The myth of a ‘moderate’ Taliban

KaninRoman | Getty Images

Conservative Review, by Jordan Schachtel, Aug. 23, 2017:

In his defense of President Trump’s strategy to once again bolster U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has explained that the Trump administration may seek to engage with “moderate elements” of the Taliban to achieve peace and stability in the war-torn country.

“We think there are plenty of others that we’re going to call upon for assistance as well,” Tillerson stated Tuesday in a State Department briefing.

“Rather, we’re there to facilitate and ensure that there is a pathway for reconciliation and peace talks as this pressure begins to take hold, and we do … we believe, we already know there are certain moderate elements of the Taliban who we think are going to be ready and want to help develop a way forward. How long that will take will be, again, based on conditions on the ground.”

The idea that there is a “moderate Taliban” in Afghanistan has been promoted largely by both the Republican and Democratic foreign policy establishment in Washington, D.C. Before President Trump came into office, the Obama administration and former presidential contender Hillary Clinton spoke of peace talks with the “moderate Taliban,” seeking to distance this supposed faction with the jihadist Taliban that commits acts of carnage against innocents.

It would be quite convenient for there to be a “moderate” Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban has agents embedded in the Afghan government, and the Taliban now contests or controls about 40 percent of the country (not to mention the backing of state actors like Russia and Iran).

But comparable to the so-called Arab “moderate Syrian rebels” — who all too often have gone off to join ISIS and al-Qaida — the “moderate Taliban” is just as unreliable and nonexistent.

Experts on the country have near-unanimously lambasted the Obama administration’s search for a moderate Taliban.

“Where are the so-called moderate Taliban? Who are the moderate Taliban?” asked Waheed Mozhdah, a former Afghan official, in 2009. Analyst Qaseem Akhgar also weighed in, adding:   “Moderate Taliban is like moderate killer. Is there such a thing?”

But the myth of a moderate Taliban continues, and it’s being adamantly pushed by actors in the Gulf, such as the state of Qatar.

Qatar often hosts Taliban delegations for talks with Western governments. From the Taliban’s political office in Doha, the group sometimes teases the West by floating the idea of peace. But this is ultimately a soft-power play to legitimize its cause of ruling Afghanistan.

And realities on the ground show that the Taliban wants conquest, not peace. Further, the Afghan people — in survey after survey — express extreme doubt over the Taliban’s sincerity concerning peace negotiations.

There are no records of moderate Taliban factions departing from their Islamic supremacist, Caliphatist ideology. And worse, Taliban factions deemed by some Western analysts as “moderate” have later led slaughter campaigns against thousands of people.

A U.S.-initiated strategy to legitimize any element of the Taliban would mean America taking an active role in normalizing an evil jihadist cult. The Taliban kills hundreds (if not thousands) of innocents each year, using suicide attacks and other vicious and indiscriminate methods to rack up the casualty count.

It’s bad enough that President Trump has chosen to bolster the U.S. role in Afghanistan without defining what “victory” is, or mapping out an exit plan. It’s worse that he’s flirting with helping a terrorist organization secure its grip over the country.

There are no moderate elements of the Taliban, just as there are no moderate elements of al-Qaida or ISIS.

Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.

Why is the State Dept Undermining President Trump’s Egypt Policy?

Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, Aug. 23, 2017:

President Trump has been very clear that he wants to pivot away from Obama’s backing for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And the Arab Spring’s whole democratization program.

Senator McCain has been equally clear that he wants to double down on it.

Guess whom the State Department is listening to?

Egypt passed a law restricting foreign funding of NGOs. Egypt joins a number of countries, including Hungary, Poland and Israel, that are working to curb the influence of the Leftist/Islamist network which operates internationally through non-profit NGOs. Each such effort has led to hysteria and angry threats from the political figures associated with those networks.

Now the State Department is taking action against Egypt over the NGO law.

Officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had decided to withhold $65.7 million in military assistance and $30 million in economic aid to Egypt that has been on hold since fiscal 2014, the officials said. That money will be reprogrammed, meaning it will now be sent to other countries, they said.

