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Trump Needs Good Advice

I would very much like to see the White House revert to a George Marshall type of foreign policy, in which the United States would use its vast power wisely rather than punitively. As Donald Trump knows little of what makes the world go round, senior officials and cabinet secretaries will play a key role in framing and executing policy. One would like to see people like Jim Webb, Chas Freeman, Andrew Bacevich, or even TAC’s own Daniel Larison in key government positions, as one might thereby rely on their cool judgment and natural restraint to guide the ship of state. But that is unfortunately unlikely to happen.

Instead, by some accounts, we will quite possibly be getting Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Sarah Palin, Jose Rodriguez, Michael Ledeen, and Michael Flynn. Bolton, who is being tagged as a possible secretary of state, would be a one-man reactionary horror show, making one long for the good old days of Condi Rice and Madeleine Albright. There are also lesser, mostly neocon luminaries lining up for supporting roles, résumés ready at hand. To be sure, we won’t be seeing the Kagans, Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, or Michael Hayden, who defected to Hillary in dramatic fashion, but there are plenty of others who are polishing up their credentials and hoping to let bygones be bygones. They are eager to return to power and regain the emoluments that go with high office, so they will now claim to be adaptable enough to work for someone they once described as unfit to be president.

It is reported that [1] associates from the conservative Heritage Foundation have been tasked with the search for suitable national-security candidates as part of the transition team. One candidate to head the CIA [2] is Jose Rodriguez, who back under W headed the agency’s torture program. Another former CIA officer [3] who is a particularly polarizing figure and is apparently being looked at for high office is Clare Lopez, who has claimed that the Obama White House is infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Lopez is regarded by the Trump team as “one of the intellectual thought leaders about why we have to fight back against radical Islam.” She has long been associated with the Center for Security Policy [4], headed by Frank Gaffney, a fanatical hardliner who believes that [5] Saddam Hussein was involved in both the 1993 World Trade Center attack and the Oklahoma City bombing, that Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist is a secret agent of the Muslim Brotherhood, that Gen. David Petraeus has “submitted to Sharia,” and that the logo of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency reveals “official U.S. submission to Islam” because it “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star.”

But if Rodriguez and Lopez and others like them can be either discarded or kept in a closet somewhere, let us hope for the best. If Trump appoints competent senior officials, they might actually undertake a serious review of what America does around the world. Such an examination would be appropriate, as Trump has more or less promised to shake things up. He has indicated that he would abandon the policy of humanitarian intervention so loved by President Barack Obama and his advisors, and has signaled that he will not be pursuing regime change in Syria. He will also seek détente with Russia, a major shift from the increasingly confrontational policy of the past eight years.


Donald Trump rejects arming rebels as in Syria because we know little about whom we are dealing with and increasingly find that we cannot control what develops from the relationship. He is against foreign aid in principle, particularly to countries like Pakistan where the U.S. is strongly disliked. These are all positive steps, and the new administration should be encouraged to pursue them. The White House might also want to consider easing the United States out of Afghanistan through something like the negotiated Paris Peace talks arrangement that ended Vietnam. Fifteen years of conflict with no end in sight: Afghanistan is a war that is unwinnable.

Apart from several easy-to-identify major issues, Trump’s foreign policy [6]  is admittedly quite sketchy, and he has not always been consistent in explaining it. He has been slammed, appropriately enough, for being simple minded in saying that he would “bomb the [crap] out of ISIS” and that he is willing to put 30,000 soldiers on the ground if necessary to destroy the terrorist group, but he has also taken on the Republican establishment by specifically condemning the George W. Bush invasion of Iraq. He has more than once indicated that he is not interested in being either the world’s policeman or a participant in new wars in the Middle East. He has repeatedly stated that he supports NATO, but not as a blunt instrument designed to irritate Russia. He would work with Putin to address concerns over Syria and Eastern Europe. He would demand that NATO countries spend more for their own defense and also help pay for the maintenance of U.S. bases, which many argue to be long overdue.

