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Rumors Of More White House Staff Changes Persist


H.R. McMaster, who's leaving as President Trump's national security adviser, had a tenure in the White House that was pretty short by the standards of most presidencies. But in the Trump administration, he actually had a pretty good run. Many of the president's closest advisers did not even make it a year. Let's talk about this turnover and what we might expect with Michael Allen. He was a member of George W. Bush's national security team, and he joins us in the studio.

Thanks for coming in.

MICHAEL ALLEN: Good morning.

GREENE: Does this feel like a lot of turnover? And, I guess I wonder, can this much turnover itself, no matter who is coming in and out actually affect the White House and what it's trying to do?

ALLEN: I think this is an extraordinary amount of turnover in a short period of time. We're used to seeing these after elections. But I think we are in the middle of two major plots on Iran and North Korea. So it'll be really interesting to see how our policies may change.

GREENE: How important is the role of national security adviser in dealing with some of those crises, potential crises, that you're talking about?

ALLEN: Very important. This is the adviser who is closest to the president of the United States. There are really two models here. One is, you know, think Henry Kissinger, someone who has very strong views and aggressively advocates for them. A second model is someone who, we call it the honest broker, who will put crisp policy options before the president and sort of let the cabinet secretaries make their case. I definitely put John Bolton in sort of the hardcore, ruthless critic views on serious matters such as Iran and North Korea.

GREENE: OK. And John Bolton, we should say, is coming in and taking H.R. McMaster's place. You're saying he has bold views on things like Iran and North Korea. Will he basically give those views to the president and say, you make the decision? Or, is Bolton the kind of person who's really going to push hard and say, you'd better do it this way?

ALLEN: I think he's going to push very hard. If there's anything that defines his career, it's that he's been serious, seriously deeply skeptical of negotiated settlements with rogue regimes. As we re-enter the plot here on North Korea, we're on the cusp of perhaps a historic summit. I expect that Bolton will put down serious preconditions on behalf of the president before a meeting, thereby really calling into question whether the summit will happen at all.

GREENE: So why if you're Donald Trump and you open yourself up to this meeting, this potentially historic meeting, do you then bring someone in as your national security adviser who's going to try to talk you out of it?

ALLEN: And that's what's so interesting about it. I think Bolton will now get his chance to show that he can do better, he can get better negotiated settlements with Iran and North Korea. This is what he's been all about for many, many years, and now it's his turn to see whether he can do better.

GREENE: You worked with Bolton, right? I mean, as part of a team?

ALLEN: Well, not closely, but we were in the same administration, certainly.

GREENE: A lot of people are terrified of him in this role and look at his views on North Korea - as you said, I mean, he's written an op-ed recently making the case for a preemptive strike on North Korea. A lot of people expect that he'll try to convince the president to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal entirely, and that all in all, his being in the White House makes it more likely that we in the United States will go to war. Is that - should people be as scared as some are right now?

ALLEN: I don't - I think the rhetoric has been a little bit too much on the we're going to war very shortly. I think that John Bolton certainly wants to restore the threat of U.S. military power as a condition or as a factor that will help us get better-negotiated settlements, but certainly, I think he's more open to the prospect than his predecessor, certainly.

GREENE: Stephen Hadley, who was President Bush's national security adviser, said Bolton, while he has some concerns, was an asset in the Bush White House. Do you agree with that?

ALLEN: I think he was very, very tough and effective. And, for example, he got a very, very good U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea in 2005, 2006. That's where he's at his strongest. He's a very tough, effective lawyer in negotiations. The question is can we get a better deal with Iran or North Korea, or will it be a bridge too far?

GREENE: Michael Allen was a member of George W. Bush's national security team, talking to us about some of the turnover in the Trump White House and John Bolton coming into the job as national security adviser. Thanks for coming in this morning.

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

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