At the same time, the officials said Rex Tillerson had signed a waiver saying that $195 million in military assistance to Egypt is in the U.S. national interest but had decided to hold off on spending it. Under federal law, Tillerson had until the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30, to either sign the waiver, certify that Egypt is meeting the human rights conditions or return the money to the Treasury. The waiver gives Egypt additional time to meet the requirements for the $195 million, which Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2016.

When Trump met with el-Sissi in the White House in April he made no mention of Egypt’s human rights record in the post-meeting statement, an omission that many took as a sign that the issue was not a priority for the administration. Yet, two months later, two senators from Trump’s Republican Party slammed as “draconian” the law that effectively bans the work of non-governmental organizations and urged that it be repealed.

Can you guess who those 2 senators are?

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called it “draconian legislation” and they said the US Congress should in response “strengthen democratic benchmarks and human rights conditions on the US assistance to Egypt.”

US Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and nine other senators sent Trump a letter on June 19 urging the president to press Sisi on the issue.

Unless I missed something, President John McCain is not in the White House. So why is Tillerson listening to him instead of to Trump?

According to Egyptian officials, this is an effort to stem funding to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Alaa Abed, chairman of the Free Egyptian Party’s parliamentary bloc, told The Daily Caller in a recent interview that although the idea behind NGOs is charitable and very needed in his country, a good number of them have taken a wrong turn.

“And the proof of that are the billions that have been given to these NGOs without any noticeable results that you can see,” Abed said.

According to Abed, about 48,000 NGOs are in Egypt and some are supported by the state. Of that number, though, “Only 500 receive foreign funds and 10 operate within the norms of the law…the rest (490) take the money into their pockets and 30 or 40 use the money to transfer to the [Muslim Brotherhood] or small terror cells.”

It obviously also starves some leftist NGOs of funds.

Why is McCain so agitated over it? The media won’t tell you. Few sources will.

But McCain chairs the International Republican Institute. The IRI was a Reagan idea to fight Communism. It’s since gone way off course and was involved in the Arab Spring. Sam LaHood was at the center of it. The international advisory board includes Mo Ibrahim whose daughter is a board member of the Clinton Foundation.

The question here is who is running the country. Whom did American vote for?

It was Trump who was running against nation building. Particularly of the ugly kind we’re seeing here. But Tillerson is obeying President McCain instead of President Trump. Our foreign policy is still being made by the same old people. That’s why the Iran deal is in place (and has not been made public), it’s why Israel is still being pressured to make concessions to terrorists and there’s yet more pressure on Egypt’s President Sisi to open the door to the same folks who brought you the Arab Spring.

It’s why Tillerson backed the Muslim Brotherhood’s backers in Qatar while Trump initially backed pressure on the terror state.

T o change the outcome, you have to change the policy. To change the policy, you have to change the people. Under McMaster and Tillerson, the foreign policy will be set by President McCain, not President Trump.

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Also see:

Winning Afghanistan: Support Trump’s Strategy

A US soldier holds the national flag ahead of a handover ceremony at Leatherneck Camp in Lashkar Gah in the Afghan province of Helmand on April 29, 2017. (Photo: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Aug. 22, 2017:

President Trump is pledging to “win” in Afghanistan by defeating the terrorist “losers.” He is correct about the disaster ahead if the U.S. retreats from Afghanistan, but his speech doesn’t seem to have addressed the concerns of those who believe that the campaign there is a lost cause.

Trump rightly pointed out that there are 20 groups designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. State Department operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the U.S. abandons Afghanistan, these groups will use the country as a launching pad to target the U.S. and destabilize the region, including nuclear-armed Pakistan.

From this base, they will likely be able to roll back progress we’ve made against terror havens in Iraq, Syria and Libya. And, of course, each success breeds a multitude of new members for the victorious terrorist group as momentum is interpreted as Allah’s blessing.

Yet, these realities do not address the core skepticism of those who oppose the war in Afghanistan — that there’s simply nothing more we can do. President Trump needed to confront this head on.

It’s extremely important that the American public understand that the war in Afghanistan is not like a videotape on loop. We have made progress, but the American public rarely heard about it because President Obama did not wish to bring attention to the war and its political liabilities. The progress was then lost due to the rapid withdrawal based on an arbitrary timeline.

