A few days ago I commented on the exit of Michael Flynn from his briefly held post of US National Security Advisor. I’m belabouring this issue because:
- The post is important to the whole world, especially to the US led West and, therefore, important to Canada; and
- The prospect of making a bad choice is very real.
Now, the Financial Times is reporting that “Mr Trump asked Robert Harward, a retired navy special forces officer, to succeed Mr Flynn, who was fired as national security adviser on Monday. At a press conference on Thursday, he said his decision to replace Mr Flynn had been made easier because he had an “outstanding” candidate to serve as a replacement … [but] … Mr Harward is said to have turned Mr Trump down. “Harward is conflicted between the call of duty and the obvious dysfunctionality,” said one person with first hand knowledge of the discussions between Mr Trump and Mr Harward. The second person said Mr Trump had asked Mr Harward to return to the White House for another meeting to try to change his mind.“
As I said earlier, I think President Trump has two good choices in either of Vice Admiral (ret’d) Harward or Lieutenant General (ret’d) Keith Kellogg. I also think he has some poor choices, including, in my opinion, General (ret’d) David Petraeus.
Why does it matter?
The National Security Advisor is meant to serve as a “private” honest broker between all of the many and varied “security” interests in Washington and abroad. The “system” within which the National Security Advisor functions was put in place by President Truman when he reorganized the Pentagon to create today’s Department of Defence and created the Central Intelligence Agency but the actual position, in the White House, as the honest broker was created by President Eisenhower who was, famously, cautious about the quality of the advice he received from the Dulles brothers in State and the CIA and the service chiefs and secretaries in the Pentagon.
The National Security Advisor need not have a military background and some of the best, from Robert Cutler, the first to hold the office, a banker, through Henry Kissinger and Condoleeza Rice, were from business or academe. The power of the position comes from its “private” and consequential privileged access to the president to sum up and sort out the often conflicting views of the State and Defence Departments and the intelligence community. Sound, seasoned, strategic judgement is a must. We must remember that the whole of the US government has strategic interests in everything from politics, the military, trade, finance, diplomacy and industrial development. What the National Security Advisor thinks about enemies and allies matters to the government of Canada because we are a friend, neighbour, military ally and competitor of the USA. When, for example, the US Trade Representative says “let’s get tough on Canada because they are out competing us in this or that area,” but the US Secretary of State says, “let’s go easy on Canada because we want their support on these other issues,” and the Secretary of Defence says “they’re important and reliable allies but they’re not doing enough to help us,” it will be the National Security Advisor who will, eventually, have the last, private word with President Trump.
Who should it be?
I do not think that Michael Flynn is a “bad” man, nor, certainly, is he a stupid man, but was he really the man that America and the world wanted to be the “honest broker” for US security decisions? I’m sure that President Trump has a good field of able men and women from which to choose the right person: right for him, right for America and right for the world. He might, also, make a popular but, in my opinion, poor choice. I, and all Canadians should join me in this, hope he chooses well.