Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright shouldn’t have any influence over Pentagon policy in 2020.
This oughtn’t be a controversial statement. If one is to drain the swamp, the folks behind the bombing of Cambodia and permanent normalized trade relations with China, respectively, probably aren’t the people you want advising the Department of Defense.
But the former secretaries of state were still on the Defense Policy Board, described by Foreign Policy as “a kind of in-house think tank on retainer for top military leaders, providing independent counsel and advice on defense policy.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Foreign Policy reported, they were removed by the Trump administration — along with nine other establishment figures who were seen as not reflecting the current administration’s views on issues like China and interventionism.
“Also booted in today’s sweep of the board, which is effective immediately, were former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and David McCormick, a former Treasury Department undersecretary during the George W. Bush administration,” Foreign Policy reported.
“Both had been added to the board by [former Defense Secretary James] Mattis in 2017. Jamie Gorelick, a Clinton administration deputy attorney general; Robert Joseph, a chief U.S. nuclear negotiator who convinced Libya to give up weapons of mass destruction; former Bush Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch II; and Franklin Miller, a former top defense official, have also been removed.”
A Pentagon official confirmed the removals.
“As part of long-considered changes, we can confirm that several members of the Department’s Defense Policy Board have been removed,” they said.
“We are extremely grateful for their dedicated service, commitment, and contributions to our national security. Future announcements for new members of the board will be made soon.”
The Defense Policy Board doesn’t have much power in an official capacity, but it plays a key advisory role at the Department of Defense. It’s also well-stocked with establishment players like Kissinger and Albright, who have built careers of getting militarily stuck in all the wrong places and not intervening in the right ones.
President Donald Trump had previously wanted to change the tenor of the board by remaking it with pro-administration figures like former Air Force pilot Scott O’Grady or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
However, he’d had encountered severe resistance from former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, himself problematically establishmentarian, and former Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Anderson. Both had wanted policy continuity, and both are now gone.
In October, The Washington Times reported that certain members of the board — Kissinger in particular was singled out — were at odds with the president over his policies on Beijing.
As William C. Triplett II, the former chief Republican counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Times, two-thirds of the board’s composition should support the administration’s foreign policy and military vision. Another one-third should reflect past administration’s policy visions.
“But the one-third should be distinguished persons who are not known for high and active partisanship,” he added.
“The present composition of the board does not appear to meet that standard,” Triplett said.
“For example, certainly Dr. Kissinger is entitled to his opinions on China, but they are the antithesis of the Trump administration, and former Secretary of State Albright is an active Democratic partisan.”
Why is this important? Rest assured, if presumptive President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office next Jan. 20, he’ll waste no time putting his stamp on the Defense Policy Board. If changes weren’t made, it would almost be like Biden, the former vice president, never even left.
It’s unclear who Biden plans to choose as his defense secretary, but the odds-on favorite is Michèle Flournoy, who served as a top Pentagon official in both the Clinton and Obama administrations and who argued for intervention in Libya and Syria.
Antony Blinken, who argued for those exact same things, is Biden’s pick for secretary of state.
We’ve been stuck in Afghanistan for 20 years. If we deploy significant military resources to Syria, that could well be another 20 years.
And yet, look where a prospective Biden administration wouldn’t get stuck in. Biden wants to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. He also isn’t going to maintain the Trump administration’s hard-line policies on Beijing.
No, removing Kissinger and Albright from the Defense Policy Board won’t magically erect a barrier to this, but it’s a place to start, particularly given how influential the board is.
And mind you, they weren’t the only terrible names to go; any day Eric Cantor, one of the most swampy individuals in all of Washington, can be further removed from influence is a winner in my book.
We don’t need more bien pensant interventionists who believe the road to peace and prosperity lies in placating China and appeasing Tehran. Wednesday’s move cleared 11 of those.