Trump’s controversial call to stop all Muslim immigration has been rightly condemned, but he has somewhat moderated that stance to focus on travelers and immigrants from countries that have been substantially radicalized or where anti-American sentiment is strong. And the demand to take a second look at some potential visitors or residents is not unreasonable in that the current process for vetting new arrivals in this country is far from transparent and apparently not very effective.

Beyond platitudes, the Obama administration has not been very forthcoming on what might be done to fix the entire immigration process, but Trump is promising to put national security and border control first. If Trump were to receive good advice on the issue, he would indeed tighten border security and gradually move to repatriate most illegal immigrants, but he would also look at the investigative procedures used to examine the backgrounds and intentions of refugees and asylum seekers who come in through other resettlement programs. The United States has an obligation to help genuine refugees from countries that have been shattered through Washington’s military interventions, but it also has a duty to know exactly whom it is letting in.

Trump is also critical of the Iran nuclear agreement and the steps to normalize relations with Cuba, the two most notable foreign-policy successes of the Obama administration. Any change in the latter would have relatively little impact on the United States, but the Iran deal is important as it stopped potential proliferation by Iran, which likely would have produced a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Trump has called the agreement “horrible” because it stopped short of total capitulation by Tehran and has pledged to “renegotiate it,” which might prove impossible given that the pact had five other signatories. Iran would in any event refuse to make further concessions, particularly as it would no longer be prepared to accept assurances that Washington would comply with any agreement.

The White House could, however, de facto scuttle the agreement by imposing new sanctions on Iran and continuing to apply pressure on Iranian banks and credit through Washington’s influence over international financial markets. If enough pressure were applied, Iran could rightly claim that the U.S. had failed to comply with the agreement and withdraw from it, possibly leading to an accelerated nuclear-weapons program justified on the basis of self-defense. It is precisely the outcome that many hardliners both in Washington and Iran would like to see, as it would invite a harsh response from the White House, ending any possibility of an accord over proliferation.

Someone has to try to convince Trump that the Iranian agreement is good for everyone involved, including Israel and the United States. Even though such a suggestion is unlikely to come from the current group of advisors, who are strongly anti-Iranian, a good argument might be made based on what Trump himself has been urging vis-à-vis Syria, stressing that ISIS is America’s real enemy and Iran is a major partner in the coalition that is actively fighting the terrorist group. As in the case of Russia, it makes sense to cooperate with Iran when it is in our interest, and it also is desirable to prolong the process, delaying Iran’s possible decision to acquire a nuclear capability. Working with Iran might even make the country’s leadership less paranoid and would reduce the motivation to acquire a weapon in the first place, an argument analogous to Trump’s observations about dealing with Russia.

But it all comes down to the type of “expert” advice Trump gets. The president-elect is largely ignorant of the world and its leaders, so he has relied on a mixed bag of foreign-policy advisors. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, appears to be the most prominent. Flynn is associated with arch-neocon Michael Ledeen, and both are rabid about Iran, with Flynn suggesting that nearly all the unrest in the Middle East should be laid at Tehran’s door. Ledeen is, of course, a prominent Israel-firster who has long had Iran in his sights. Their solution to the Iran problem would undoubtedly entail the use of military force against the Islamic Republic. Given what is at stake in terms of yet another Middle Eastern war and possible nuclear proliferation, it is essential that Donald Trump hear some alternative views.

There are other foreign-policy areas as well where Trump will undoubtedly be receiving bad advice and would benefit from a broader vision. He has said that he would be an even-handed negotiator between Israel and the Palestinians, but he has also declared that he is strongly pro-Israel and would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem—which is a bad idea, not in America’s interest, even if Benjamin Netanyahu would like it. It would produce serious blowback from the Arab world and would inspire a new wave of terrorism directed against the U.S. Someone should explain to Mr. Trump that there are real consequences to pledges made in the midst of an acrimonious electoral campaign.