“We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistakes our leaders made in Iraq,” Trump said.

Addressing the need to make a long-term commitment to Afghanistan to defeat the terror forces there, Secretary of Defense Mattis said it best when he told President Trump, “Mr. President, we haven’t fought a 16-year war so much as we have fought a one-year war 16 times.”

In 2014, 95% of all operations were being done by the Afghans and they were taking 95% of all casualties, according to Michael O’Hanlon. Foreign forces were only 15% of coalition manpower. The Taliban and other jihadists had a growing presence in the areas where foreign forces decreased, but this territory only encompassed about 10% of the Afghan population.

The Defense Department’s April 2014 report said that U.S. casualties had “dropped significantly” over the previous year and the Afghan forces conduct “virtually all of these operations independently.” The Afghan economy was lunging forward and the Defense Department reported a “dramatic increase in basic education.”

The mantra we always hear in the media is that the Afghans won’t fight the Taliban and other terrorists. They did.

There was also major economic, educational and political progress.

That year, Afghanistan held a hotly-contested presidential election where all of the major candidates agreed that the U.S. military should be asked to stay. The election was a big success, as U.S.-backed Afghan forces made the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists fail miserably in achieving their stated goal of wreaking havoc during the voting.

Despite the extremely high risk, voter turnout was about 58%, matching that of America’s 2012 presidential election. One in three voters were women and a record number of women were running for office, including two for vice president.

After the vote was held, accusations of fraud came from both sides. Sectarian tension was high as each candidate represented different constituencies. Amazingly, despite all these pressures, the parties then reached a power-sharing agreement and had Afghanistan’s first peaceful transfer of the presidency through elections.

It is absolutely essential for President Trump to mention this progress to the skeptical American public so that they can know we haven’t been simply running in circles in Afghanistan. It is also important for the U.S. military that sacrifices so much to hear that their gains are known and appreciated.

Any progress that this new strategy makes will be limited by the assistance that the Taliban and other terrorists are receiving from Pakistan, Iran and Russia.

President Trump put Pakistan on notice like never before. The Pakistani government is going to be held accountable for harboring and materially supporting the terrorist network that sustains the jihad in Afghanistan. It is probable that we’ll see an increase in cross-border operations.

Trump’s praise for India as a strategic partner is a powerful lever to pull to pressure Pakistan. The State Department’s recent designation of Hizbul Mujahideen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization shows that the Trump Administration is serious about this. Hizbul Mujahideen is a terror group that primarily targets India and is backed by Pakistan.

It was strange that Iran’s role in assisting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda went unmentioned in Trump’s speech. Iran is actively murdering U.S. and Afghan troops. However, Secretary of Defense Mattis’ desire to deliver some payback to the Iranian regime for targeting the U.S. military is well-known. You can bet he has plans in mind for that.

All of the talk about the war in Afghanistan inevitably brings up the experience of the Vietnam War. Although there is much to criticize about National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster, he wrote a critically-acclaimed book about the Vietnam War.

There should be no doubt that the lessons of Vietnam are in the mind of McMaster and have been discussed within the Trump Administration every step of the way towards crafting the U.S.’ strategy in Afghanistan.

As Trump acknowledged, Americans are understandably frustrated and sick of being at war in Afghanistan. But there is reason to believe we can be successful. Moreover, advocates of a withdrawal have yet to explain how we can withdraw and still stop Afghanistan from becoming an extremely dangerous terrorist base.

If we would withdraw from Afghanistan now, how would we feel seeing images on our TV screens of the Taliban coming back to power, carrying out massacres and once again stopping girls from going to school, knowing that we could have stopped it.

We’ve sacrificed too much already to hand Afghanistan back to the Taliban and regressive forces. The consequences of retreat are so dire that it’s worth giving Trump and his team a chance for their strategy to work.

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Clare Lopez: What is core US national security interest in Afghanistan?

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Also see:

Why are we funneling weapons to Hezbollah?

