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Trump Should Listen More To Career Government Employees, Negroponte Says


Let's get one perspective on President Trump's reshuffling of the National Security Council. That group of high-office holders considers the most vital security questions. Presidential political advisers have rarely attended over the years, but the new president's chief ideological driver, Steve Bannon, will attend. Many security experts found that news troubling. Longtime U.S. diplomat John Negroponte says it somewhat acknowledges reality. Domestic politics influence foreign policy.

JOHN NEGROPONTE: You can't tell me that Franklin Roosevelt didn't have in consideration the domestic environment in the 1930s in which he was operating. He would have gotten into World War II a lot sooner if it hadn't been for the domestic constraints that he felt.

INSKEEP: There was an isolationist movement back then, which was, ironically, marching under the banner America first, the very slogan the new president now uses.

NEGROPONTE: I've tried to understand what he means by America first. I think there's this suspicion on his part that somehow previous administrations have sort of been just giving away, selling our interests short in our international negotiations. And I think he's going to discover that that hasn't really been the case. Americans are well-respected and well-known around the world as being pretty darn tough negotiators.

INSKEEP: We had a long talk with Ambassador Negroponte, who was a long-serving diplomat abroad and director of national intelligence at home. He's been thinking about President Trump's executive order, which bans visitors, for a time, from seven countries in the Middle East and also stops the flow of refugees to the United States. Negroponte says the president was trying to keep a campaign promise.

NEGROPONTE: But I think it's going to encounter a lot of problems - it already has. I mean starting with, initially, trying to suggest that people with green cards couldn't come back to the United States, which is an absolutely preposterous proposition. And then, you know - why do you pick the countries you picked? I was particularly concerned about Iraq, where we've operated presumably as a friend of Iraq to try to help them defend themselves. And now we're passing a rule that delays people who had been interpreters for our military and so forth in Iraq and had helped keep our people safe.

I don't think they'd thought through all the consequences, and that goes back to process. They are not going to be able to run this country with about 10 people standing around the Oval Office. That's just not the way a government of 2 or 3 million people works.

INSKEEP: Is America, as some people have claimed - critics of the president have claimed - less safe than it was a week ago?

NEGROPONTE: Maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but I think it would also be a stretch to say that this man enhanced the safety of our country. I mean, I think we need to keep this issue of safety in our country in perspective. And I think one of the unfortunate parts of this conversation is it sort of implies that what the people did before wasn't good for our national security, and that's nonsense. For some new group to come in and suggest that what went before was just not good for the safety of the American people, I don't think is fair.

INSKEEP: Just to give one example, vetting of new arrivals and refugees is a lot stronger than it used to be. Right?

NEGROPONTE: Well, yeah. And it's been pretty strong for a long, long time. I mean, some of these refugees - takes three or four years for them to get in. And by the way, there's a big difference between the way refugees have gotten into the U.S. and refugees have gotten into Europe, and I think that's one of the distinctions that has been lost. I think some of these people are looking at the ease with which refugees basically stormed into Europe 12, 18 months ago. And of course, they were not vetted. But that's very different from refugees who come to the United States. By the way, most of them are children.

INSKEEP: If the president called you up and said - OK, smart guy, give me one piece of advice after my first few days - what would you tell him?

NEGROPONTE: Use established government institutions and be respectful of the career government people who are serving you throughout the nation's capital. They have a lot of experience to bring to bear. You don't have to listen to everything they recommend to you, but you should give them a chance to give you their view of what to do.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, thanks very much.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: John Negroponte served as director of national intelligence, deputy secretary of state, ambassador to Iraq and to the United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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