Stephen Hadley thinks Rex Tillerson will make an excellent secretary of state for Donald Trump, and he is “optimistic” retired Gen. Mike Flynn will do a fine job as Trump’s national security adviser.
The national security adviser to George W. Bush explained why in the latest episode of The Jamie Weinstein Show podcast, where he also opened up on the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the state of the world and much more.
- Thoughts on the 2016 election and why he remained on the sidelines (3:44)
- What is Donald Trump’s foreign policy worldview? (8:19)
- Defending the nomination of Rex Tillerson (11:28)
- Disputing the New York Times report that he opposes John Bolton (17:16)
- Thoughts on Mike Flynn as National Security Adviser (18:58)
- The most pressing foreign policy threats Trump will have to deal with (25:51)
- Is Assad here to stay? (33:00)
- On the Russia hacking allegations (37:04)
- How to become the next Stephen Hadley (39:20)
- On his influences (41:10)
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While many former Bush administration officials vociferously spoke out against Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, Hadley was one high-profile Republican national security figure who stayed on the sidelines. In the early days of the Trump transition he was rumored to be under consideration for both secretary of state and secretary of defense, though he says he informed Team Trump that while he would be “delighted to help them in any way” he can, he only wanted to do so “from outside the administration.”
“I think we have had populist movements or insurgent political movements frequently in our history, but we’ve never had one that has captured the presidency,” Hadley told The Jamie Weinstein Show, analyzing Trump’s victory in November. “And now we do. This is a new phenomenon for our country, and quite frankly, it’s new for Trump and his team because most of them have never really been in government before.”
Hadley, who declined an opportunity to say who he voted for, said this will likely have consequences for the direction of American foreign policy. While there has “traditionally” been “a lot of continuity in foreign policy” from one administration to another, “I think we’re more likely to have some discontinuities here, rather potentially marked changes in direction under a President Trump,” he predicted.
Hadley also urged Americans to have some “strategic patience” with Trump because he is “someone who has never been in government” and it may take some time for him and his administration “to get their sea legs under them.”
“Let’s not overreact to the errant tweet or the errant statement,” Hadley advised.
Asked if he has been able to pinpoint Trump’s foreign policy worldview, Hadley said he is not so sure Trump really has one yet.
“I don’t know if he has a sense of history,” Hadley said. “I don’t know whether he sort of knows about the liberal international order that we established after the end of World War II, the United States working with Europe, how the United States power — diplomatic, economic, and military — has maintained that order, and how it has brought enormous, generally peace, stability, and unprecedented economic prosperity to the world now for decades. That order is unraveling. It’s being challenged by Russia, by China, by Iran, by Daesh, or the Islamic State. I don’t know whether he sort of has a feel for any of that.”
Fortunately, Hadley argued, Trump is assembling a strong national security team, specifically pointing to his nominations of retired Marine General James Mattis for secretary of defense and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.
Hadley is currently a partner in the international consulting firm Rice Hadley Gates. The other two names in his firm’s title stand for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. If reports are accurate, it was Gates who recommended Tillerson as a possible candidate for secretary of state to Trump, while Rice was quick to speak out in favor of the nomination. As some critics have noted, Rice Hadley Gates represents the company Tillerson currently heads, ExxonMobil.
“First of all, he was not the recommendation of our firm,” Hadley was quick to say. “Our firm doesn’t make recommendations. But Condi Rice and Bob Gates both have had administration relationship with Rex Tillerson that predated the affiliation between our consulting firm, RHG, and ExxonMobil. And it was on the basis of their personal knowledge and relationship with Rex that led the two of them, separately, to recommend him to the Trump folks.”
Hadley says he knows Tillerson as someone who is “very strategic” and “very smart.”
“He has an understanding of some of the most difficult spots in the region because, in some sense, I think God has a sense of humor because oil and gas is placed in some of the most difficult and unstable regions of the world, and that’s, of course, where ExxonMobil, and therefore Mr. Tillerson, have had to work,” Hadley said. “I think that gives him a unique perspective on some of the troublesome areas that Donald Trump is going to have to deal with as president. I also think it gives him experience in those regions and contacts in those regions, as I said, that will be useful to the president.”
Asked about the criticism that Tillerson is too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hadley dismissed the concern.
“I think the fact that he knows President Putin, has a relationship with President Putin, is actually a good thing and will be helpful to President Trump, who, actually, despite all the rhetoric, does not have a personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin,” Hadley said. “Look, Russia is a player. Russia is a player in Europe. Russia is a player in Iran. Russia is a problem in some areas. Russia is, in some sense, a partner of the United States in other areas. Russia is going to have to be dealt with, and that means they’re going to have to deal with Vladimir Putin. And I think that kind of experience can be useful and helpful.”
“People say that Trump is concerned about and is fixated on great powers and strong leaders and a little worried that we might concede Russia a kind of sphere of influence in Europe,” Hadley added. “That doesn’t sound like Rex Tillerson to me.”
Last week, the New York Times reported that Hadley was working behind the scenes to scuttle the nomination of John Bolton as deputy secretary of state. But Hadley said that report was simply “not true.”
“I’ve worked with John Bolton,” Hadley said. “John Bolton is a friend of mine. He is a very smart, admittedly very tough guy, and a very tough negotiator. He has a combative style. I think in many ways that may be quite congenial for Mr. Trump and how he wants to conduct his affairs.”
Hadley said Bolton would make a fine choice for deputy secretary of state, as would other candidates, like former deputy national security adviser James Jeffrey, diplomat Paula Dobriansky or Richard Haas, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The man Trump tapped to fill Hadley’s former role as national security adviser is retired Gen. Mike Flynn. Flynn was the first general to endorse Trump and has come under fire for some of his statements and tweets during the presidential campaign. While Hadley said he wasn’t thrilled with some of Flynn’s comments on the campaign trail, he met last week with him and KT McFarland, who Trump has chosen as his deputy national security adviser, and came away with a positive impression.
“He’s said some things that people have objected to,” Hadley said of Flynn. “He’s said some things that I don’t think are particularly wise. Those have been said. I think it’s important that people give him an opportunity now that the campaign is over, now that some of the cabinet secretaries have been designated, give him an opportunity to learn his job, get the system going, and judge him by results. Let’s give him a chance. But I am optimistic.”