Bilal Hussein | AP Photo

Conservative Review, by Daniel Horowitz, Aug. 16, 2017:

What if I told you we were sending military hardware to ISIS? Would you march on Washington with an outpouring of righteous indignation?

Well, we are now arming Hezbollah, which is worse than arming ISIS, given that the caliphate is on the decline and Hezbollah and Iran are gaining more power by the day. Oh, and by the way, the last time I checked, we have a Republican in the White House.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon announced the planned shipment of 32 M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles from America to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), at an “investment” of $100 million.

Meanwhile, our soldiers have been working with them and training them on how to use a number of other weapons systems that have been transferred to the Lebanese army over the past year. They include howitzers, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars, hellfire missiles, night vision devices, and thermal sights technology.

At this point, any thinking person should be asking that, given that Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, and is a client state of Iran, doesn’t this mean that we are essentially arming Hezbollah?

Everyone knows that the Lebanese government is completely at the mercy of Hezbollah and Iran. Given that Hezbollah is much stronger than the LAF, is comprised of many Shiites, and is subject to the direction and veto power of its Iranian masters, it defies logic to think that they could possibly maintain control over U.S. aid without Hezbollah confiscating it.

As Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observes, “Hezbollah, of course, controls the Lebanese government and dictates the operations of its armed forces. Indeed, it was Hezbollah that laid out the battle plans for the current operation in northeastern Lebanon, including what role the LAF would play in it.” This is why Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that “the Lebanese army is a subsidiary unit of Hezbollah” and that Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, “is another Nasrallah operative.”

Yet, Trump embraced Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, in a recent visit to the White House and praised him as a partner in the war against terrorists. It’s yet another example of where the nuances of alliances and policy are lost on the president, which prompts him to support action that repudiates his campaign promises and stated objectives on Iran.

We were told by apologists of the Saudi arms deal that a complete embrace of Saudi Arabia was needed to combat Iran. Yet, here we are helping their strongest proxy that is directly controlled by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) figures on the ground.

This is a symptom of a broader disease inherent in our Middle East strategy over the past decade, whereby we arm multiple sides of Islamic civil wars, and often, fight ourselves and our own weapons by proxy. Aside from the immorality of ensuring that arms fall into the hands of Hezbollah, such a move has two distinct policy outcomes: It further muddles our involvement in Syria, and strengthens Hezbollah’s desire to open a second front against Israel on its eastern border.

According to the State Department, there are approximately 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria. They are fighting alongside the IRGC and the Assad regime against other Islamic insurgents including ISIS. The irony is that our own military is fighting ISIS as well.

Yet, at the same time, we are launching air strikes against Shiite militias allied with Hezbollah, but now we are also almost directly arming Hezbollah. Oh, and we happen to be assisting some of the very same Shiite militias in Iraq! The Hezbollah Brigades, along with fellow Shiite militias, such as the Sayyid al Shuhada Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades, are benefiting from our support in Iraq, even though they are controlled by the Iranian Quds Force.

Is your head spinning yet? Rather than enable our enemies to fight with each other to the benefit of our security interests, we have them play ourselves against our own interests by supporting the worst elements of all sides by placing our weapons and special forces into the hands of our enemies. Two more soldiers died earlier this week in Iraq, very likely engaged in a mission that at least indirectly buttresses Iranian hegemony.

Welcome to the world of Islamic civil wars and our wrongheaded involvement on multiple and conflicting sides in each given theater, where there is no discernable strategic objective that places our interests first.

Instead, the sum of our actions is that we are directly aiding Iran in most theaters. Unlike Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, Iran is the one country in the Middle East that poses a direct threat to our interests. And if the Iranians are allowed to continue expanding their wealth and reach, they will succeed in threatening our homeland, just like North Korea.

More worrisome is that fact that Hezbollah, in its own right, poses a greater homeland security threat than the major Sunni terror groups, because it has a vast network inside our country and in Latin America. Several operatives have been arrested in recent months. Why in the world would we help them in the Middle East on numerous fronts, arm them … and then fight against them on other fronts?

What’s next in Afghanistan?

