“A national security adviser has to successfully manage three key constituencies: first and foremost his relationships with the president, but also his relations with other senior officials in the West Wing, and with Cabinet officials in various agencies,” says Peter Feaver, who served on theNational Security Council under President George W. Bush and directs Duke University’s Program in American Grand Strategy. “In the case of General Jones, at some point it became clear that as an outsider he was unable to break into that inner circle of people who had long ago locked in their relationships with President Obama. As a result Jones failed to gain the president’s full trust, and thus lost effectiveness.”
If the next national security adviser is indeed another retired flag officer, another pitfall he or she will have to avoid is “group think” in a national security apparatus already heavily leaning in the Pentagon’s direction. As the old saying goes, if all you have is hammers, then every problem looks like a nail.
“I’m not really worried about the Trump administration having a ‘militarized foreign policy’, but there are potential downsides to the military point of view being over-represented in national security deliberations,” says Feaver. “Effective statecraft requires that an administration integrate all tools of American power, to include diplomacy and economic statecraft. If the knowledge base of top officials and advisers is heavily weighted towards the military that can be harder to do. Not impossible, but more difficult.”