an anti-Israel position. It’s Hamas propaganda….
“In Kris Bauman’s twisted mind, the obstacle to peace isn’t PLO and Hamas terrorism, but supporters of Israel in America. He favorably quotes Walt and Mearsheimer’s anti-Semitic tract, The Israel Lobby. Bauman urges overcoming the ‘Israel Lobby’ which he claims ‘is a force that must be reckoned with, but it is a force that can be reckoned with.
“Progress in the peace process requires that the United States apply diplomatic and economic pressure on Israel. And indeed, Bauman’s recommendations mirrored the policy of Obama, Hillary and Kerry.”
Greenfield also notes that Bauman’s dissertation extensively quotes Robert Malley, an anti-Israel apologistfor Hamas who was a key Middle East advisor to President Obama. In May, Conservative Review reportedthat Malley has continued to attend National Security Council meetings at the Trump White House, even while criticizing Trump’s policies:
“So who is bringing Malley into these National Security Council meetings? Sources close to the situation say that much of the NSC professional staff still consists of holdovers from the Obama administration and that some of these holdovers served directly under Malley when he was a senior director at the NSC for the Middle East region.”
On May 17, the Zionist Organization of America, one of the oldest and strongest pro-Israel groups in the United States, issued the following statement:
“The ZOA has asked General McMaster, Director of the National Security Council, to reconsider his appointment of new National Security Council advisor on Israel-Palestinian matters, pro-Hamas Kris Bauman. This Administration should be ‘cleaning out the swamp’ from proponents, architects, and protégés of the Obama administration’s dangerous Middle East policies. Mr. Bauman’s ideas are particularly dangerous.”
Bauman replaces Yael Lempert, a controversial NSC staffer from the Obama White House who remained in her position during the first four months of the Trump administration. During that time, she reportedly“poisoned” Trump’s mind by persuading him that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are to blame for the stalled peace negotiations.
In a February 10 interview with Israel Hayom, Trump surprised many when he adopted a harder line on settlements. “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace,” he said.
Analyst Lee Smith reported that, according to a former official in the Clinton administration, Lempert “is considered one of the harshest critics of Israel on the foreign policy far left.” The source added:
“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.”
In June, Lempert, a career foreign service officer, was promoted to acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Egypt and the Maghreb at the U.S. State Department.
Senior Director for Intelligence Programs
On August 2, McMaster fired Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the NSC’s senior director for intelligence programs, the main White House liaison to the intelligence agencies. McMaster had tried to fire Cohen-Watnick in March, but at the time he was overruled by Trump after an intervention by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. It remains unclear why McMaster was not overruled again.
Cohen-Watnick, who was originally hired by Flynn, is a 31-year-old intelligence operative with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Conservative Review reported that he “sought to reform the intelligence community to rein in the ‘deep state’ of unaccountable bureaucrats with rogue agendas.” Politico reported that Cohen-Watnick and Flynn “saw eye to eye about the failings of the CIA human intelligence operations,” according to an operative who added: “The CIA saw him as a threat, so they tried to unseat him and replace him with an agency loyalist.”
Cohen-Watnick, described as an “Iran hawk,” advocated for the expansion of American efforts against Iran-backed militias in Syria. In June, the New York Times, citing multiple defense and intelligence officials, reported that Cohen-Watnick “wants to use American spies to help oust the Iranian government.” According to the Guardian, he was accused of trying to “take responsibilities for certain covert programs away from the CIA.”
In March, Cohen-Watnick gave Devin Nunes, a Republican congressman who was leading the House of Representative’s Trump-Russia probe, intelligence reports showing the president and associates were surveilled by U.S. intelligence.
A profile by the Atlantic described Cohen-Watnick as a “true professional and most importantly he is incredibly loyal to the president and this administration.”
McMaster reportedly wants to replace Cohen-Watnick with Linda Weissgold, a longtime CIA official. During the Obama administration, Weissgold, who served as director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis, was involved in creating a counter narrative about the jihadist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Journalist Michael Warren wrote:
“In her position at OTA, she was also involved directly in drafting the now infamous Benghazi talking points, which government officials revised heavily to include factually incorrect assessments that stated the attackers were prompted by protests. According to the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s report, Weissgold testified she had changed one such talking point to say that extremists in Benghazi with ties to al-Qaeda had been involved in ‘protests’ in the Libyan city, despite the fact that no such protests occurred there on the day of the attack.”
Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Planning
On July 21, McMaster fired Rich Higgins, a former Pentagon official who served in the NSC’s strategic-planning office, after he argued in a memo that President Trump is under sustained attack from people both within and outside the government who are trying to defeat the president’s nationalist agenda.
The Atlantic, published excerpts of the memo:
“Through the campaign, candidate Trump tapped into a deep vein of concern among many citizens that America is at risk and slipping away. Globalists and Islamists recognize that for their visions to succeed, America, both as an ideal and as a national and political identity, must be destroyed. … Islamists ally with cultural Marxists because, as far back as the 1980s, they properly assessed that the left has a strong chance of reducing Western civilization to its benefit. Having co-opted post-modern narratives as critical points, Islamists will co-opt the movement in its entirety at some future point.”
According to the Atlantic:
“Higgins had also “pushed for declassification of documents having to do with radical Islam and Iran,” according to a source close to the White House. A source close to Higgins said that specifically, Higgins had been pushing for the declassification of Presidential Study Directive 11, a classified report produced in 2010 by the Obama administration which presaged the Arab Spring, outlining unrest throughout the Middle East.”