Gatestone Institute, by John R. Bolton, August 15, 2017

As President Trump wrestles with America’s role in Afghanistan, he should first decide what our objectives are today compared to what we wanted immediately after Sept. 11, 2001.

Initially, the United States overthrew the Taliban regime but failed to destroy it completely. Regime supporters, allied tribal forces and opportunistic warlords escaped (or returned) to Pakistan’s frontier regions to establish sanctuaries.

Similarly, while the Taliban’s ouster also forced al-Qaida into exile in Pakistan and elsewhere, al-Qaida nonetheless continued and expanded its terrorist activities. In Iraq and Syria, al-Qaida morphed into the even more virulent ISIS, which is now gaining strength in Afghanistan.

In short, America’s Afghan victories were significant but incomplete. Subsequently, we failed to revise and update our Afghan strategic objectives, leading many to argue the war had gone on too long and we should withdraw. This criticism is superficially appealing, recalling anti-Vietnam War activist Allard Lowenstein’s cutting remarks about Richard Nixon’s policies. While Lowenstein acknowledged that he understood those, like Sen. George Aiken, who said we should “win and get out,” he said he couldn’t understand Nixon’s strategy of “lose and stay in.”

Today in Afghanistan, the pertinent question is what we seek to prevent, not what we seek to achieve. Making Afghanistan serene and peaceful does not constitute a legitimate American geopolitical interest. Instead, we face two principal threats.

Taliban’s Return To Power

First, the Taliban’s return to power throughout Afghanistan would re-create the prospect of the country being used as a base of operations for international terrorism. It is simply unacceptable to allow the pre-2001 status quo to re-emerge.

Second, a post-9/11 goal (at least one better understood today) is the imperative of preventing a Taliban victory in Afghanistan that would enable Pakistani Taliban or other terrorist groups to seize control in Islamabad. Not only would such a takeover make all Pakistan yet another terrorist sanctuary, but if its large nuclear arsenal fell to terrorists, we would immediately face the equivalent of Iran and North Korea on nuclear steroids. Worryingly, Pakistan’s military, especially its intelligence arm, is already thought to be controlled by radical Islamists.

Given terrorism’s global spread since 9/11 and the risk of a perfect storm — the confluence of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — the continuing threats we face in the Afghan arena are even graver than those posed pre-9/11. Accordingly, abandoning the field in Afghanistan is simply not a tenable strategy.

However, accomplishing America’s goals does not require remaking Afghanistan’s government, economy or military in our image. Believing that only “nation building” in Afghanistan could ultimately guard against the terrorist threat was mistaken. For too long, it distracted Washington and materially contributed to the decline in American public support for a continuing military presence there, despite the manifest need for it.

There is no chance that the Trump administration will pursue “nation building” in Afghanistan, as the president has repeatedly made clear. Speaking as a Reagan administration alumnus of USAID, I concur. We should certainly continue bilateral economic assistance to Afghanistan, which, strategically applied, has served America well in countless circumstances during the Cold War and thereafter. But we should not conflate it with the diaphanous prospect of nation building.

Nor should we assume that the military component in Afghanistan must be a repetition or expansion of the boots-on-the-ground approach we have followed since the initial assault on the Taliban. Other alternatives appear available and should be seriously considered, including possibly larger U.S. military commitments of the right sort.

U.S. Army soldiers fire mortars at a Taliban position in northeastern Afghanistan, September 2, 2011. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Even more important, there must be far greater focus on Pakistan.

A Volatile and Lethal Mix

Politically unstable since British India’s 1947 partition, increasingly under Chinese influence because of the hostility with India, and a nuclear-weapons state, Pakistan is a volatile and lethal mix ultimately more important than Afghanistan itself. Until and unless Pakistan becomes convinced that interfering in Afghanistan is too dangerous and too costly, no realistic U.S. military scenario in Afghanistan can succeed.

The stakes are high on the subcontinent, not just because of the “Af-Pak” problems but because Pakistan, India and China are all nuclear powers. The Trump administration should not be mesmerized only by U.S. troop levels. It must concentrate urgently on the bigger strategic picture. The size and nature of America’s military commitment in Afghanistan will more likely emerge from that analysis rather than the other way around. And time is growing short.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”.

