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Trump's Appointments Provide Insight Into National Security Strategy


Well, now let's take a step back and hear about the direction national security might take in the Trump administration. I'm joined by David Rothkopf, who's CEO and editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Welcome to the program.

DAVID ROTHKOPF: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: What do these appointments say to you about Donald Trump's approach to foreign policy?

ROTHKOPF: I think you're going to get a foreign policy that looks and sounds like Donald Trump. He's loud, brash, impulsive. And I think these guys have proven that they are like that, too. Flynn is a guy who had a sort of normal military career, but very, very, very zeroed in on Islam and increasingly has become more of a fringe character, doesn't play well with his colleagues, has alienated a lot of them, got fired from his job at the Defense Intelligence Agency. And for all those reasons is kind of a bad choice as a national security adviser who's supposed to be coordinating among different agencies.

SIEGEL: Both Flynn and Pompeo have been very critical of the Iran deal. Barack Obama says Trump will hear from the Israelis that it's working. From these appointments, would you expect a Trump administration to tamp down its opposition to the Iran deal or advance the idea of renunciation and threat of airstrikes?

ROTHKOPF: I think we're seeing some early signs that the Trump administration is going to focus on being super tough on ISIS. And to do that, they've got to kind of get along with the Russians and get along with the Iranians for a while. I even heard Jim Woolsey, who's been advising Trump, say something about, you know, during World War II, we worked with the Russians to deal with the Germans and then we took care of the Russians later on. And so there is already that kind of rationalization.

SIEGEL: The last Republican administration - the George W. Bush administration - was noted for the influence of neoconservatives on foreign and security policy. Do you see any great difference here? Do you see people who oppose the war in Iraq?

ROTHKOPF: Well, I - you know, I do see a great difference. You know, one of the undercurrents here is that this is an even more extreme strain of the party. Also, there is a kind of a strain of ethno-nationalism here that extends also to the appointment of Steve Bannon as the chief strategist.

You know, Flynn is a guy who is quoted as saying Islam isn't a religion, it's a political ideology. And he likened it to a cancer. Pompeo has had similar views. Obviously, Bannon with Breitbart has had similar views.

This group is more akin to the ethno-nationalists of the right in Europe today than they are to the neocons of the Bush years, many of whom denounced Trump as being too extreme even for them.

SIEGEL: Would you look forward to the nominations for secretary of state and secretary of defense and think those would overwhelm these, or are these the people who are likely to have Donald Trump's ear, do you think?

ROTHKOPF: Well, it depends on Donald Trump. You know, the way our system works, the president gets to determine who he listens to. The national security adviser, of course, is right down the hall and tends to have especially high influence in these days when so much happens in the White House. If he picks somebody at State or Defense who he's close to, they may have a little bit more clout. But it's by no means a certain thing.

What we really want to look at is are those views different from the sort of cluster of extreme views we see here? Will he get a range of points of views, or will the views at state and defense reinforce the extreme views we see from these folks?

SIEGEL: That's David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy. David, thank you.

ROTHKOPF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.