The Trump Asia policy, meanwhile, consists largely of uninformed and reactionary positions that would benefit from a bit of fresh air provided through access to alternative viewpoints. In East Asia, Trump has said he would encourage Japan and South Korea to develop their own nuclear arsenals to deter North Korea. That is a very bad idea, a proliferation nightmare, but Trump evidently eased away from that position during a recent phone call [7] to the president of South Korea. Trump would also prefer that China intervene in North Korea and make Kim Jong Un “step down.” He would put pressure on China to stop devaluing its currency because it is “bilking us of billions of dollars” and would also increase U.S. military presence in the region to limit Beijing’s expansion in the South China Sea.

It is to be hoped that Donald Trump and his transition team will be good listeners over the next 60 days. Positions staked out during a heated campaign do not equate to policy and should be regarded with considerable skepticism. American foreign policy, and by extension U.S. interests, have suffered for 16 years under the establishment-centric but nevertheless quite different groupthinks prevailing in the Bush and Obama White Houses. It is time for a little fresh advice.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

33 Comments (Open | Close)

33 Comments To "Trump Needs Good Advice"

#1 Comment By Jack On November 15, 2016 @ 10:27 pm

“Republic, DJT!” – the advice of the people. Choose your mailman. Choose your personal trainer. Choose your daughter’s best friend. There is an army of knowledgeable bureaucrats beneath any cabinet position. Choose sane people to interpret and mitigate their groupthink.

#2 Comment By Marshall MacDougall On November 15, 2016 @ 11:44 pm

Agreed. Have you sent your resume in yet?

#3 Comment By a spencer On November 16, 2016 @ 12:30 am

in no particular order:

Asad Abu Khalil

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 16, 2016 @ 3:42 am

I sure wish Phil Giraldi was on the short list for senior administration advisors.

#5 Comment By Bix On November 16, 2016 @ 7:56 am

“One candidate to head the CIA is Jose Rodriguez, who back under W headed the agency’s torture program.“
This would be an area where Trump could keep his promise to make America torture again.

#6 Comment By John Turner On November 16, 2016 @ 9:09 am

I would like to see an evaluation of Victoria Coates for foreign policy positions. I find her public statements that I have seen interesting, but I do not know enough details to evaluate her overall positions. She seems to be clear-eyed and generally cautious about interventions, but also clear about American values and interests.

#7 Comment By collin On November 16, 2016 @ 9:35 am

Did you see how Trump campaigned? Without getting emotional and all, but how are surprised by all this? Trump went his own way, endlessly changed position and pulled off a surprise victory. He probably feels like that is the right approach even if half the country really doesn’t like him.

#8 Comment By Brendan Sexton On November 16, 2016 @ 9:37 am

These rumored names MUST be false rumors. Giuliani? Gingrich? Bolton? !! (or for Bolton, !!!!!).
a campaign is a fine place for sloganeers and bomb-throwers, but the State Department, or Natl Security Advisor positions, not so much.
Please tell me this is all a ver bad dream. i promise to eat no more pickles at dinner time.

#9 Comment By grumpy realist On November 16, 2016 @ 10:03 am

Can we say “wishful thinking”?

Trump isn’t going to listen to anyone who doesn’t smooch his ass and tell him what he wants to hear. Enough people were trying to tell him that his casino plans in Atlantic City made no sense and he vindictively went after them.

You think he’ll be any better now?

#10 Comment By tzx4 On November 16, 2016 @ 10:09 am

Terror engulfed me on the evening of 11/8 in a far deeper and profound way than the morning of 9/11. The emotional feeling has since left me, but the reasoning part of my mind is still perceiving that the Trump administration will likely be quite disastrous, and I fully expect to suffer direct personal damage , most likely in the economic realm. Fortunately I am a white male in his 60’s, and in light of Mr. Bannon’s ascendancy, do feel some sense of immunity from some potential dangers I see out there.
On the foreign policy front, I only hope other nations can manage a radical US foreign policy and minimize damage to the planet. I am afraid they will be tasked with baby sitting an ignorant, amateurish and childish USA. It appears we will truly be the bull in the china shop (come to think of it we already have for about twenty or so years).

