Trump's solid pick for national security adviser
President Donald Trump last week made a superb selection to be his new national security adviser. Robert C. O'Brien has been the president's special envoy for hostage affairs since May 2018 and has assisted Trump in bringing home many of the more than 20 Americans who have returned to the United States since Trump was sworn in.
O'Brien's effectiveness has dovetailed well with the president's focus and priorities, but that isn't the sole reason for his being selected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supported O'Brien's promotion to the key role. So did many other veterans of the national security establishment. At various times in the past, O'Brien has advised Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, among others.
I should note that O'Brien is a close friend of mine, a former law partner at two different firms, a frequent guest on my radio show dating back more than a decade, and a collaborator on various essays and columns on national security. (I retired from the active practice of law in the summer of last year while continuing to teach constitutional law at Chapman University's Fowler School of Law.) I wrote the foreword for O'Brien's 2016 book "While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis."
In making this choice, Trump is relying not only on O'Brien's established ability to work well with the president and the secretary of state, but also on his skills honed by decades of representing diverse clients in complex litigation and arbitration before both international and domestic courts. When the president is making decisions, he needs someone with great capacity and integrity who can organize and present a variety of facts and opinions while making persuasive arguments on behalf of allies and other officials not in the room.
A wide-ranging reader (and a student especially of Winston Churchill), O'Brien is probably best known as a "navalist" — proponents of Trump's goal of a 355-ship Navy have another friend in the West Wing now. O'Brien can be counted on to continually remind everyone that Trump has spoken on behalf of rapid expansion of the fleet. Having toured a ship engine-drive production plant with O'Brien, I know he's schooled in industrial-base realities as well as top-line goals for the Navy.
O'Brien has toured crisis-torn countries, such as Afghanistan, Ukraine and Georgia, as an election observer and as a diplomat. He worked alongside John Bolton at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, and most recently he has traveled the globe on Trump's behalf to free Americans wrongly held by foreign entities. Trump's priority of getting Americans home became O'Brien's passion. The families of those Americans imprisoned abroad know that the new national security adviser shares the president's and secretary of state's commitment — unusual in recent U.S. diplomatic history — to bringing those hostages home without creating incentives for the capturing of Americans abroad.
Trump has been advocating rebuilding the military and arming U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with the best and most lethal weaponry. Even a cursory reading of O'Brien's published work will show he has long argued for the same thing. Like Ronald Reagan before him, Trump is not quick to dive into entanglements abroad, he is not a "neoconservative" on national security matters but the old-fashioned sort of conservative. Mirroring his boss in that regard, O'Brien is in the classic mold of serious, experienced, historically literate national security specialists.
With the selection of a competent, fair and intelligent aide to assist in the execution of the administration's policies, Trump has made a confidence-building choice in a time of rising international tensions.
Hugh Hewett is a radio talk show host with the Salem Radio Network.
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