With the appointment of Robert C. O’Brien to serve as national security adviser, Donald Trump will once more disappoint his America First backers. They were hoping that Ret. Col. Douglas Macgregor would get the nod. Instead, Trump has gone with a Republican establishment figure who views China as the biggest threat to American national security. As always, Trump was bullish on his new hire: ‘I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!’
As Trump national security adviser number 4, O’Brien is expected to bring some calm to the roiling waters of the NSC, where its heads have repeatedly capsized, whether it’s Michael Flynn, H.R. McMaster, or John Bolton. O’Brien is a sober and mainstream figure who will reassure the Washington foreign policy community and lacks the abrasiveness of Bolton. Like his predecessor, he is a lawyer, but has no flamboyant distinguishing characteristics such as a walrus mustache.
In essence, Trump has picked another hawk to replace John Bolton who was fired for being too hawkish. O’Brien served as an adviser on the Ted Cruz campaign and was a member of the John Hay Initiative, which served as the embryo for the NeverTrump movement. But O’Brien never campaigned against Trump and has been loyal to him. His role in the A$AP Rocky affair, when O’Brien witnessed the trial in Stockholm, drew Trump’s approbation. He also apparently impressed Trump with his role as a State Department hostage negotiator in freeing American citizens from North Korea and Turkey.
According to the Center for the National Interest’s Harry J. Kazianis, ‘Robert is one of the smartest foreign policy minds in the GOP. He is tough on China and wants a big navy to take them on. For him it’s China — all day. On other issues he will follow Trump’s lead and is a good soldier.’
In the run-up to the 2020 elections, Trump is clearly averse to becoming embroiled in a new conflict in the Middle East. He has announced further sanctions on Iran in response to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities, but appears disinclined to launch any military response. The Republican right is in paroxysms over what it sees as Trump’s appeasement policies toward Iran. Sen. Lindsey Graham has attacked Trump in a tweet for being ‘weak’ on Iran. Trump rebuked Graham in a tweet, declaring his restrained response ‘a sign of strength.’
Pressure is also mounting for Trump to exit Afghanistan. The organization Concerned Veterans for America, in tandem with the Koch-backed American for Prosperity, is launching a media blitz, including on Fox News, demanding that Trump fulfill his promise to pull out of Afghanistan. Where O’Brien would land on this issue is unclear.
For the most part, he is likely to play the role of good soldier for Trump. As Trump’s presidency has progressed, he has made it increasingly clear that he is the Decider, boasting the other day that it’s easy to work for him because he makes all the decisions. O’Brien may be about to test that proposition.