Top GOP National Security Official Warns: Don’t Go Work for Trump
Policy + Politics

Top GOP National Security Official Warns: Don’t Go Work for Trump

© Gary Cameron / Reuters

A respected foreign policy expert who had urged young Republican professionals to consider answering the call when the incoming Donald Trump administration sought to fill key executive branch positions has done a dramatic about-face and is now waving them off. His message: as part of their service in a Trump administration they would “probably have to make excuses for things that are inexcusable and defend people who are indefensible.”

Eliot A. Cohen, who served in the George W. Bush administration as a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2009, was among the senior conservative national security experts who came out against Trump early in the presidential campaign, vowing never to work for a man they viewed as reckless and dangerous.

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However, after Trump was elected, Cohen called on colleagues who had not publicly burned their bridges with the Trump team, as he had, to seriously consider accepting positions in the administration.

Writing in The American Interest he noted, “Others, including some of my younger friends, will have jobs dangled in front of them because the government has to be staffed.

“It seems to me that if they are sure that they would say yes out of a sense of duty rather than mere careerism; if they are realistic in understanding that in this enterprise they will be the horse, not the jockey; if they accept that they will enter an administration likely to be torn by infighting and bureaucratic skullduggery, they should say yes. Yes, with two conditions, however: that they keep a signed but undated letter of resignation in their desk...and that they not recant a word of what they have said thus far.”

Cohen backtracked on that advice pretty spectacularly on Tuesday, warning in a tweet that in subsequent interactions with the Trump transition team he found them “angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’” and predicted the transition would be “ugly.”

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His tweet came as a flood of news stories about disarray in the Trump transition team began to proliferate, including the surprising dismissal of former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, who had been considered a leading candidate for a top national security job, such as leading the Central Intelligence Agency.

Cohen elaborated on his concerns in an op-ed in The Washington Post Wednesday morning. He explained that despite his own status as persona non grata with the Trump team, he had been contacted and asked to provide the names of any national security experts who he thought might be receptive to a job offer from the incoming administration.

Cohen said the exchange, which he described in more detail yesterday was a “tipping point” for him.

“The tenor of the Trump team, from everything I see, read and hear, is such that, for a garden-variety Republican policy specialist, service in the early phase of the administration would carry a high risk of compromising one’s integrity and reputation.”

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Observing the transition so far, Cohen wrote, has led him to conclude that “The President-elect is surrounding himself with mediocrities whose chief qualification seems to be unquestioning loyalty.... By all accounts, his ignorance, and that of his entourage, about the executive branch is fathomless.”

In the meanwhile, he urged, “Do what you can do in other venues, and remember that this too will pass, and someday a more normal kind of administration will either emerge or replace this one. Your country still needs you — just not yet.”