clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The frontrunner to be the next national security adviser is basically the anti-Flynn

Jordan's Prince Faisal (L), Army's head of operations and training Major General Awni Adwan (C), and deputy commander of US Central Command, US Navy Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward (R) attend the 'Eager Lion' joint military exercise at the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Centre in Amman on May 27, 2012. 

The frontrunner to replace fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is basically the anti-Flynn.

The Washington Post reports that Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a onetime Navy SEAL and former deputy commander of US Central Command who served under current Secretary of Defense James Mattis, is the leading contender to succeed Flynn.

If Harward gets the post, it would be a clear signal that the grownups on the Trump team are stepping in to make sure that the person who replaces the fired national security adviser can provide some much-needed calm and stability to the fractious White House.

It would also be a sign that powerful officials like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo want to make sure Flynn’s replacement doesn’t share the ousted national security adviser’s surprisingly warm feelings toward Russia and his startling contempt for the nation’s intelligence community. Flynn’s brief tenure was marked by open warfare with the nation’s spies and by internecine clashes with senior Cabinet officials like Mattis.

Most Americans have probably never heard the name Robert Harward before now — and that’s exactly why he’s an attractive candidate to a White House looking to erase the memory of a figure whose fiery speeches denouncing Hillary Clinton and hostile attitude toward Islam brought waves of often negative publicity.

Flynn the disrupter

Flynn has long been viewed as a fractious figure by many in the national security community. Under the Obama administration, Flynn was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence-gathering arm.

During his tenure at DIA, Flynn repeatedly clashed with other senior officials within his own agency and in other parts of the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, over his aggressive approach to reorganizing his agency.

“His vision in DIA was seen as disruptive,” a former Pentagon official who worked closely with Flynn told the Washington Post at the time.

He also clashed with the Obama administration over its policies on terrorism, believing that the administration didn’t adequately grasp the true threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism, and over the administration’s more diplomatic approach to Iran.

In a Trump administration already plagued by chaos and disorganization, Flynn’s disruptive and confrontational style only amplified the perception that things at the White House weren’t running so smoothly. “Flynn had seemed like a dead man walking for a long time,” my colleague Yochi Dreazen writes.

“In the weeks before the Russia scandal,” Dreazen explains, “a series of leaks suggested that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo had lost confidence in Flynn and were holding private meetings expressly designed to exclude him.”

The discussions about who should replace the now-disgraced former national security adviser are reportedly being led by Vice President Mike Pence in consultation with Mattis, Pompeo, and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly — the three people in the Trump administration who clashed most often with Flynn.

So it’s no surprise that they — and Pence, whom Flynn lied to — seem to have converged on Harward as their preferred replacement.

Harward is the anti-Flynn

Citing unnamed White House officials, the Post reports that Harward, who worked on the National Security Council during the Bush years, “is seen by key players around Trump as a steady pick for the post following the tumult that surrounded Flynn.”

Harward, a career naval officer, is also the son of a career naval officer. He grew up in Iran while his father was stationed there and actually graduated from the Tehran American High School. According to his Navy bio, Harward attended the College of Naval Command and Staff, the Naval Staff College, and the Armed Forces Staff College.

He has counterterrorism experience as a US Navy SEAL, participating in missions in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Bosnia, and he has commanded troops in Afghanistan and Iraq for a cumulative total of more than six years since September 11, 2001.

Mattis ran CENTCOM during Harward’s time there, and was a huge fan of the admiral. In a series of emails the Pentagon released in response to a Freedom of Information Act in November 2012, Mattis described Harward as “brilliant (for a SEAL, smile).”

In 2013, Harward was awarded the Distinguished Graduate Leadership Award from the US Naval War College. When presenting Harward with the award, Rear Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter Jr., president of the Naval War College, described Harward as “A scholar as well as a warrior.”

That same year, Harward penned an op-ed in the Huffington Post to coincide with the International Day of the Girl. Titled “Half of Our Potential,” the op-ed argued that “What makes us a great country — and a military superpower — is the integration of women into the force. And it starts with education.”

Since retiring from the military, he has served as the CEO of Lockheed Martin UAE, overseeing projects, including one aimed at helping the UAE develop its own space program.

The other two people reportedly being considered are former CIA director and retired Gen. David Petraeus and retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who was temporarily named acting national security adviser until a permanent replacement is found.

Petraeus would be a hard sell in the wake of the Flynn debacle given that he resigned in disgrace from his post as CIA director under President Obama over a scandal in which he ultimately pleaded guilty to federal charges of mishandling classified information to his lover, Paula Broadwell.

On Monday night, Tommy Vietor, a former spokesman for President Obama’s National Security Council, tweeted that Harward is a “very impressive (and nice) guy.”

An impressive and nice guy is precisely the kind of national security adviser Vice President Pence and the rest of the Trump team would probably love to have right about now. That isn’t what they had before Monday night.

Watch: Michael Flynn resigns

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.