Donald Trump has finally named his team of foreign policy advisers in an extensive meeting with the Washington Post's editorial team yesterday (after last week invoking the Li'l Wayne principle by more or less saying regarding foreign policy that he's, as Wayne rapped, "talking to myself, 'cause I am my own consultant").
The Post reports that Trump literally pulled out a list of their names. That might mean they really aren't near the front of his mind. Trump also indicated more names of foreign policy advisers would be forthcoming.
Later yesterday, Trump made one aspect of his foreign policy more clear, after earlier hinting he wanted the U.S. to be more neutral in the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Now he's assured AIPAC in a telepromptered speech that he will stand behind Israel as our greatest friend in the Middle East, condemned and threatened Iran and said he's dismantle the Iranian nuclear deal, smacked down the United Nations and the Palestinians, and said when he's president "the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one."
Trump gave a more balanced view of his foreign policy thoughts during his meeting with the Post. He thought the Iran deal was a terrible giveaway and we should never have given back embargoed Iranian funds. He also said that "I don't think we should be nation building anymore" and expressed a general sense that our efforts and money should be going toward domestic woes and not foreign ones.
He talked to the Post about not spending U.S. money to defend other countries, and despite his frequently bellicose comments about ISIS he would not commit to sending over 20,000 U.S. troops to fight them even if that's what the military thought was needed, indicating he thinks other countries in the Middle East need to take on the burden of crushing ISIS.
He also evoked a general principle of "unpredictability" as a foreign policy good, and thus didn't want to commit to saying exactly what he'd do about various foreign policy situations—including refusing to say either yes or no to using tactical nukes on ISIS.
What might the records of these men Trump has identified as his foreign policy advisers tell us about what Trump's foreign policy will be? Trump himself has been alternately surprisingly critical of past U.S. interventions while maintaining an essentially bellicose attitude toward the Middle East at least.
The advisers are discussed below in the order Trump named them, not implying any one of them is more influential on or telling regarding Trump's foreign policy thought than any other.
Here's Team Trump, foreign policy division:
Credentials: He's the author of many books about Middle Eastern policy and politics, including The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid (St. Martin's, 2014) and Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against the West (St. Martin's, 2005). He's been a commentator on terrorism and Middle East issues for MSNBC and Fox.
What should the U.S. be doing with its military might in the world? In the introduction to Lost Spring, Phares admits that U.S. policy in the Middle East post-9/11 has achieved nearly the opposite of what it intended. He draws from that not a lesson of non-intervention but of wrong intervention: "The true catastrophe has been that in the face of genuine (and long overdue) civil society uprisings, Western democracies have intervened late (if at all) and with the wrong partners."
He critiques the U.S. for abandoning "the surging Syrian revolt" and for refusing to sufficiently support "Green revolution" forces in Iran. He slams Obama for having "shifted away from advancing democracy" in the Middle East. His aim for the book, he wrote, is "to open the eyes of readers and policymakers to the dangers of retreat, both military and political, from the global battlefield with al Qaeda and its jihadi allies and the Iranian regime and its associates."
Not exactly the sort of noninterventionism some libertarians desperately see in Trump.
Phares in general seems to fall into the "we left too soon, and didn't nation build with enough fervor" camp regarding the Middle East, which makes his only obvious line of sympathy with Trump an immense fear of Islamic terror's threat to the U.S.
Detail that will alarm many: Phares, according to stories from 2011 when he was a Romney foreign policy adviser in New Republic and Mother Jones, worked in a senior leadership position with a violent right-wing Maronite Christian militia called Lebanese Forces in the early 1980s, for which he was today slammed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
National Review, for whom Phares has written quite a bit, insists this blame game is exaggerating the nature and extent of Phares' role with the Forces, and at any rate he cannot be connected to or blamed for the murderous excesses of a faction associated with them. To lay the blame on Phares would be to "discredit virtually all Christian Lebanese who were prominent during the conflict, even those who rose to the fore years after the massacres. The real target of such an attack is the Christian Lebanese community itself."
• Carter Page, founder and managing partner of Global Energy Capital LLC, a New York-based financial institution and investment fund focused on energy investments in developing markets.
Credentials: Former chief operating officer of the Energy & Power Investment Banking Group at Merrill Lynch and deputy branch manager of the representative office in Moscow. Adjunct Associate Professor in the Center for Global Affairs at New York University and a Fellow at the Center for National Policy in Washington.
What should the U.S. be doing with its military might in the world? If this peculiar little essay from last March in the Global Policy Journal is any indication, in which Page applies the philosophy of Rhonda Byrne's immensely popular pop-mysticism tome The Secret to U.S. foreign policy, he seems to believe that our own talk of war and destruction in some sense attracts the same from enemies like ISIS. It's a very peacenik essay, if in an occult manner.
