After US President Donald Trump fired his national security advisor, John Bolton on Sept.10th, the discussion immediately turned to the potential candidates who might serve as his replacement. Bolton, unabashed war-hawk, quickly became one of Trump’s closest advisors on vital issues such as the Iranian Nuclear Deal and negotiations with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. For most of the names thrown around as his possible successor, they would be a sharp departure from the confrontational nature of Bolton, a prospect that could stabilise an administration that seems to be in a perpetual state of disarray.
“We have five people who want it very much,” Trump told the press after Bolton’s firing while promising that a decision would be made within a week.
While the president declined to reveal those five people, Foreign Policy drew up a list of 10 individuals, most of who already have roles within the Trump White House. The first speculative candidate is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As America’s top-ranking diplomat, Pompeo has certainly gained the experience suitable for the position. Before becoming Secretary of State, he served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency since Trump’s first week in office. Some have speculated that Pompeo could manage both roles, at least in the interim, but such a task would risk overloading an already busy workload. The idea of Pompeo giving up his current job seems unlikely as he’s spoken recently on the subject. After giving a speech in his home state, he fielded questions on the possibility of him running for senate, which he refuted as he prefers working in the State Department.
Trump could turn to a person with a military background as he has done with past nominations such as Michael Flynn, Jim Mattis, H. R. McMaster, and John Kelly. Three individuals who’ve attained high ranks in the armed forces include Douglas MacGregor, Keith Kellogg, and Jack Keane. Since returning from the army, MacGregor has worked as a defence analyst. He has taken a creative approach to “audition” for the role by filming several segments for Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show. Trump, an avid Fox News fan, is sure to have seen MacGregor on air. Importantly, MacGregor appealed to the president’s ego by suggesting that he has policies he would like to carry out, but has been stopped by his advisors. MacGregor would like Trump to think of him as the man to fulfil Trump’s vision.
Kellogg is another solid bet as he has worked in the administration since the election was secured. Kellogg served the previous national security advisor, McMaster and after Bolton’s arrival, moved over to work under vice-President Mike Pence. He has the military experience and political background to make him an easy choice. Keane could also be picked as Trump reportedly considered him for the position of defence secretary not once, but twice. Among the candidates, he seems to have the most influence of them after he appeared on Fox News and apparently convinced the president to cancel an airstrike on Iran based on his interviews.
Matthew Pottinger also has military experience after serving in the Marine Corps and eventually joining its officer ranks. He is already active among Trump’s national security team by managing the administration’s Asia strategy, China in particular. Pottinger is allegedly a large reason for Trump’s trade policies toward Beijing. Rob Blair also has national security experience, serving as aide to Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff. Blair was one of the few who managed to oppose Bolton and retain his position while doing so. His connection to Mulvaney could help his candidacy by promoting an insider.
Brian Hook, special envoy for Iran, could step into the role as national security advisor. He previously worked in the George W. Bush administration so Hook has been in Washington for longer than some of his rivals for the position. However as the Iranian situation continues to escalate, Hook might be deemed as too vital to the task at hand. Furthermore, as the special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, is stepping down in the coming weeks, Hook is reportedly taking on some of Greenblatt’s responsibilities.
The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, has caught Trump’s eye after his firm stance on both Germany’s NATO spending and German business relations with Iran. Notably, Grenell is openly homosexual which would make him the only member of Trump’s cabinet to be such. Stephen Biegun, another member of Trump’s staff with international experience, could make the move from his post as envoy to North Korea. Like Hook, Biegun served under Bush and has been highly commended for his work on Bush’s National Security Council.
Finally, and perhaps least-likely, is Robert O’Brien. Currently, O’Brien serves the administration as the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. His most newsworthy involvement was representing American rapper A$AP Rocky in Swedish court after allegations of physical assault. O’Brien’s legal background and minor contributions to the administration make him the weakest choice of the few candidates profiled.
Trump is expected to announce his pick this week and after clashing with Bolton, he will likely choose a candidate who is more agreeable to his wishes. A person with military experience and ties to the administration would be the safest option as the president narrows his list.