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Trump’s Missing Foreign Policy Advisers

Trump is the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination, but unlike most major party front-runners at this stage he has no public list of foreign policy advisers (or any other kind of policy advisers, come to think of it). That might not be such a great problem right now if it weren’t for the fact that Trump keeps promising to release a list of his foreign policy advisers and then fails to follow through. Dan Drezner comments [1]:

So in case you’re wondering whether or how Trump will honor any foreign policy pledge he has made during this presidential campaign, remember that he has not kept the one concrete, tangible promise he has made during this election cycle.

Two of Trump’s biggest weaknesses on foreign policy are the incoherence and the sheer vagueness of his views. He is frequently all over the map on foreign policy, which makes it both very difficult to pin down with any certainty what he might be expected to do once in office and it makes it almost impossible to hold him accountable for campaign commitments later on. That’s even more of a problem because he has a tendency to try to have things both ways on many issues, and has initially supported some military interventions only to turn against them later while denying that he ever supported them. He professes to hate the nuclear deal with Iran, but clearly doesn’t understand it.

If it’s true that politicians generally honor their foreign policy campaign pledges, Trump isn’t interested in making very many specific commitments that might so constrain him. Having a list of foreign policy advisers would give the rest of us some clue what his policies would look like, and so perhaps it is also no accident that this list has not been forthcoming. Trump may say he doesn’t want to let “the enemy” know what he’s going to do, but it’s also clear that he doesn’t want to alert the public or his domestic critics to what he would do. While this may not be a major problem at the moment, it will become one if it continues to fester.

The lack of a conventional list of foreign policy advisers is good news only in the sense that we can be reasonably sure that most of the worst hawks in the GOP aren’t on it. Between letters denouncing Trump [2] and declarations by prominent hard-liners that they’ll support Trump under no circumstances, many of the GOP’s usual suspects on foreign policy have happily removed themselves from consideration. While that is welcome news for the most part, it poses two problems for a Trump general election campaign and for a possible Trump administration. It means that Trump’s campaign will be at a constant disadvantage when debating foreign policy despite the many glaring flaws in Clinton’s own record. It also raises another warning flag that a Trump administration would be poorly-staffed and ill-prepared to govern, and you can guarantee that will be used against the GOP in the general election.

Clinton has a lousy record and accepts many dangerous assumptions about the U.S. role in the world, but there’s no question that she will be well-briefed and can speak the lingo that foreign policy professionals and pundits expect to hear. Trump isn’t and for the most part doesn’t. That may be an important part of what his supporters like about him, but it could also make him an easy target in general election debates. This isn’t a problem that’s going to fix itself, and it’s one of many things that the Trump campaign has to take a lot more seriously than it has.

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23 Comments To "Trump’s Missing Foreign Policy Advisers"

#1 Comment By Dan On March 9, 2016 @ 8:50 pm

In the last debate Trump said he admired Richard Haass, and I believe another one or two names who I do not remember (and can’t dig up on the internet). Did anyone else remember the names?

From what I can tell on Haass seems somewhere in the middle between neocon and Rand Paul, which if true is better than nothing, and not particularly a bad sign that Trump favors a realist foreign policy over neocon aggression.

People are going to be slow to get back on the Trump train after last weeks derailment. But now that he’s found his footing and even regained some momentum that may change. Still he will need to win Florida and Ohio for things to really change. Then the endorsements will start to come back and some of the Washington foreign policy “experts” (usually idiots) will be willing to get on board with Trump.

How mad will everyone here be if he names a bunch of neocons as his foreign advisors as an olive branch to the GOPe. That’s an easy way for me to go in Shrillary’s camp.

#2 Comment By Kali On March 9, 2016 @ 8:58 pm

Put in your resume, Daniel. Seriously. If he knows nothing yet, and if his campaign promises have so far been indecipherable, then he might as well be considered a blank slate. It’s worth a shot, there might not be another blank slate this close to the White House in our lifetimes.

#3 Comment By AJ On March 9, 2016 @ 10:26 pm


You can’t escape the neocons by going into Shrillary’s camp because they have already beaten you to the punch. They are rebranding themselves as liberal interventionists.

#4 Comment By Lee On March 9, 2016 @ 10:46 pm

Foreign policy advisors? I could care less, but it’s most certainly important to many people.

Why I could care less? I’ve been watching the alleged experts make a damned mess since Nixon, never mind LBJ. 911 was a boomerang of crap contrived by the alleged experts aka industrial military complex shills that Eisenhower was kind enough to warn the gods and everybody else about.

I think at this point in time, US citizens would be better off without the “help” of the alleged experts.