PSD-11 reportedly remains classified because it reveals the Obama administration’s “embarrassingly naïve and uninformed view of trends in the Middle East and North Africa region.” In June 2014, Gulf News reported that as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit, the U.S. State Department had released documents about the Obama administration’s dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood:
“The President personally issued Presidential Study Directive 11 (PSD-11) in 2010, ordering an assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood and other ‘political Islamist’ movements, including the ruling AKP in Turkey, ultimately concluding that the United States should shift from its longstanding policy of supporting ‘stability’ in the Middle East and North Africa (that is, support for ‘stable regimes’ even if they were authoritarian), to a policy of backing ‘moderate’ Islamic political movements.”
Before joining the NSC, Higgins had warned:
“National Security officials are prohibited from developing a factual understanding of Islamic threat doctrines, preferring instead to depend upon 5th column Muslim Brotherhood cultural advisors….
“The ‘Islam has nothing to do with terrorism’ narratives have effectively shut down the intelligence process for the war on terror in any meaningful sense. Sure, we CT officers could look at organizations and people and places, some of which had Islamic names, but we could never dig into the political and ideological reasons the enemy was attacking us — which is supposed to be the first order of business in any strategic threat assessment.”
CJR: If you have not watched this interview with Higgins yet, here it is:
Senior Director for Strategic Assessments
On May 1, McMaster fired Adam Lovinger, a seasoned national security official, after his top-secret security clearance was abruptly suspended. Lovinger had been dispatched to the NSC from the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA) at Flynn’s request.
Lovinger, an expert on South Asia, the Persian Gulf and sub-Saharan Africa, said he was fired for his hardline views on Iran, including his opposition to Obama’s nuclear deal with Tehran.
His clearance was reportedly revoked “as part of a larger, behind-the-scenes effort by anti-Trump officials in the national security bureaucracy to neutralize key Trump aides.”
Lovinger’s attorney, Sean Bigley, said in a statement:
“Mr. Lovinger’s security clearance has now been suspended for a month. Despite repeated requests, to-date (the Department of Defense) has failed to provide us with any factual basis for the absurd accusations made against Mr. Lovinger by known anti-Trump partisans. Mr. Lovinger is entitled to a prompt opportunity to prove these allegations for what they are: overt political retaliation.”
Angelo Codevilla, a former senior official on the Senate Intelligence Committee, noted:
“The Trump administration is letting itself be played by the bureaucracy, which is managing to exercise a veto on who will represent Trump in government.”
Senior Director for Africa: Cyril Sartor
On August 1, McMaster hired Cyril Sartor, a career CIA analyst, to fill the highest Africa position on the NSC. The decision was viewed as a victory for the CIA in its protracted battle with the White House over candidates.
In February, Robin Townley, the first nominee for the post, was denied the high level security clearance required for the job; the denial reportedly was an expression of the CIA’s opposition to him. Townley, a former Marine intelligence officer close to Flynn, was a critic of the current intelligence structure and advocated for reform.
“The CIA did not want to deal with him,” Angelo Codevilla, the intelligence expert, wrote in a column for the Washington Times. “Hence, it used the power to grant security clearances to tell the president to choose someone acceptable to the agency, though not so much to him.” He added:
“If Mr. Trump does not fire forthwith the persons who thus took for themselves the prerogative that the American people had entrusted to him at the ballot box, chances are 100 percent that they will use that prerogative ever more frequently with regard to anyone else whom they regard as standing in the way of their preferred policies, as a threat to their reputation, or simply as partisan opponents.”
In April, McMaster offered the position to Rudolph Atallah, a retired lieutenant colonel who served more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. In June, however, Atallah’s job offer was rescinded, ostensibly due to delays in approving his security clearance. McMaster apparently believed that Atallah, a scholar on radical Islam in Africa, was overly-concerned with counterterrorism rather than other issues affecting the continent, including development assistance and human rights.
Sartor, one of the few senior-level African Americans in the intelligence community, has said little in public that offers a fuller picture of his analytical bent. In July 2016, however, he participated in a panel on terrorism at the Aspen Forum, where he claimed that jihadism in Africa is being fueled by socio-economic factors rather than the founding documents of Islam:
“Violent Islamic ideology is a foreign import to sub-Saharan Africa and as such it only thrives where it can co-opt local grievances. I sincerely believe the international community can defeat terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa with a robust mix of long-term development and security assistance.”
Senior Director for Russia and Europe
On March 2, McMaster hired Fiona Hill as the senior director for Russia and Europe, a newly combined directorate that brings both regions under one chain of command. Hill, a Russia scholar at the Brookings Institution, has been a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During the campaign, Trump made better relations with Russia one of the central pillars of his foreign policy agenda. In a November 2016 interview with the Atlantic, however, Hill predicted that the U.S.-Russia relationship would remain tense: “Trump isn’t exactly the most diplomatic of people, so I imagine he’ll fall out with his new friend Vladimir pretty quickly.”
Personnel is Policy
In January 2001, the Heritage Foundation published a report titled “Personnel Is Policy: Why the New President Must Take Control of the Executive Branch.” The report, addressed to President-Elect George W. Bush, is even relevant for President Trump, a political neophyte:
“To be successful, the new President…must protect his right to select appointees based not only on their managerial prowess but also on their commitment to his policy agenda and their ability to advance, articulate, and defend it….
“It is often said, correctly, that personnel is policy. The nexus between personnel management and policy management is therefore crucial. Good policies cannot be advanced without good, capable, and committed personnel to formulate, implement, aggressively promote, and steadfastly defend them. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald W. Reagan were noteworthy in this respect for making strong and effective Cabinet appointments and solid White House staffing decisions. Reagan, in particular, demonstrated the value of having trusted ‘lieutenants’ in the policy and supporting roles of his Administration….
“The President’s ultimate success will in large part depend on the degree of commitment to his agenda among the people he appoints to ensure its success…. The most important rule of presidential personnel management is to appoint people who are fully committed to the presidential agenda.”