#11 Comment By TomG On November 16, 2016 @ 10:14 am

I certainly agree we need a more George Marshall type approach to foreign policy. Chas Freeman could be an exceptional Secretary of State, and as you suggest, Daniel Larison could bring a calm, cool, thoughtful approach to policy decision. It seems like someone on the conservative side could get Trump’s consideration. Pray God someone does…

#12 Comment By PAXNOW On November 16, 2016 @ 10:20 am

Phillip is always a breath of fresh air. Trump’s team looks very much like those players who have performed well and hard under coach Netanyahu. They have all the right neocon moves. This is not why his supporters voted for him. I want my vote back. It is easy for him to pick on the weak, conservative baddies like illegal immigrants and sanctuary cities – I doubt he will have the courage to defy the Israeli lobby. They must be defied if we want real peace. Most of his picks should be given M16s, a borrowed C47, goodly amount of rations, and dropped forthwith on Tehran and other hot spots to sort their ordained enemies out. Leave American kids from the military “volunteer pool” home to enjoy their lives or be ready when real, not imagined, threats against the Republic emerge. I still want to know what Trump would have done in 1967 when the Israelis attacked the USS Liberty? This is a chronic wound that will not disappear without TLC by our elected politicians.

#13 Comment By Oakinhou On November 16, 2016 @ 10:35 am

This post can be summarized as follows:
A – All that Trump said in the campaign does not bode well in terms of foreign policy. It will enmesh us in more conflicts in the M. E. , it will weaken our traditional alliances, it will risk trade wars and in general It it lower our international standing in the world.

B -All the people that Trump has surrounded himself with since the beginning of the campaign, and all the people that have been surrounding him since the election support foreign policies that will enmesh us in more conflicts in the M. E. , it will weaken our traditional alliances, it will risk trade wars and in general It it lower our international standing in the world.

C- Notwithstanding A and B above, if only Trump ignores all the people he’s associated with for a year, takes advice from people that have never been in his entourage, ignores all he said he will do, and does only things contrary to what he’s said he will do, we are in for a glorious era in foreign policy.

I mean, hope springs eternal. This probably comes from the same place of those that think Trump will finally overturn Roe.

#14 Comment By Adg On November 16, 2016 @ 10:39 am

To the extent that other foreign leaders are willing to do what South Korea apparently did, and treat him like the new kid on the block, patiently explaining how things work in the real world, we may come out okay.

#15 Comment By Not All In The Family On November 16, 2016 @ 11:45 am

Trump also needs to keep his family members out of the administration. Well out. We don’t need any more Clinton family style nepotism, corruption, and sleaze. That’s what we voted against.

#16 Comment By Baldy On November 16, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

Anyone who thinks Trump is going to show wisdom in foreign policy is fooling themselves. Even with some qualifying, this piece is incredibly optimistic. Trump’s advisors are about star power, and that is something non-interventionists don’t have.

#17 Comment By Gus On November 16, 2016 @ 1:50 pm

Good advice is worthless if the advisee won’t listen to it. Trump will always listen to the one who flatters him and tells him what he wants to hear.

#18 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 16, 2016 @ 2:33 pm

“One would like to see people like Jim Webb, Chas Freeman, Andrew Bacevich, or even TAC’s own Daniel Larison in key government positions, as one might thereby rely on their cool judgment and natural restraint to guide the ship of state.”

And yourself. Not that I agree with every word this group utters. But they are rationale thinkers that almost by definition suggests prudent responses with US resources. And perhaps best serve as immediate counsel as opposed to department heads. Our foreign policy is so entrenched in intervention untangling it will take outsiders not having to be invested in the mess they are untangling.

What Mr. Trump needs now is to take a week with his family and away from everyone else.