#5 Comment By ADC Wonk On March 9, 2016 @ 11:54 pm

On issues like trade and the military – issues that impact the lives of far more people – he may be able to do something.

“Do something”? Do what? Is that enough to possibly get your vote? Do you agree with his view that we don’t spend nearly enough on our military?

Daniel Larrison, just today, at [3] wrote:

Two of Trump’s biggest weaknesses on foreign policy are the incoherence and the sheer vagueness of his views. He is frequently all over the map on foreign policy…

[Trump] initially supported some military interventions only to turn against them later while denying that he ever supported them

#6 Comment By Wise Men On March 10, 2016 @ 12:05 am

He’s wise not to hire from the pool of well-known and obvious would-be foreign policy advisors at this point. Too many are inferior or damaged goods.

You’d never know it from the the history of the past twenty years, but we’ve actually got a lot of good people. They’ve been eclipsed by the political boys, but they’re still there, doing good, conscientious, smart work. So if Trump gets anyone at all he should go for mid-level professionals at State, i.e. region experts who generally know what the hell they’re talking about, maybe a hard-headed professor or two whose name has never appeared in the Washington Post or New York Times, and perhaps some quiet, ruthlessly competent business associate with real knowledge and experience, a la Jim Baker.

And he should start sweating the details himself. We don’t need another president who has no idea what he’s talking about. We know how that story ends. It’s the story that’s winning Trump primaries.

I’ll tell you this, any sign that the creeps and incompetents who pushed us into the Middle East wars are whispering in Trump’s ear, he’s finished.

#7 Comment By jk On March 10, 2016 @ 3:16 am


Probably an expert on post-modern dadaist surrealism.

#8 Comment By Steve in Ohio On March 10, 2016 @ 7:08 am

Kali beat me to it. Apply at once. Tell him you’re a conservative who also opposed the Iraq War and you can help him make that an issue to use against Hillary.

Bacevich should also send a resume–after TAC removes and destroys all remains of his last article!

#9 Comment By Randal On March 10, 2016 @ 7:09 am

The lack of a conventional list of foreign policy advisers is good news only in the sense that we can be reasonably sure that most of the worst hawks in the GOP aren’t on it.

That’s good enough to make him the best available prospect both for the Republican nomination and for the Presidency.

You are probably right that not having respectable foreign policy experts in his camp could hurt him in a general campaign, but on the other hand the general thrust of his campaign is likely to be anti-establishment (assuming he’s up against Clinton), so it could be an asset as well.

As for clear pledges on foreign policy, it seems to me that pledges are an issue for backers and lobbyists, but not really for ordinary voters, who are electing a representative whom they regard as trustworthy to make the right decisions in details of areas such as foreign policy. As long as his supporters believe he is more patriotic than the other candidates and broadly competent (as most people will assume a billionaire businessman to be), policy pledges shouldn’t matter too much in foreign policy at least.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 10, 2016 @ 7:38 am

I am not in agreement that he needs to have chosen them. I would lean in the direction that he needs to have linear idea of foreign policy that helps the voters know what his policy might be. But then given what has gone on in the past 16 years maybe his view is correct. Policy questions need to be viewed through a lens of situational analysis.

That the past policy decision makers have been so locked into formal structures of old that they have constrained the US ‘s ability to be a dynamic flexible partner in a global scenario that is as complex and fluid as many here have explained repeatedly. That we are so tied to formulas and structural patterns that lack dealing with real world realities. These structures have been created by the very experts “neo-liberal or neo-conservative” from and for a global scenario that just no longer exists.

The current executive attempted break away from the very same on foreign policy. But upon a hiring his cabinet, he relied on the old and tried true expert advisors who’s advice caused him to reject his campaign stated agendas. Out of that clique he set on such as his Sec. of State and treasury – end result, a poor foreign policy worse. Choices completely opposite of his intentions.

Situational leadership is frightening for those seeking a clear and definitive path before hand. But if the globe is a fluid and complex as we generally contend, a leader who is not locked into any one set of preconceived solutions may be well suited to make situational shifts.

When one thinks of the weight and cumbersome bureaucracy we have Mr. Trump’s approach may make more sense than appears. Suppose HMS policy had been structured to end after three years such that it could not be extended. Suppose programs set up for emergencies situations could actually be terminated at the end of the emergency. One of the complaints about passing any state program is that they are very difficult to get rid of much less change in our democratic process.

There’s a very strong case to be made that Mr. Trump nor any other candidate need not meet the demands of naming his experts even up until the time of their election until they have a lay of the land.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 10, 2016 @ 7:58 am

As for the advances about changing one’s mind. I think the expectation is too unrealistic. On the issue of Iraq the country seems to have changed it’s mind.