Secretary of Defense Mattis: What’s With the Flip-Flops?

US President Trump with Sec. of Defense General Mattis (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Aug. 16, 2017:

When President Trump chose Marine Corps General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis as his Secretary of Defense, the cheers could be heard from the moon. There was bipartisan praise; social media accounts lit up with his badass quotes and he gave foes of Islamism and Iran plenty to cheer about.

Since then, Mattis’ record has been mixed. At times, we’re left wondering if President Trump accidentally appointed a alien version of Mattis.

Islamism

In 2015, Mattis said to Congress, “The fundamental question I believe is, ‘Is political Islam in our best interest?’ If not, what is our policy to authoritatively support the countervailing forces?”

In a more recent speech to the Heritage Foundation, he said that our strategy is flawed because we have not identified Political Islam as the enemy. He countered the argument that calling the problem “Political Islam” would appear Islamophobic and trigger blowback by explaining that this framework would allow us to identify new and better Muslim allies.

“If we won’t even ask the question [if Political Islam is in U.S. interests], then how do we ever get to the point of recognizing which is our side in the fight? And if we don’t take our own side in this fight, we are leaving others adrift,” he said.

But then…

Qatar

When Arab countries confronted Qatar for sponsoring Islamist extremism and financing terrorism after Trump’s speech in Riyadh, Mattis urged “de-escalation,” an indirect criticism of the Arab countries’ pressure on Qatar.

Mattis speaks positively of the Qatari regime, saying he agrees that terrorism-financing is a problem but, “I believe that (Qatar’s) Prince Thani inherited a difficult, very tough situation, and he’s trying to turn the society in the right direction.”

He defends Qatar as “moving in the right direction” on stopping the financing of terrorism and claims that this is “not black and white.”

Yet, the overwhelming evidence says otherwise.

Right in the midst of the clash between Qatar and other Arabs, Mattis signed a deal to sell 36 F-15 fighter jets to Qatar for $12 billion. A Qatari official boasted that “this is proof that U.S. institutions are with us, but we never doubted that. Our militaries are like brothers. America’s support for Qatar is deep-rooted and not easily influenced by political changes.”

Muslim Brotherhood

In his speech to the Heritage Foundation, Mattis identified the Muslim Brotherhood as an adversary of the U.S. He argued for a stronger partnership with the Egyptian government and complained about the widespread perception among Egyptians that the U.S. was on the Brotherhood’s side.

But then…

He reportedly opposes designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization because of the U.S. military base in Qatar.

He also tried to pick a top ally of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Anne Paterson from the Obama Administration, for the top civilian post in the Pentagon (which is the fourth highest position overall).

His choice of Paterson, one of the Americans most detested by Egyptians, resulted in heavy criticism. He did not relent. Mattis fought for her until he ultimately had to withdraw his selection.

Iran

Mattis is very hawkish on Iran. He describes Iran as the “single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” even more so than ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

President Obama fired him in 2013 because of his belief that the U.S. should bomb targets in Iran.

In 2011, after U.S. troops in Iraq were targeted with Iranian munitions, he wanted to retaliate against Iran itself, such as by launching a raid against an oil refinery or power station. He argued that tough action would minimize the chances of actual war.

He also requested covert operations to kill or capture Iranian operatives involved in terrorism and seizing Iranian shipments to terrorists in Yemen and Syria and elsewhere. He especially wanted military retaliation after the U.S. foiled an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to America in which the Iranians were planning to blow up a diner in Washington D.C.

Mattis boldly said in March that U.S. efforts to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal are not working. He favors negotiating with Iran, but wants to couple it with tougher sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

But then…

Mattis supports keeping the nuclear deal with Iran, partially because “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”

He is also concerned that scrapping the deal will result in Iran dashing towards developing nuclear weapons or at least the necessities for them. From his point of view, at least the deal significantly restricts Iran’s nuclear weapons activity for the time being.

Mattis also wanted to give a top Pentagon post to Michele Fluornoy, the Obama Administration’s Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, but she turned it down. Flournoy was widely assumed to be Hillary Clinton’s choice for Secretary of Defense if she had won.

