President Donald Trump ran for office on an unconventional foreign policy, however, the more traditional hawks in his administration are playing a major role in national security.
Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the relatively new national security adivsor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, hold conventional hawkish views on foreign policy issues, whereas Trump has entertained differing views on certain issues, most notably Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. As a result, these officials are becoming major players on the world stage.
Pence’s influence was most notable in January, when he traveled to Europe to reassure the NATO allies that the U.S. is committed to the alliance and the defense of its members. The vice president’s statements broke from Trump’s historical criticism of the alliance. Trump himself has since softened his tone on NATO. He referred to the alliance as “obsolete” in January, but reassured his strong support for NATO in his first speech to Congress Tuesday, albeit with a reminder that members “must meet their financial obligations.”
Pence’s role in foreign policy and national security extends beyond visits abroad. He sits in on Trump’s meetings with foreign leaders, receives the presidential daily brief and reportedly was “instrumental” in bringing in several traditional hawkish Republicans into the administration, according to the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin.
Mattis’s role was apparent in his first weeks in office when he went on tour of Asia, meeting with several foreign leaders in South Korea and Japan. He also reiterated U.S. support for NATO on a trip to Europe in mid-February, while also pressuring members to meet the required level of defense spending.
McMaster may not be jet-setting across the globe on behalf of the administration, but his influence may be a bonus to the traditional hawks in the administration. Prior to accepting his current post, McMaster oversaw the Russia New Generation Warfare Study, a project aimed at helping the U.S. counter the Russian military. McMaster’s nomination spooked Russia, with one prominent member of the Russian parliament’s Defense and Security Committee referring to him as a “100 percent hawk.” McMaster’s predecessor Mike Flynn was considered less aggressive on the Russian threat.
With Pence, Mattis and McMaster taking increasingly prominent roles in foreign policy and national security, it is possible that the administration itself will pursue a more traditionally hawkish Republican stance on key policies.
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