WASHINGTON – Retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward has turned down an offer to become Donald Trump's new national security adviser, a potential blow to those who hoped Harward would bring a stabilizing presence to the National Security Council days after the surprise resignation of Michael Flynn.
Harward confirmed in a statement released Thursday night that he turned down the job. Trump has reportedly named retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg as acting national security adviser.
The question now among national security watchers is if Kellogg will remain in that role or if Trump will look for another outside voice. Kellogg helped with the presidential transition and is seen as more of a continuation of Flynn than a different direction. Notably, Flynn's deputy, K.T. McFarland, has also been asked to stay.
Rumors of Harward as a potential replacement for Flynn began to swirl almost immediately. Foreign Policywas first to report
that Trump had offered the job to the former Navy SEAL — and that Harward was weighing his options, in part due to concerns about how much say he would have over the NSC.
Those concerns apparently won out Thursday in a blow to those who hoped Harward would form a bloc with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Department of Homeland Security head John Kelly against the influence of Trump's political adviser Stephen Bannon. Bannon is a controversial figure linked to the white nationalist movement.
Critics say Bannon's "Strategic Initiatives Group" is essentially a shadow NSC designed to deflect differing opinions on security issues, and they fear Bannon has worked to silence the professional staff. By contrast, Harward would have provided a consummate insider's view of how the NSC should work.
Harward served time on President George W. Bush's National Security Council as the director of Strategy and Policy for the office of Combating Terrorism, commanded troops in Afghanistan, and ended his career in 2013 after a two year tour as the deputy to Mattis, then head of U.S. Central Command. Since leaving the military, Harward has served as Lockheed Martin's chief executive in the United Arab Emirates, an increasingly important market for the world's largest defense company.
A former Pentagon official familiar with Harward told Defense News that the retired admiral "doesn't bring a big ego, and in that sense could do a good job as a coordinator and honest broker" in the NSC role. However, the official expressed some concerns about the continuing trend of retired officers having sole control of the national security apparatus.
"This team could really use some seasoned diplomats in the mix, so in that sense, adding another general/flag officer to the mix would be an opportunity lost," the former official said. "However, it's clear that the president likes having generals and admirals reporting to him and may give them more respect than a civilian, so if that helps keep the national security system functioning and stable, that might be a price worth paying. The onus would then be on Harward to ensure non-military views are fully explored on key decisions."
So, who is next? It's unclear whether Trump will move to replace Kellogg, or simply let him stay in that position on a permanent basis.
Reporters on Capitol Hill quizzed lawmakers in the days after Flynn's departure over rumored candidates such as Kellogg, former CIA director David Petraeus, and Stephen Hadley, who was Bush's former national security adviser.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain, who has criticized Bannon's elevation as a "radical departure," said he would support a range of individuals. Harward, he said at the time, "would do a good job, if he's given the ability to do so."
Sen. Tom Cotton, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Air Land Subcommittee, said he recommends Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who is the deputy commanding general for futures at Army Training and Doctrine Command, and hedge fund manager and former Army officer David McCormick.
Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Feb. 14 on MSNBC that Flynn's departure should spur the administration to "shake some things up in the NSC" and seize the "opportunity to make this better, stronger, and frankly help to reclaim America's role in the world."
Joe Gould contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.