Trump names Robert O’Brien his new National Security Advisor

Following the dismissal of John Bolton last week, President Trump has appointed his new Security Advisor today – his fourth in twenty months. It raises questions not only in terms of strategies but on the degree of influence a Trump Security Advisor can administer.


Established in 1947 at the beginning of the Cold War, the role of the Security Advisor had been a crucial part of the West Wing. Illustrious names as Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice served their respective president well. Under Trump, a role that is as important than few others, appears to have transformed into a sideshow.


Former Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Robert O’Brien, will become the new White House National Security Advisor. President Donald Trump announced the appointment of O’Brien on Wednesday via Twitter. He had already worked “long and hard” with O’Brien, who will do a “great job” in his new role. On Tuesday, Trump had said he shortlisted the names of five candidates for the job. Among them was O’Brien, about whom the president said: “I think he is fantastic.”


O’Brien succeeds John Bolton, who had to vacate his post due to ideological differences with Trump and of whom Trump said had committed “some very serious mistakes” – such as proposing the “Libyan model” for North Korea. Other differences emerged between Trump and Bolton on the issue of making a deal with the Taliban. In the end, Bolton’s proclivity for “regime change” did not fit in with Trump’s agenda of avoiding conflicts that could be detrimental to his re-election efforts.  


Hopes that the dismissal of Bolton could reduce the tensions between the US and Iran have not materialised. Today, Trump announced to tighten sanctions against Iran further after airstrikes on two Saudi oil facilities. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accuses Iran of being the culprit of the attacks. Iran rejects this. O’Brien is now taking office while tensions between the US and Iran are at its apogee. 


He will be the fourth National Security Advisor during Trump’s first term. It is the highest turnover rate since the Reagan administration, which employed six different advisors – over eight years of government work, however. Nonetheless, Pompeo had made it clear that changing personnel did not mean a fundamental change in Trump’s foreign policy.

Which raises the question of what Trump’s foreign policy looks like and what role a Security Advisor can play. 


Critics have argued that, even before O’Brien’s appointment, the vacancy had been filled – by Donald Trump himself. The notion derives from a Tweet the previous week, in which Trump wrote the Security Advisor role was “easy”, because “I make all the decisions”. While the final decision is certainly the president’s prerogative, Trump’s apodictic attitude is an indicator of why the post’s fluctuation has been this excessive.


It can further be seen as a testimony for why viable foreign policy experts were not even under consideration for the role. Most importantly, it displays a lack of coherence in foreign-and security policy, a grand strategy former president conducted, e.g. the “Reagan Doctrine” or the “Bush Doctrine”. A Trump Doctrine has yet to be identified.