Guantanamo Bay doesn’t look as astute a choice it once might have. There was very little question about HMS or the PA at the time but now in the light of new information there are serious questions.

Afghanistan, immigration trade policy (I have done a near about face on what was formerly NAFTA based on its implementation effects and that was barely six months out after it was implemented. I could not find a constitutional reason that could constrain mergers and media ownership that has transformed our news outlets into 24/7 multiple media ownerships — well now we know, that media conglomerates as other corporate entities are “persons”. Yikes. The implications beyond media advocacy are discomforting.

I am unclear of anyone who in the light of new information or unwanted or unforseen consequences doesn’t change their view. he wants to go charging into Iraq to take on ISIS. Well, what see what happens when he stits down at a strategic mapping board and discovers that ISIS isn’t in Iraq alone. That three years of bombs by the tons by several different countries have but a made a dent and the subsequent ground invasion is going to require as many troops as invaded Iraq with every indication that success as one imagines of clearing the field is not really clearing the field as scattering the pieces and inciting whatever unruly alliances are formed next. Making the US responsible for more of the refugees he fears will inundate the US or her allies with more disgruntled Muslims.

#12 Comment By John Gruskos On March 10, 2016 @ 8:10 am

For the record, Trump *does* have a foreign policy advisor – Senator Jeff Sessions.

Please read this press release:


Trump and Sessions endorse realism, oppose regime-change wars, and give top priority to ending the migrant invasion of Europe and undermining ISIS.

At this point, I think we can be 100% certain that President Trump will not lead us into a war – economic, proxy, air or ground – against Russia for the purpose of regime change in Syria. Ignoring all other issues, this alone makes Trump the only sane choice of the 6 remaining major party candidates. In particular, Trump is superior to supporters of “no fly zone” such as Clinton, Rubio, and Kasich.

I hope Trump recruits Pat Buchanan to his foreign policy team. He has nothing to lose from such a move. All the same pundits who hate Buchanan already hate Trump.

#13 Comment By Chris Chuba On March 10, 2016 @ 9:18 am

Trump also mentioned Col. Jack Jacobs as someone he has ‘talked to’ as well as Haas. The three people he mentioned were a very informal list of people he has talked to.

Trump has only officially named Sen. Jeff Sessions. Unfortunately, Sessions was an uber-hawk on the Iraq war but in general his passion is on border security and not so much on foreign policy. I went to his facebook page and this is all he talked about and I looked at this timeline back to 2013 before I gave up. Sen. Sessions posts a lot. He didn’t even mention the Iran deal :-).

I hope that Trump doesn’t select people just for the sake of saying that he ‘kept his word’ because he will end up selecting the neocons who own the foreign policy establishment.

I wish that Trump had some contact with the people here, like Larison, but I highly doubt it. I also wish he had some contact with Col. W. Patrick Lang and/or former CIA analyst Larry Johnson. If these men cannot serve then I bet they know some really good people.

Sigh. We really do have some good people but their voices are drowned out by the Cold War, neocon, uber-hawk, lunatics who totally run the foreign policy establishment in Washington. It breaks my heart. The Borg win because they don’t allow other voices to be heard or their group think to be questioned.

#14 Comment By collin On March 10, 2016 @ 9:37 am

Two of Trump’s biggest weaknesses on foreign policy are the incoherence and the sheer vagueness of his views

Cross out Foreign Policy and state “Two of Trump’s biggest weaknesses on All policy are the incoherence and the sheer vagueness of his views.” I don’t think he can answer a question without going in four different directions. (Read his interviews before his Primary run and he answered if he read Bible with details about how many Bibles he has, people sending him Bibles, he can’t store his Bibles in his NY apartment….)

But yes especially with Foreign Policy, it would be nice to know who will advising him because I am guessing the Secretary of State, National Security and Secretary Of Defense are do all the work.

#15 Comment By Patrick On March 10, 2016 @ 10:01 am

@ John Gruskos:

“Trump and Sessions endorse realism, oppose regime-change wars…”

Surely you’re aware Jeff Sessions voted in favor of the Iraq war?


I get the feeling Sessions, like most suddenly-reasonable-on-this-issue Republicans, just opposes Obama and being reluctant to use force is a convenient manifestation.

And Trump: really all that trustworthy? He says some nice things on foreign policy, but is he a guy who you think will “stand by his words”?

#16 Comment By robz On March 10, 2016 @ 10:27 am

Trump doesn’t care if he tells the truth or not. His supporters don’t care either.

#17 Comment By John Achterhof On March 10, 2016 @ 10:27 am

As other commentators have suggested, Trump would be well served to get Larison on his team.

