McMaster’s Obama (don’t call them) holdovers

According to the Daily Caller, about 40 of the 250 officials on the National Security Council (NSC) are Obama administration holdovers. Their boss, H.R. McMaster, has instructed that these folks not be called “holdovers.” This might make sense from a team-building perspective. But since I’m not part of the team, they will be referred to as holdovers in this post.

The Daily Caller’s Richard Pollock and Ethan Barton profile some of them. They report that Allison Hooker remains NSC director for Korea, no backwater job given current circumstances. According to Pollock and Barton, Hooker is “an architect of former President Barack Obama’s Korean policy.” This may be a reach because they also say she joined the NSC in 2014, by which time Obama administration Korea policy was in place.

Nonetheless, President Trump has denounced Obama’s Korea policy — “strategic patience” — in harsh terms. Thus it’s surprising to find his administration’s NSC adviser on Korea still in place more than half a year into the Trump administration.

Pollock and Barton report that McMaster’s director for South America is Fernando Cutz. He received his master’s degree in international relations from the Clinton School of Public Service in or around 2010. The Clinton School operates on the grounds of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.

According to Pollock and Barton, Cutz, who previously reported to former deputy NSC advisor Ben Rhodes, enthusiastically endorsed Obama’s Cuba policy throughout his tenure as an NSC staffer. He helped plan and organize Obama’s trip to Cuba.

Andrea Hall is another holdover who reported to Ben Rhodes. She serves as NSC’s senior director for weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and threat reduction.

Pollock and Barton cite a paper she published in December 2002, while earning her doctorate, in which she criticized the West for not doing enough for Vladimir Putin. She wrote that “Russia has received few tangible benefits from its cooperation with the United States,” and claimed that Washington was “ignoring Russian concerns.” She added:

Given that Putin has received significant criticism for his foreign policy concessions and that he has valid concerns about the Russian economy, Washington would be wise to help Russia achieve some of its goals as well in order to cement this partnership.

In fairness to Hall, this thinking does not seem inconsistent with Trump’s. Coincidentally (or maybe not), it mirrors the “blame America first” attitude of McMaster’s Israel-Palestine guy, Kris Bauman. He blamed Israel and the Bush administration for undermining the peace process by failing to recognize Hamas’ moderation.

Rear Adm. David Kriete, another Obama holdover, is NSC’s director for strategic capabilities policy and responsible for policy on nuclear weapons-related issues. According to Pollock and Barton, he was a representative to the interagency panel that wrote Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which reflected the former chief executive’s vision of a “nuclear-free world.”

That document received considerable criticism from conservatives. According to Pollock and Barton, “National Review” found that it “undermines the basis of the deterrent policy that has helped maintain the peace for more than 60 years.”

Pollock and Barton discuss several other holdovers. However, the four discussed above strike me as the most problematic.

Michael Anton, an NSC spokesman and author of the famous “Flight 93 Election” article, told the Daily Caller that all of the holdovers (I assume he didn’t use that word) are “stalwarts” who faithfully follow the president’s foreign and military policies. I have no reason to believe that any holdover is insubordinate.

However, the NSC can help shape a president’s foreign and military policies. That’s particularly true where, as here, (1) the president lacks experience with, or apparent in-depth knowledge of, foreign policy issues and (2) the national security adviser is extremely aggressive.

Thus, the cliche “personnel is policy” seems particularly apt in the context of this NSC staff. That’s why it’s reasonable to be concerned about some of the Obama holdovers and about McMaster’s purge of some pro-Trump staffers.

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