I was initially alarmed by Fluornoy in 2009 when Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks was appointed as Flournoy’s advisor. I went through Brooks’ articles and found that she is a hyper-partisan extremist.

One of her columns illogically argued that Al-Qaeda was “little more than an obscure group of extremist thugs” and said the U.S. response to 9/11 had made Al-Qaeda into an actual threat. She blamed Israel for its war with Hamas. She opposed the surge that turned Iraq around.

She was so hyper-partisan that she dismissed evidence that Iran was arming Sunni terrorists in Iraq as Bush Administration propaganda. She even claimed that President Bush was conspiring to launch an unnecessary war against Iran—which obviously never happened—and that he is “psychotic” and should be put into a straightjacket.

As a senior Pentagon official, Fluornoy had this radical columnist as her advisor for two years (afterwhich Brooks was promoted). And Mattis, as Secretary of Defense, felt Fluornoy was deserving of a senior post as his deputy.

ISIS

Mattis is undoubtedly doing a good job in defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria. His strategy is based on “annihilation” — encircling ISIS so its fighters can be captured or killed. The strategy takes longer to implement and is probably costlier, but it’s better than shuffling the jihadists from one area to the next until they move outside of Iraq and Syria to commit attacks elsewhere.

The pace of ISIS’ defeat has “dramatically accelerated” according to the State Department’s envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS. Notably, that envoy is a holdover from the Obama Administration. About one-third of ISIS’ territorial losses have happened under the Trump Administration.

Mattis says our performance has improved because lower-level commanders are being allowed to make decisions instead of being hamstrung by micromanagement from the top. The U.S. has also succeeded in getting more financial and military commitments from partners.

Syria

Mattis is realistic about the risks of regime change in Syria and of arming Syrian rebels, warning the U.S. could end up “arm[ing] people who are [our] sworn enemies.” However, he is not pro-Assad and still sees Assad’s downfall as a desirable objective.

“The collapse of the Assad regime … would be biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years,” he said.

 Israel

Mattis seems to be of the belief that it is in America’s interests to distance itself from Israel.

He has said:

“I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.”

Mattis also seemed to believe that Israeli settlement construction was a primary cause of the conflict with the Palestinians. He warned that Israeli was headed towards “apatheid” if it wasn’t stopped.

“If I’m Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid…That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country,” he said.

The previously mentioned Anne Paterson, who Mattis hoped to give the top civilian post in the Pentagon to, was not only a strong friend to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. She was also been very adversarial towards Israel.

Afghanistan

In 2013, Mattis wanted 13,600 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan.

It is not known what Mattis is currently advocating or what President Trump will decide to do. President Trump’s campaign rhetoric indicates he would favor a strategy that involves as close to a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces as possible.

Mattis bluntly states that the U.S. is “not winning” in Afghanistan as the Taliban gains ground, thanks to Pakistani, Iranian and Russian aid. And the Taliban and Al-Qaeda should not be seen as separate entities, as Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has sworn his allegiance to the Taliban chief.

Mattis apparently believes that at least a small troop increase is necessary. In June, President Trump authorized Mattis to send up to 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan. The Pentagon had hoped to add up to 5,000 U.S. troops to the Afghanistan battlefield. The additional forces were not sent, presumably because Trump changed his mind.

Towards the end of July, it was reported that Trump rejected the Afghanistan strategy put forth by National Security Adviser McMaster. Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson opposed presenting it to Trump because it lacked clear benchmarks for progress.

Trump instead is looking at a plan to privatize the war by hiring 5,500 contractors and a 90-strong private air force. It is being pitched by Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater.

One’s judgement of Mattis’ performance on Afghanistan comes down to whether U.S. policy makers are willing to continue the U.S. military engagement in the country. For those who argue against it, they better have a plan to deal with the massive jihadist haven that is likely to follow and explain what our leaders should do when images of brutality and news about the end of girls’ education cover our TV screens.

The Battle for Trump’s Foreign Policy

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 Atlanticpublished 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.”

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow him on Facebook and onTwitter.