Watching this administration put a foreign policy staff together is gonna be fun (for values of “fun” that equal “watching a horrific tragedy unfold”)
Like no other part of the Republican establishment, the party’s foreign policy luminaries joined in opposition to the idea of a Donald J. Trump presidency.
Loyal Republicans who served in the two Bush administrations, they appeared on television and wrote op-eds blasting him. They aligned under a “Never Trump” banner and signed a letter saying they were “convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
For his part, President-elect Trump has maligned them as bumbling and myopic, architects of “a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.”
The coming weeks will determine whether both sides decide they need each other.
At risk of appearing empathetic, the dilemma here is genuine. The vast majority of Republicans I know, professionally and personally, work in the national security sector, and they were overwhelmingly NeverTrumpers. The content of this NeverTrumpery varied along a scale from “won’t endorse Trump or talk about the election,” to “will vigorously endorse Hillary and try to convince others to do the same,” but the foundation was the same; a belief that Donald Trump represented a serious threat to how they conceived of American national security.
But now Donald Trump will be President, and folks across this spectrum may (in the short or long term) be faced with a choice of whether or not to work in the administration. Reconsidering opposition to Trump is partially about careerism, but only partially; it’s not at all unreasonable for these folks to conclude that Trump’s foreign policy will likely be much worse if foreign policy experts refuse to join his government. But it is a quandary of representation; rather to work to try to mitigate a disastrous administration, or to simply wash hands and wait. It’s even more complicated for this particular group, because while Democratic foreign policy apparatchiks can hope that Dems will eventually win another election, NeverTrumpers have only the Devil and the Slightly Less Problematic Devil.
From an outsider perspective (which is where we’re all sitting right now, folks), the situation is also problematic, although since we don’t have much agency there’s less of a quandary. On the one hand, we have a Presidential administration that’s promising to ineptly do a lot of terrible stuff. On the other, we have the potential that it might do stuff that’s arguably even more terrible, just somewhat more competently. I don’t know that I can fully join Dan…
6. But the US will be much better off if the #NeverTrump GOP foreign-policy hands wind up in the administration. Yes. I mean the neocons.
— Daniel Nexon (@dhnexon) November 9, 2016
… because while it’s too flip to say “competent neocons got us into this damn mess,” it’s also not entirely wrong to note that “competent” neocons got us into this mess. My strong first preference is for the Trump administration to staff America’s foreign policy organs with competent professionals who don’t hold egregiously destructive substantive views on foreign policy. I’m not quite sure whether my next ordinally ranked preference is “competent professional with egregious views” or “incompetent amateurs with slightly different egregious views.” The former can, as we have seen, do extensive damage. The latter can also do extensive damage, perhaps even more than the former.