He's also punctiliously multilateral where he sees the need for force in the Middle East, and while he is really, as befits his job, more about trying to figure out a peaceful way for energy and oil companies to keep doing what they do in the wartorn Middle East, he is willing to admit that our military costs influence economic stagnation. As per an instinct Trump already has demonstrated, Page is also very anti-hardline on Russia.
Detail that will alarm many: For those suspicious of global elites in the Trump fan base, Page's membership in the Council on Foreign Relations.
• George Papadopoulos, director of the Center for International Energy and Natural Resources Law & Security at the London Center of International Law Practice.
Credentials: Former Ben Carson campaign advisor, former Hudson Institute research fellow, natural gas marketing consulting in the Mediterranean and Baltic, and, as the Post mocked him for listing on his LinkedIn, U.S. Representative at the 2012 Geneva International Model United Nations.
What should the U.S. be doing with its military might in the world? While undoubtedly Papadopoulos has opinions on that, I was not quickly able to discern much of a paper trail laying them out. In geopolitical terms, he is way more worried about how business, particularly business involving natural gas and other energy sources, can be done in the Mediterranean.
He has publicly cheered cross-alliances between Israel, Russia, and Egypt involving energy production and sales. He's not bogged down in ideology about "our friend Israel" or "our traditional enemy Russia" or "radical Islamist Middle East." He wants the energy to flow and sell, and that could be a salutary thing for Trump to be thinking about—as long as he isn't thinking about taking the energy sources.
Papadopoulos does have an interest in the study of suicidal terrorism, and made the promising observation in a 2011 essay that we can partially blame the continued use of suicide terrorism on "the rather incompetent way in which the West has waged its war to undermine jihadist ideology…In spreading its ideology and keeping it virulent, AQ benefits from…the fact that US and other Western countries continue to be present in the Middle East, so Al Qaeda can continue to claim that the war against Islam is ongoing…" He was also in 2011 willing to consider cutting off U.S. military aid to Pakistan.
Detail that will alarm many: No lengthy professional history, having graduated from DePaul University in 2009.
• Joseph E. Schmitz, lawyer in private practice.
Credentials: Inspector General of the Defense Department during George W. Bush's presidency (he resigned in 2005 under allegations of obstructing criminal investigations), later worked for Prince Group, then the holding company for Blackwater Worldwide, the famous private security firm.
What should the U.S. be doing with its military might in the world? Schmitz has some scattered thoughts on some recent foreign policy controversies that give a sense where he's coming from. His thoughts on Syria in a 2013 article were that—only with proper congressional authorization!—we should perhaps aim military might at Al Qaeda allies among the rebels, not talk up eliminating Assad. [UPDATE: Yet in 2014 he believed in the cause of supporting anti-Assad rebels so much he tried to spearhead a private attempt to arm them outside U.S. government channels, that never came to fruition after someone else involved was warned off by the CIA.]
He was even willing to note that perhaps we could just stay out of the whole mess entirely, and openly thinks in terms of "just war" theory.He's at least slightly soft on Snowden. He tends to frame his policy discussions in explicitly Christian terms.
That said, Schmitz also wants Congress to declare war on both ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood and all its affiliates.
Detail that will alarm many: Member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (Knights of Malta), a Catholic group often linked to baroque conspiracies. His sister is Mary Kay LeTourneau, the schoolteacher infamous for having sex with a 12-year-old student (who she later married after serving time in jail for the offense).
• Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg (ret.), most recently as of 2014 a vice president of Strategic Initiatives at the Cubic Corporation. (That is, in its own corporate P.R. words, "a leading provider of realistic combat training systems and secure communications…[and] of training, operations, maintenance, technical and other support services for the U.S. and allied nations." He apparently left them and has no publicly known current job I could find.)
Credentials: A 32-year military career before going into private sector military-related jobs. He was for a time director of operations for post-invasion Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority (recruited back into government service as he had been working for Oracle.) His military career also involved serving as director, command, control, communications and computer systems for the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and as commanding general of the 82nd airborne division, U.S. Army. He fought in both the first Gulf War and in the Panamanian invasion of 1989-90.
What should the U.S. be doing with its military might in the world?: Kellogg considers himself more of a management/technical guy. I was not able to find an extensive public record of policy judgments regarding foreign policy. In a not-deeply-explained way, he's on record saying that the first Gulf War proved we had learned the lessons of Vietnam.
In Thomas E. Ricks' book on the way the U.S. botched Iraq, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Kellogg is quoted as admitting that the Defense Department did not have a plan for managing postwar Iraq. This sort of attitude could feed into Trump's continually stated distaste for nation-building as part of U.S. foreign policy.
Detail that will alarm many: His four years, 2005-09, working for CACI International, a defense contractor sued for its alleged responsibility for the tortures at Abu Ghraib (though the incident was before Kellogg worked there).