#19 Comment By Rossbach On November 16, 2016 @ 2:57 pm

“The United States has an obligation to help genuine refugees from countries that have been shattered through Washington’s military interventions, but it also has a duty to know exactly whom it is letting in.”

The Washington regime has ruined several ME countries, but it should not compound its error by ruining ours. Helping refugees does not require that they be brought here. They can be resettled in their own area of the world. The American people should not be punished for the bad judgement of its “leaders”.

#20 Comment By MEexpert On November 16, 2016 @ 4:09 pm

Philip Giraldi as the Director of CIA. Chas Freeman as the Secretary of State. Ron Paul as the Secretary of Treasury. Adm. Fallon as the Secretary of Defense. These are some of my recommendations.

Ledeen, Gaffney, Bolton, Gingrich, and Giuliani must be kept out at all cost. Neocons should be weeded out of the administration completely.

#21 Comment By Myron Hudson On November 16, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

My experience, as a construction professional, with worst-case developers like Trump is that they have an inflated idea of their own capabilities and a not realistic idea of what other people actually do. They will surround themselves with sycophants and people who tell them what they want to hear. They will disregard the advice of professionals. They will blame their mistakes on others. Trump seems to be a rather hyper example of this.

In addition there are his apparent fixations on loyalty, and punishment of enemies. Indeed, many of his cabinet member possible come with their own axes to grind and their own mix of ignorance and hubris.

I think we’re going to see an administration that makes the GWB debacles pale in comparison. I’m hoping that some of our traditional foreign allies and God help us the international banking system act as some kind of check and balance, becuase we’re going to need it.

Not All In The Family: You ain’t seen nothing yet. My first two decades in construction were in NJ. We already know. It’s going to be bad.

#22 Comment By Myron Hudson On November 16, 2016 @ 5:14 pm

ps My spelling is actually good; it’s my typing that is bad. Sorry.

#23 Comment By Vanguard38 On November 16, 2016 @ 5:39 pm

Outstanding! Bacevich, Webb, and the other names would be a welcome sight. This writer thinks in terms of what is good for the country.

#24 Comment By Mac61 On November 16, 2016 @ 7:34 pm

The one thing Trump might be good for is a conservative Supreme Court Justice to slam the door on the runaway
liberal Court (or, more properly, the permanently appointed wing of the Legislative branch). By doing so, there is some hope for protection for religious liberty in the future, narrowing the scope of the Title IX bullying instigated by the current President.

Other than that, looks like the country is in for a wild ride with the Bannon-loving Pathological Narcissist, who will wreak havoc in a 4-year swath of destruction. The blame will be placed on the Christians and Catholics. Not fairly, of course. Our concerns for religious liberty and an open public square will have long been forgotten, but our support for the Vulgar Mussolini-loving “David Duke is not a white supremacist” Strongman will be simply remembered as an act of complete hypocrisy of what Christians say is important in a person’s character. [Hillary was awful, too. A Catholic, I voted Libertarian.]

Better nail down that court. Apres Trump, le deluge.

#25 Comment By Gregory On November 16, 2016 @ 10:53 pm

One would like to see people like Jim Webb … Andrew Bacevich, or even TAC’s own Daniel Larison in key government positions…

I would have voted for any of these three (don’t know much about Freeman).

#26 Comment By Doctor Gringo On November 16, 2016 @ 11:44 pm

“Trump is also critical of the Iran nuclear agreement and the steps to normalize relations with Cuba, the two most notable foreign-policy successes of the Obama administration.”

Giving 33 billion dollars to people who want to destroy us and cozying up to a second-rate dictatorship responsible for the deaths of God-knows-how-many dissidents is considered a “success?” Now that’s a bar set so low an ant couldn’t limbo under it.

As for the likes of Gingrich and Bolton, they’re part of the Old Guard swamp Trump promised to drain. Bringing people like that in would tell us Trump wasn’t serious. The left is going to act like four-year-olds in a sandbox for the next four years regardless (would 62 million participation ribbons help?), but why give them valid reasons to throw their tantrums?