#18 Comment By John Gruskos On March 10, 2016 @ 11:30 am


Trump and Sessions are in the same category as Congressman Walter Jones.

They supported the Iraq War, now admit that it was a mistake, and, most importantly, vehemently oppose the hawks such as Clinton, Rubio and Kasich who are determined to repeat the same mistake more disastrously in Syria.

Which US citizens are most likely to parse the foreign policy statements of the candidates and come to a correct understanding of the implications? The virtue signaling / social climbing class? Hardly. I think Alawite and Shiite Muslims are paying deadly serious attention to the foreign policy statements of the candidates, most of whom are promising to bomb their relatives back home and subject them to the tyranny of radical Sunni jihadists. This could be the reason for the surprising results of the Republican presidential primary in Dearborn Michigan, where Trump won a plurality of votes, and the recent CAIR poll which showed that Trump had more Muslim support than all other Republican candidates combined.

#19 Comment By Analyst On March 10, 2016 @ 12:09 pm

I don’t think Trump has any advisors on any topic, and is basically running the campaign like he has run his business. With that in mind, as far as I can tell from articles on Trump’s background and business practices he has really relied on a couple of very hard nosed lawyers in his entourage to really do the deals for him. He apparently does not like to actually engage with other business people, so the tough guy/I make the deals persona is a bit of an illusion. Beyond that, it seems he is surrounded by sycophants in the true sense of the word–as in the live action version of 101 Dalmatians “what kind of sycophant would you like me to be?” Even among the always ready to try to get back into government “advisor” business this can be a little hard to take. Add to that someone who suffers, as genuinely seems to be the case, from a narcissistic personality disorder, and you have a real problem getting them to listen to you. Please note the frequency with which Trump says “I know more than anyone else about X.” A person with a narcissistic personality disorder–as distinct from just a big ego–has to constantly affirm for themselves their unique superiority, and anyone who suggests that they are not uniquely superior to everyone else is immediately excluded from their circle. I seriously doubt that you will see any advisors on any topic–that would mean that he needs advice, which is contrary to the very deep needs of his personality. What this will mean if he gets the nomination is that he will have no substantive material beyond his slogans on almost any issue. For better or worse, his Republican opponents have trouble attacking him for lack of substance on any real issue largely because their own policy proposals will not stand up to much scrutiny either Anyone for post card tax returns and one small office to collect them?

#20 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 10, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

Jacob Heilbrunn’s “The Neocons vs. Donald Trump” in today’s New York Times is encouraging. Heilbrunn writes that the neocons “are wrong in asserting that [Trump] is somehow a danger to the traditional principles of the Republican Party. On the contrary, Mr. Trump represents a return to the party’s roots. It’s the neocons who are the interlopers.”

Heilbrunn writes that prior to the 1970s when the neocons “overtook the Republican foreign policy establishment… a much different sensibility had previously governed the party, one reminiscent of Mr. Trump’s own positions: wariness about foreign intervention, championing of protectionist trade policies, a belief in the exercise of unilateral military power and a suspicion of global elites and institutions.”

However, I would strong exception to Heilbrunn’s assertion that “the neocons are right that a Trump presidency would likely be a foreign policy debacle, not least because of his unpredictable personality and penchant for antagonizing foreign leaders and publics.” On the contrary, particularly in light of Trump’s diplomatically friendly overtures to Vladimir Putin, I would assert the opposite to be true: That a Trump presidency would be cautious and that Trump would be less likely than the other candidates to unnecessarily antagonize foreign leaders.


#21 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 10, 2016 @ 2:44 pm

Trump spoke at the Sept. 9th Tea Party rally in Washington, DC, but the words “End the Iran Deal” posted on the lectern do not describe Trump’s position re the Iran deal. A different photo would have more fairly reflected Trump’s foreign policy views.

#22 Comment By Thaddeus On March 10, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

It baffles me that anyone could think that this is a bad thing — that Trump doesn’t have a FP advisors list. Why should he? Glenn Greenwald just tweeted that this is a good thing, and I agree.

If he were to publicize a list of non-interventionists, he’s just open up an angle for neocons like Cruz to attack. This way, he can get the GOP nomination first, then show his non-interventionist hand for the general election — when it will help him.

I swear, for a non-interventionist site, a demand like this is practically asking him either to bring neocons on board, or show his non-interventionist hand and get hammered by the hawks.

As a Trump supporter, I say: keep the “advisers” away.

#23 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On March 10, 2016 @ 6:55 pm

Trump’s people should ask Edward Luttwak if he could give them some names. Thirty years ago, Luttwak was the best foreign policy thinker writing for Commentary magazine, but he left the neocon orbit years ago. He’s an economic nationalist, too, I believe.