According to the White House, the search for a replacement to Michael Flynn commenced Monday evening after Donald Trump asked the national security adviser to resign. According to veteran military-affairs reporter Thomas Ricks, the decision got made on Monday night — but the offer has not yet been accepted. Ricks reports today in Foreign Policy magazine that Vice Admiral Robert Harward will get the job if he wants it. That decision could come as soon as today:
President Donald Trump offered the job of national security advisor to retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward on Monday night, and was a bit surprised when Harward responded by saying he needed a couple of days to think it over.
They’re surprised that Harward wanted to think it over after the last few days? That’s not just a reference to some of the disarray on display at the White House and Flynn’s record-setting departure, either. If, as some allege, the “deep state” has its sights set on Trump and his administration, then suddenly the position of national security adviser looks a wee bit less attractive than it might have a couple of months ago.
If Harward takes the job, though, he will make a substantial number of changes, Ricks predicts:
If, as expected, Harward accepts the job today, he is likely to bring in his own team, from deputy on down, with a focus on national security types with some experience under their belts.
I think he would look especially to people he knows from his time working for the George W. Bush NSC from 2003 to 2005. No more Fox News talking heads. Instead, I think he would try to take a Scowcroftian approach to trying to run the interagency policy formulation process — deliberate, rigorous, careful. Just how that will fit with the style of the Twitterer-in-Chief, I don’t know.
That may actually be part of Trump’s plan — a steady, low-key choice to calm the waters. Harward has an ally in Defense Secretary James Mattis, who also presents a similarly deliberate and rigorous approach, as does John Kelly at Homeland Security, so it’s not exactly out of step with Trump’s other nat-sec choices. Robert Costa noted those very qualities in his report yesterday for the Washington Post naming Harward as the front-runner:
Harward served under Mattis while he was at U.S. Central Command and remains an ally and friend of the defense secretary.
The officials said Harward, who has been under consideration as a possible undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is seen by key players around Trump as a steady pick for the post following the tumult that surrounded Flynn.
The officials also described Harward, who had a tour on the National Security Council during George W. Bush’s presidency, where he worked on counterterrorism strategy, as someone who had a high profile in security circles but a low public profile, which is part of his appeal.
Put another way: Harward might be less likely to pick a public fight with the intelligence community. If the “deep state” really did take out Flynn, one could argue that Flynn made himself a bigger target than Harward would provide, at least in public. Maybe the “deep state” would be satisfied with the one scalp, or at least might see Harward as a much more difficult leader to dislodge with Mattis and others having his back.
And as Ricks also points out, Mattis would have lots of reasons to protect Harward, not the least of which is future recruitment. Both Harward and Kelly worked at times for Mattis, and their steadiness will determine whether other military and intelligence professionals will join the rocky waters of the Trump administration. Mattis has an investment in success with Harward and Kelly.
The question with Harward will be less about professionalism and more about direction. Trump liked Flynn for his outspoken and ideological approach, including at least a partial rejection of Bush-era strategies. Harward would bring some of that back, Ricks reports, with his team. Will that turn the foreign policy objectives of the Trump administration back to a more traditional Republican approach? That could also be one of the questions Harward is pondering.