“Everybody who has signed a never-Trump letter or indicated an anti-Trump attitude is not going to get a job. And that’s most of the Republican foreign policy, national security, intelligence, homeland security, and Department of Justice experience.”
This was the assessment of Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior official in George W. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security. He speculated that President-elect Donald Trump would not lack for top-tier GOP talent to fill high-profile Cabinet slots, but that thousands of positions at lower levels of the administration within the nation’s national security apparatus would be harder to staff. Without the GOP expert class, the lower ranks of the Trump administration’s will be staffed with novices and political sycophants.
Trump ran explicitly on a message of resentment toward the expert class, whose members, he contended, were responsible for the increasingly dangerous international security environment. They returned the favor: Nearly 200 of Republican foreign policy and national security experts came out publicly against Trump as a candidate who could not be trusted to lead this nation’s armed forces.
In early March, 122 members of the Republican national security community put their names to an open letter. “We have disagreed with one another on many issues, including the Iraq war and intervention in Syria,” the letter read. “But we are united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency.” Another 50 GOP international affairs experts–including John Negroponte, Robert Zoellick, Tom Ridge, and Michael Chertoff–also put their names to a missive declaring Donald Trump a “risk” to American national security.
Their denunciations of Donald Trump as fundamentally ill-suited to serve as commander-in-chief of the armed forces were thorough and compelling. But on Tuesday, they lost the argument. Now that the public has decided, the question is: Can Trump do without them? Doubtless, he and his people think they can. But there are literally thousands of jobs to fill here. Can the administration’s foreign and defense policy be managed without their institutional knowledge and expertise?
Trump has some dubious views when it comes to the conduct of American national affairs abroad. Foremost among them is his conspicuous deference to the geopolitical objectives of Russian President Vladimir Putin—objectives that often conflict with those of the United States. Trump has explicitly flirted with the notion of refusing to come to the aid of America’s NATO allies in the Baltic if they were attacked by Russia (a real and terrifying prospect). Trump has also indicated that he could outsource the job of fighting ISIS in Syria to Moscow, despite the clear evidence that Russia’s chief interest is in preserving the integrity of the Assad regime and the threats it faces from CIA-backed assets. Even if he is resistant to their advice, it would be better for him, the country, and the world, if Trump surrounded himself with advisers independent enough to argue that Vladimir Putin’s interests are antithetical to those of the nation he will soon swear to defend.
A sense of morality may prevent these and other skilled professionals in the public policy sector from seeking positions in the next administration. Certainly, Trump and his people are beginning their staffing plans by drawing up a do-not-hire list on which most of these names will appear. Trump and the movement he led is one that rejects expertise, as do almost all revolutionary/reactionary movements. But every revolutionary society that does away with its expert class soon finds that the mechanisms they had taken for granted soon cease to function.
There is no such thing as a competent administration without expertise, and the conduct of American military affairs is one area in which the president has almost sole discretion. Donald Trump, his loyal advisors, and the Republicans who opposed him have to get over themselves. Republican national security professionals who opposed Trump did so with noble intentions, but they lost their fight. For the good of the country they love, they must do their best to get Donald Trump to take their advice. How Trump can be convinced to accept it is another question—and if he can’t, his presidency will suffer.