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Trump's Transition Team Works Over The Weekend On Cabinet Selections


President-elect Donald Trump spent much of the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., meeting with advisers and interviewing potential Cabinet appointees. He told the media camped out in heated tents outside the golf course that he could announce more appointments on Sunday, but he did not in the end. Trump is moving very quickly, though, to complete his national security team after naming several key posts late last week. Joining me now in the studio is Michele Flournoy. She served as undersecretary of defense in the Obama administration. Thanks for coming back on.

MICHELE FLOURNOY: Thanks for having me, David.

GREENE: So one of the meetings Donald Trump had over the weekend was with General James Mattis, who he said is being considered for secretary of defense. He praised him on Twitter and also speaking to reporters.


DONALD TRUMP: He's just a brilliant, wonderful man - what a career - and we're going to see what happens. But he is the real deal. Thank you everybody.

GREENE: Michele, what can you tell us about General Mattis?

FLOURNOY: General Mattis is a storied and much respected military leader. He's a student of history. He's a strategic thinker, and he also has real passion for, you know, the care of the men and women in the U.S. military and their families. So, you know, I think he would be an outstanding candidate.

GREENE: It sounds like you have a lot of respect for him.

FLOURNOY: I do, I do.

GREENE: You know, one thing he pushed for - a harder military posture against Iran. I mean, President Obama, the Iran nuclear deal - such an achievement the administration would argue. I mean, would President-elect Trump - would a President Trump - I mean, would this be more likely that they would scrap that deal if he indeed gets this job?

FLOURNOY: Will, President-elect Trump has talked about scrapping the Iranian nuclear deal, and I would hope that once in office he would be presented with some other options for being tougher on Iran. I think he'd get a lot of pushback from our multilateral partners from - everybody from the U.K. to France to Russia if he tried to scrap the deal. And if he scrapped the deal, you know, you'd basically take the limits off Iran's nuclear program without really being able to reimpose effective sanctions. So there are other things that can be done - intelligence cooperation with allies, military pushback on their terrorist activities and so forth. And I would hope that someone like General Mattis and others, if he were selected, would advise him on those other options for getting tough on Iran.

GREENE: Let me ask you in general. I mean, Michael Flynn was appointed as national security adviser, General Michael Flynn. Rudy Giuliani was was the last person to leave the New Jersey golf clubhouse. I mean, what are you seeing in general in the list of people who are being considered here?

FLOURNOY: Well, you really do have to evaluate the national security team as a team. And one of the things that concerns me at the moment is you don't have people with a lot of deep experience advising presidents, formulating foreign policy, managing crises from the situation room...

GREENE: So someone like Flynn, I mean, was Defense Intelligence Agency, but that's not the kind of experience you're talking about advising a president.

FLOURNOY: A lot of experience in the operational domain but not a lot of experience working at the presidential level. I mean, you contrast it with 2008 when President Obama came in. He didn't have a lot of foreign policy experience. He appointed the likes of Bob Gates, of Leon Panetta, people who had decades of experience advising presidents. So I would hope to see in the coming appointments that kind of experience being brought to the team.

GREENE: Just a few seconds we have left here. What kind of mistakes can happen if you don't have that specific experience advising you're talking about?

FLOURNOY: Well, I think you could have groupthink. You can have someone - you know, you could have a national security adviser who thinks his job is just personally advising the president rather than bringing to bear the best information and analysis, the best expertise from across the U.S. government - military, foreign service and so forth. The national security adviser really has to be an honest broker that brings that - the diversity of views to the president, including dissent. And the question is, will Mike Flynn make that transition from personal adviser to national security adviser?

GREENE: OK. Michele Flournoy is a former undersecretary of defense for policy and also co-founder of the Center for a New American Security. Michele, thanks a lot.

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