Small Wars Journal

The Colonels Shaping Trump's Middle East Policy

The Colonels Shaping Trump's Middle East Policy by Laura Rozen, Al-Monitor

Underneath the drama and chaos of the Donald Trump White House - the rival power centers, combative press conferences mercilessly mocked on Saturday Night Live, leaked transcripts of Trump's phone calls to allied leaders, and the often inflammatory tweeter-in-chief, fuming over the latest perceived insult while watching "Morning Joe" - a cadre of deeply serious, tested military intellectuals at the National Security Council is shaping Trump's Middle East policies.

Unclear, as yet, is if they have a boss who will be receptive to their efforts and searing battlefield experiences. Those include helping devise the strategy to quell the post-US invasion Iraq insurgency, and later seeing those gains lost following the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 and subsequent rise of the Islamic State (IS). For all their experience, there is a tendency, as each new US administration comes in with its critique of its predecessor, to refight the last war, even as the situation on the ground has evolved…

Retired US Army Col. Derek Harvey, who leads the NSC Middle East team as the special assistant to the president and White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, is credited with figuring out the nature and composition of the Iraqi insurgency that erupted after the US invasion in 2003 and dissolution of the Iraqi army.

Retired US Army Lt. Col. Joel Rayburn, who serves as the NSC director on Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Syria, is a former army intelligence officer who has written the US military's official account of the Iraq war, as well as the publicly available 2015 book, "Iraq after America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance."

Retired US Army Col. Dr. Michael Bell, who serves as the NSC director for Gulf Affairs, served as an officer in Europe and the Middle East and as a strategist to the Joint Staff. He came to the NSC after most recently serving as chancellor of the College of International Security Affairs at National Defense University. (Yael Lempert, a career US foreign service officer who served as the Obama NSC senior director for Israel Palestinian affairs, is currently holding over as the NSC director for Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, sources said. White House and NSC press officers did not respond to queries from Al-Monitor on the appointments.)

Harvey and Rayburn were handpicked by David Petraeus, the former US commander in Iraq and Afghanistan and later CIA director, to devise the surge strategy for overcoming the Iraq insurgency and stabilizing Iraq, said former CIA and NSC official Ken Pollack. Pollack, now with the Brookings Institution, told Al-Monitor, "These guys are all Petraeus' protégés."…

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