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Trump Must Decide Who Will Be The Next National Security Adviser


Where does U.S. foreign policy move now that John Bolton is out? President Trump fired his national security adviser, and his disagreements with Bolton suggest how much that job matters.


They disagreed on Afghanistan. The president nearly brought the Taliban to Camp David for peace talks, a plan Bolton was said to oppose.

INSKEEP: They differed on North Korea. The president placed far more faith than Bolton did in talks with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.

MARTIN: On Iran, Bolton favored airstrikes that the president approved and then called off. All this goes to show how the national security adviser was involved in life-and-death decision.

INSKEEP: As were his predecessors. The president has run through three national security advisers now and promises soon to name a fourth. What does a lawmaker in his party think? Well, let's ask Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, who's back on the line. Senator, welcome to the program.

JAMES LANKFORD: Glad to be back again with you, though it's a tough day to be here on 9/11 and all...

INSKEEP: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

LANKFORD: ...The nation is doing right now to remember and to pray and put up their flags again. And it puts into the circle, again, how important foreign policy really is...


LANKFORD: ...And how that affects the domestic policy and our lives.

INSKEEP: Yeah. It's remarkable to think that there were people born on 9/11 who are turning 18 today. It's been a long and dramatic story. Was this the right move for President Trump to make to change national security advisers right now?

LANKFORD: Ultimately, every person that works in the White House works at the pleasure of the president. And that's something John Bolton knew. And that's something that everyone else in the White House knows from every single White House. At the end of the day, you've got to be able to work and execute the pleasure of the president in the direction that he wants to be able to go. Foreign policy is especially difficult, though, because there will be every area of disagreement. We've not even talked about things like Yemen and what's happening in Kashmir...


LANKFORD: ...And so many other areas of the world that are difficult at this point. So the president will pick a new national security adviser. That person does not have to go through Senate confirmation because they're one of the assistants directly to the president. But it is extremely important that we get another good, competent person.

INSKEEP: Did you feel that Bolton was a good, competent person?

LANKFORD: I do. Bolton was controversial always because he's extremely opinionated. But he's extremely well-informed and sharp and has very solid experience in the past. And so...

INSKEEP: Was he...

LANKFORD: ...He brings a worldwide experience.

INSKEEP: Was he actually, in your view, correct on some of the issues in which he disagreed with the president? - for example, thinking that the Taliban at Camp David was a bad idea, that was Bolton's view.

LANKFORD: Well, I think it's appropriate to have conversations with Taliban. I don't think it's appropriate to have them on United States soil, especially around 9/11. We should continue the talks there and try to resolve it. We're not going to end it just on the battlefield. At some point, we've got to be able to end it in real conversation.

INSKEEP: Now, there's also the matter of maximum pressure - the maximum pressure campaign on Iran. This - if we can review a little history - is something that President Trump wanted to do. He wanted to pull out of the nuclear deal. He seemed to have been restrained a little bit by his advisers before Bolton came. After Bolton's arrival, the president withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and threw on this maximum pressure campaign. But is it working, Senator?

LANKFORD: Well, I think history will tell whether it works or not. There's an old biblical saying that wisdom is proved right by her children. At the end of the day, there will be acknowledgement from Iran, there'll be something about sanctions that they'll bring them, actually, to the table. And then we'll try to figure out what happens from there.

But this is - it has always been a long-term issue with Iran since 1979. Every president has struggled against the regime in Iran. And unfortunately, the people of Iran continue to suffer under that regime. So anything that we can do to bring human rights and values to the people of Iran and to try to bring greater peace to the region, we should do...

INSKEEP: Well, would you tell...

LANKFORD: ...Every president's tried to do something different.

INSKEEP: I'm so sorry, Senator. Would you tell President Trump, hey, you got rid of your advocate of maximum pressure, maybe you should rethink your approach to Iran? Would you tell him that?

LANKFORD: Actually, I would not. I think we have to continue to apply some level of pressure or Iran would have no desire to be able to talk. And that was always the challenge on the - with the nuclear agreement is that, once it got to the end of 10 years, there was no plan on what to do next at that point. And so the president's proposal seemed to be let's apply pressure now so that Iran doesn't have the ability to put maximum pressure 10 years from now.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about something else, Senator Lankford. And it seems kind of complicated and weedy, but I think it is really substantively important. We had Brett McGurk on the program - former U.S. diplomat, highly respected, worked through multiple administrations, including this one. And he told Rachel Martin that a problem under John Bolton at the National Security Council was that, quote, "there wasn't a process," meaning that Bolton was not trying very hard at all to get experts from throughout the government and different views from throughout the government forward to the president so the president could make well-informed decisions.

Has the NSC failed to properly inform the president before big, vital decisions, like whether to bomb Iran, for example?

LANKFORD: I think only the president would know that. I don't think anyone else could know that information, quite frankly, because the president has a request for the amount of information that he gets. He gets the president's daily briefing from the CIA each day. It is the responsibility of not only national security adviser but also the secretary of state, secretary of the treasury and CIA to be able to come bring him that information that he's looking for.

So I think that's a guess from an outsider. The president's going to know what information he's looking for. And he certainly has access to whatever information he needs.

INSKEEP: I guess we have to note that Brett McGurk was an insider. He was inside the administration. And we have plenty of reporting that the president hasn't shown much interest in outside information.

LANKFORD: Well, again, that goes back to what the president chooses to get. He has access to whatever information he wants to get. And he can choose to use and pull whatever it may be. This is an ongoing debate always. There were times that President Obama was criticized because he was reading through the information and not doing the briefing orally.

There are other times that President Trump is getting an oral briefing or a reading briefing and people think you should get other things. Every president's going to have some of this pushback. But again, they have access to the information that they need. It's how they choose to use it is their own decision.

INSKEEP: If the president called you up and asked you advice, would you tell him to take this moment to change any one specific thing? - in a few seconds, Senator.

LANKFORD: Well, I think the policy of Iran, we have to continue to leave the door open to that conversation and that we need to continue to apply pressure but make sure that the pressure is being applied to the regime itself and protecting, as much as we can, the people of Iran because that is the single biggest issue that's inflaming the entire region is the expansion of Iran.

INSKEEP: Senator, pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

LANKFORD: You bet. Glad to be able to visit with you again.

INSKEEP: James Lankford is a Republican senator from Oklahoma. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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