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Politics & Government

White House Continues Search For New National Security Adviser

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The White House is looking for a national security adviser, now that General Michael Flynn has been fired. President Trump was publicly turned down by one person he sought for the job, retired Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward. Trump has since tweeted that the current deputy national security adviser, General Keith Kellogg, is very much in play for the job, as are three others. What should he be looking for in a national security adviser? We're going to ask David Rothkopf, who is CEO and editor of "Foreign Policy." Welcome to the program once again.

DAVID ROTHKOPF: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: What's needed in a national security adviser that's special in the case of the Trump White House?

ROTHKOPF: Well, I think in the case of the Trump White House, we've seen that you have a neophyte president who doesn't know much about foreign policy. The same can be said about the chief of staff and much of the team that's around Trump. You've also got a power center on foreign policy and national security that's associated with Steve Bannon, the president's counselor, and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.

And so you need somebody who can help support this neophyte president. And you need somebody who is going to either counterbalance or eliminate the influence of Bannon and Kushner, who will create a distraction from a discipline process. You want everything going through one process.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

ROTHKOPF: So you need somebody really strong, really experienced, and somebody who will say to the president when necessary, no, we can't go this way.

SIEGEL: Are you describing someone who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or are there multiple characters who would fit the bill?

ROTHKOPF: (Laughter) No, no. There are multiple characters who would fit the bill. The problem is that a lot of those characters don't want to be involved with this administration because of things that have happened thus far, whether it's the scandal surrounding the prior national security adviser or the seeming gathering of power around Bannon - who they may see as a potential threat - or the isolation of members of the Cabinet who seem to be, you know, grownups but who are not being included in the meetings. There was nobody from the State Department, for example, in the meetings recently with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

So you've got people like Admiral Harward, who would be excellent in the job and who in fact was endorsed for the job by Michael Flynn as he was exiting, who say, you know, on second thought, I don't really want to do this.

SIEGEL: Admiral Harwood, who's now a Lockheed Martin executive, declined Trump's offer in part we've learned because he wanted to bring in his own team. Is that a reasonable condition for a national security adviser to set?

ROTHKOPF: Absolutely. The national security adviser is supposed to sort of build the nerve center of the White House and needs, obviously, people around him who he trusts, who he don't feel have loyalties to others, et cetera, et cetera. And, you know, if you were going in as a CEO someplace, you'd obviously want to name your deputy. And I think some of the issues that Harward had also had to do with Bannon and Kushner and that other center of gravity within the White House.

SIEGEL: If, in fact, we went a couple more weeks or a month without a national security adviser, how much would be lost in the process? How detrimental to government would that be?

ROTHKOPF: Well, I think it sends a message to the rest of the world that this White House is dysfunctional. And I think every time there's an international incident or an interaction with a foreign leader, there's a potential problem. Recently, the president's been doing calls with foreign leaders without having benefit of anybody from the NSC in the calls.

There hasn't been a meeting of the National Security Council. I think there's only been one meeting of the deputies of the National Security Council, which was to deal with North Korea. Normally, these meetings are ongoing all the time to deal with a whole host of issues. You need that nerve center in the White House functioning. And right now on national security, you could argue that the White House is brain dead.

SIEGEL: David Rothkopf, thank you very much for talking with us today.

ROTHKOPF: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: David Rothkopf, who is CEO and editor of "FP" - "Foreign Policy." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.