#27 Comment By Fred Bowman On November 16, 2016 @ 11:55 pm

Seriously,what did y’all expect out of Trump? His biggest supporters were the Rush Limbaugh crowd. Do you think these people actually “think” about what they’re be told? Trump was the perfect candidate for this crowd. Trump knows how to dish out the “red meat” but now we can see how well he governs. My guess it will be a “one term disaster”, but the again Hillary wouldn’t be any better. Once again the MIC and the Pentagon will have their way as they ride America into bankruptcy.

#28 Comment By duglarri On November 17, 2016 @ 11:15 am

There are currently three parties in Washington: Republicans, Democrats, and Donald Trump. Every one of his signature policies is bitterly opposed by a majority of the members of not just the Republican party that is supposed to be on his side.

Friends with Russia? Look what McCain just said. Deportation force? Wall with Mexico? Doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Massive infrastructure spending? What has the Republican party spend the last eight years blocking? What will Grover Norquist- the man who managed to get every Republican to sign his pledge- say about that? Are he and all the deficit hawks just going to roll over and blow the budget, ignoring thirty years of budget battles?

They’re not going to give up their idea that deficits are bad just because a many-times-bankrupt New York real estate developer says they’re not.

I think the key to the future of his programs is Boehner’s remark that Trump is “barely a Republican”.

I don’t think this Republican Congress is going to do what Trump wants them to do. It begins with McCain’s shots fired on cosying up to Russia, and runs through just about his whole program. And maybe I’m the one whistling past the graveyard, here, but if they do refuse, at least on the economic front, they will be saving us from global economic collapse.

#29 Comment By Jim Houghton On November 17, 2016 @ 11:57 am

One thing Trump’s advisors, as currently forecast, will no doubt advise him of, a lesson from George W. Bush’s tenure: No matter how much of a chump people think you are, if November 2020 arrives while we’re in the middle of a war you started, you will be re-elected.

#30 Comment By Ludwig Watzal On November 17, 2016 @ 3:47 pm

As a German, I was happy over Trump’s victory. Hillary Clinton was the embodiment of a totally corrupt political system.I don’t hope that Trump appoints some of these horrible politicians such as Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Sarah Palin, Jose Rodriguez, Michael Ledeen or Michael Flynn. These ideologues will hurt the American interests.
In Germany, the media continues in Trump-bashing. They have not grasped the signs of the times. The German and European political class pose unrealistic demands which are underpinned by nothing but mere rhetoric. Trump should withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and from all other places such as Germany, Japan, South Corea, the Philippines etc. and tell the leaders of these countries to defend themselves if they think someone threatens them. The free riders should be heavily charged in the future.

#31 Comment By Gerri Perreault On November 17, 2016 @ 5:50 pm

I can’t help thinking of my favorite Machiavelli quote:
“A prince who is without wisdom cannot be well-advised.”

#32 Comment By Chris On November 18, 2016 @ 9:51 pm

Speaking as a Sanders/Warren Democrat, Bacevich, Larison, and Webb would be excellent choices. (I’m not familiar with Freeman.) Figuring they’re not in the picture I’d be satisfied with advisors and cabinet members who don’t get us all killed. Given the choices he’s demonstrated to date that’s not a low bar.

Question: How do those of us who are on opposite sides of the fence on social issues but who both support government officials who “rely on their cool judgment and natural restraint to guide the ship of state.” work together where we have common ground? We need to find a way. Think Niemoller.

#33 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 20, 2016 @ 2:34 am

“A prince who is without wisdom cannot be well-advised.”

And yet he defied all of the odds. And his first casualty was the network that became his loudest supporters. While Hannity was on board from day 1. It was not until Mr. Trump took on Mrs Brunt (Megyn Kelly) and bested her (again with no small support from viewers) that the unwise Mr Trump began to really turn the tide.