Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions arranges meeting between Donald Trump, influential Republicans
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Donald Trump on Monday finally named several members of his team of foreign policy advisers in a meeting with The Washington Post’s editorial board, also laying out a global posture starkly at odds with longstanding U.S. policy.
The names he provided for his advisory team ended weeks of questions about who forms the Republican front-runner’s brain trust on global affairs. But the group’s lack of boldface Washington names and clear policymaking track records means there are still unanswered questions about the international direction they would hope to lead the country in. They also don’t clarify the GOP candidate’s broader global vision, as some have taken positions contrary to those he has articulated on the campaign trail.
Trump told the Post that he wants to reduce American commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a pillar of relations with Europe, and challenged the benefit of American military investment in Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing economic regions.
Trump detailed the position and his foreign policy team just hours before his first major foreign policy test — a speech before the annual 18,000-strong American Israel Public Affairs Committee gathering in Washington.
Speaking alongside his Democratic and Republican rivals, Trump will have to display a grasp of substance on issues within Israel, such as the peace process and and Israel’s qualitative military edge, and in the region, including Iran’s nuclear program. In doing so, he could provide an initial sense of how this new group of advisers will shape Trump’s world view.
“If he does not make this foreign policy advisers group look good by what’s in that speech,” political strategist Angela Rye told CNN, “I think he’s got a problem.”
Comparing the unglamorous business of crafting a foreign policy to sausage-making, Rye added that for Trump, the test is that “it’s about knowing what to put in the sausage as well.”
The team of foreign policy advisers, led by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, consists of counter-terrorism expert Walid Phares, energy consultant George Papadopoulos, former Defense Department inspector general Joe Schmitz, managing partner of Global Energy Capital Carter Page and former Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed the names to CNN.
“And I have quite a few more,” Trump told the Post’s editorial board, without offering details. “But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do. But that’s pretty representative group.”
Later at a Washington news conference on Monday, Trump said, “I have a team, we actually have a very good team,” calling it, “a top-of-the-line team.”
None of the men on Trump’s list are leading figures in the Republican foreign policy establishment. Many of the latter group came out publicly against a Trump presidency in a March letter that declared he would make “America less safe” and that he was “utterly unfitted to the office” of president.
One challenge Trump faces is that at this stage of the campaign, he doesn’t have a large pool to draw from, Matt Lewis, a CNN political commentator and senior contributor for The Daily Caller, told CNN. “It’s tough for Donald Trump,” Lewis said.
Describing Trump’s advisers as “smart, serious people,” Lewis added that, “You’re either going to choose people who weren’t at the upper, upper echelon, or people who are associated with the George W. Bush era,” who Lewis said are known for “nation-building and adventurism.”
Another option for Trump, Lewis suggested, would be to go with Democrats.
Trump supporter John Phillips, a KABC radio host, said that the real estate mogul will have no trouble fielding talented help. “No question, as he moves closer to the convention in Cleveland and he looks more and more like the nominee every single day, all of this these people or many of them are going to come on board,” Phillips said.
But one of Trump’s opponents, John Kasich, blasted the foreign policy names that the former reality TV star announced earlier in the day.
Taking a dig at Trump on Twitter, Kasich sent out a list of his own advisers — former administration officials and lawmakers who include a former adviser to President Ronald Reagan and a former CIA director.
“This is what it looks like when you build your national security team out of actual experts,” Kasich said.
The advisers already with Trump include Phares, a professor at National Defense University and and adviser to the U.S. House of Representatives on terrorism. The Lebanese-born Phares, who previously advised 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was also a high-ranking official in a Christian militia tied to massacres during Lebanon’s civil war.
Carter Page, the founder of Global Energy Capital, has experience as an investment banker in London and Moscow. George Papadopoulos, who worked for former Republican candidate Ben Carson, is an oil and gas consultant focused on the geopolitics of the energy trade, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Joe Schmitz, a lawyer, is a former Defense Department Inspector General and a former executive with the Blackwater security firm, associated with the killing of Iraqi civilians.
And Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg, at one point a COO at Oracle, led the 82nd Airborne Division and served as chief operating officer of the multinational Coalition Provisional Authority that ran Iraq from 2003 through 2004.
Trump has criticized American involvement in Iraq and said that he was an early opponent of intervention there.
He acknowledged that Kellogg and his perspectives on the conflict diverge.
“He does have a different opinion, but I do like different opinions,” Trump told CNN.
And he said more broadly of his advisers: “It doesn’t mean that I’m going to use what they’re saying.”
Trump’s meeting with the Post came just hours before the billionaire businessman took questions from the press at the hotel he is building in Washington. This evening, he addresses AIPAC along with Kasich and fellow Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, a Texas senator.
Trump has for weeks said he would release the names of foreign policy advisers but has until now repeatedly missed his own deadlines.
Asked last week in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about his advisers, Trump first pointed to himself: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain.”
The foreign policy positions he advanced Monday demonstrated that his thinking on global affairs has led him to advance positions that would turn parts of U.S. foreign policy on their head.
“NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money,” Trump said of the alliance in his remarks to the Post. “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore.”
And when asked whether the U.S. benefits from its engagement with Asia, Trump responded, “Personally, I don’t think so.”