Trump clearly prefers diplomacy over wars. A top hostage negotiator may be exactly the kind of security advisor he needs | Opinion

The wait is over: Robert O'Brien, the Trump administration's hostage negotiator, will be President Donald Trump's new national security advisor. The former George W. Bush administration official will enter his first week on the job with a full plate of foreign policy issues on Washington's radar.

The position of national security advisor is one of the most sought-after in the federal government. It's also one of the most difficult; the individual holding the job needs to be a good manager, a protector of the president's foreign policy agenda, and an enforcer when the policy is not working as it should. O'Brien will need to do all of this and more at a time when the United States is at risk of being dragged into another dangerous and unnecessary dispute between regional powers in the Middle East.

But perhaps the most important task for O'Brien is doing what his predecessor, John Bolton, did not do—allow officials with less interventionist impulses into the policy making process; provide a wide array of policy options to the president; and above all balance the counsel Trump receives from the establishment with more common sense and restraint.

On matters of war and peace, President Trump exhibits some good instincts. He is intuitively resistant to the use of military force when direct U.S. national security interests aren't at stake, a unique characteristic in a U.S. president compared to the last quarter-century. While some on Capitol Hill are calling for U.S. military action against Iran in retaliation for Tehran's apparent missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities, Trump is rightly skeptical that a forceful response from Washington is smart for America's strategy and prosperity. Despite increasing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan two years ago by an additional 3,000-4,000, he was hesitant in doing so, knowing in his gut that the American people were far more likely to support a military withdrawal from the 18-year long conflict rather than another escalation. The president also continues to view diplomacy as the highest art form in foreign affairs; whereas others would have refused to talk to adversaries, Trump is willing to discuss potential deals with anyone at anytime (how he goes about negotiating those deals is, of course, another subject entirely.)

Unfortunately, the president has yet to have had a national security advisor who works in lockstep with his preferences rather than undermining them. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn resigned after 22 days. Retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster opposed Trump's summitt with Kim Jong-un and was indeed a vocal advocate for the "bloody nose" strike on Pyongyang, a reckless recommendation that could have spiraled into the worst war the world has seen since the Korean War 70 years prior. John Bolton was the most unhelpful of all, predisposed to considering diplomacy as a sign of weakness instead of a necessary tool of statecraft. After nearly three years, Trump is entitled to a security advisor who is like-minded on some of the most significant foreign policy challenges on his desk.

To put it in the most blunt terms possible: the president needs an in-house counselor who can go toe-to-toe with the hawks flying around the nation's capital. O'Brien's positive personal relationship with the president affords him an opportunity to serve as a balancer in the inter-agency.

O'Brien will spend the first few weeks acclimating to his new role. But he can't wait too long before pressing more restraint into the foreign policy emanating out of the White House. The world won't allow it, and neither will the president.

Given the current situation in the Persian Gulf, O'Brien's must immediately get to work on executing Trump's interest in a diplomatic opening with the Iranians—more to prevent a violent conflagration in the Persian Gulf than to dramatically improve a U.S.-Iran relationship that will take time and patience to achieve. This will require the national security advisor to instill new thinking in the administration as a whole about what is achievable with Iran in general and what is the quickest and most effective way to promote a reduction in tensions. Averting a catastrophic war that would have systemic repercussions on the world's oil supply is a top priority.

Refocusing the orientation of U.S. foreign policy away from the sectarian, tertiary conflicts of the Middle East and toward Asia is a longer-term proposition, but one even more necessary today than it was one when the White House published its National Security Strategy in 2017. The global strategic environment in 2019 is much different than it was at the turn of the century, when transnational terrorism dominated Pentagon, State Department, and intelligence community resources and attention. The centers of geopolitical gravity have shifted, and U.S. policy needs to shift along with it.

Is Robert O'Brien up to the task? Only time will tell. But if he reinforces the president's judicious views on when to project U.S. force abroad and executes the administration's most noteworthy initiatives—alliance burden-sharing to name one—then U.S. foreign policy has a good chance of moving away from the stale Beltway establishment and closer to what the American people increasingly want.

Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Update: The headline in this article has been updated.

Trump clearly prefers diplomacy over wars. A top hostage negotiator may be exactly the kind of security advisor he needs | Opinion | Opinion