2016-11-15 20:09:57 UTC
By Warren Strobel and John Walcott | WASHINGTON Mon Nov 14, 2016 | 7:27pm EST
Despite his professed opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq,
President-elect Donald Trump is considering several of the major
advocates of that war for top national security posts in his
administration, according to Republican officials.
Among those who could find places on Trump's team are former top State
Department official John Bolton and ex-CIA Director James
Woolsey. Both men championed the Iraq invasion, which many analysts
have called one of the major U.S. foreign policy debacles of modern
Also involved in transition planning for Trump's presidency is
Frederick Fleitz, a top aide to Bolton who earlier worked at the CIA
unit that validated much of the flawed intelligence on Iraq's weapons
of mass destruction programs.
Although it is impossible to predict how a Trump foreign policy might
evolve, one U.S. official who has served in Iraq said advocates of the
2003 invasion might be more inclined to commit additional U.S. forces
to the fight against Islamic State there, despite the absence of a
status of forces agreement that protects Americans from Iraqi legal
Paul Pillar, the top U.S. intelligence official for the Near East from
2000 to 2005, said that because Trump had little foreign policy
experience and had given conflicting accounts of what policies he
would pursue, the Republican president-elect's senior personnel
appointments would be crucial.
"What we're seeing going on - and we should be worried about it - is a
new president who on so many foreign policy issues has been all over
the map," said Pillar, now at Georgetown University. "Thus, the senior
appointments game that we go through every four years has more
consequences than it usually does."
Bolton, who is under consideration as Trump's secretary of state, the
officials said, and Woolsey, reported to be in the running for
U.S. director of national intelligence, did not respond to requests
for comment. The Trump transition team also did not immediately
respond when asked for comment.Even if Bolton is nominated, Senate
confirmation is not a foregone conclusion. In 2005, Senate Democrats -
with the support of a single Republican
Fleitz, in a brief phone conversation, confirmed he was involved in
Trump's transition effort, but declined further comment.
A return to power for the three officials would represent a change of
fortune for them and other "neoconservatives" who provided the
intellectual backing for the invasion of Iraq. During the presidential
campaign, some leading neoconservatives and Republican foreign policy
veterans opposed Trump, saying he was unfit to lead.
The group saw its clout wane in Bush's second term, as U.S. troops in
Iraq found themselves mired in a sectarian civil war, and has watched
from the sidelines during Democratic President Barack Obama's eight
years in power.
Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has said he opposed the invasion
of Iraq, in which more than 4,000 U.S. troops and hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis died, and which led to the creation of al Qaeda in
Iraq, the forerunner to the violent, ultra-hardline Islamic State
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and ties
to al Qaeda, used to justify the invasion, proved to be nonexistent.
"As you know, for years I've been saying: 'Don't go into Iraq.' They
went into Iraq. They destabilized the Middle East. It was a big
mistake," Trump said in August 2015 on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
His account that he always opposed the war was challenged during the
campaign by Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who cited a 2002
interview Trump gave to radio host Howard Stern in which he replied:
"Yeah I guess so" when asked if he supported invading Iraq.
Consideration of Bolton, Woolsey and others is "another demonstration
of how those who supported one of the biggest mistakes in American
foreign policy have not been - they don't seem to be sufficiently
discredited to be removed from the Washington foreign policy
dialogue," Pillar said.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan
Landay; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney)