Shortly after firing his national security advisor, John Bolton, President Donald Trump named U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien to the position. O’Brien has a solid record in his previous capacity – his results in bringing home hostages from North Korea and Turkey are impressive. At the same time, he has never engaged much with the media, unlike Bolton. Regardless, he has a reputation of being an effective and knowledgeable bureaucrat among U.S. lawyers.
A person with such expertise is always a safe choice, so it is not surprising that O’Brien held several positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations. For example, during Bill Clinton’s administration, O’Brien served as a legal officer with the United Nations Security Council Compensation Commission in Geneva, and was later appointed by President George W. Bush as the U.S. Representative at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
He has advised a few Republican candidates during their political campaigns. Among them were Mitt Romney and Scott Walker. At the same time, he worked with famous law firms and even founded one of his own, Larson O’Brien LLP.
However, some of his statements regarding the need to maintain U.S. global dominance are alarming. Moreover, they do not align with Trump’s ideas. That seems surprising since Trump could have appointed any person for the position without the Senate’s approval. For example, many experts who argue against the U.S. playing the role of global policeman supported Douglas Macgregor for the position.
President Trump, however, did not follow their recommendations. According to him, an adviser’s worldviews do not matter much, since the president makes his own decisions. In fact, Trump mentioned with a smirk that the national security advisor does not have to work at all, which is a strange and doubtful proposition. One thing is clear: President Trump does not need outspoken advisers like John Bolton who would strongly disagree with his decisions.
So, for Trump, O’Brien seems like a good fit, a person who both prefers a low-key media presence and can work with big teams. The latter skill is crucial since the national security advisor has to work with hundreds of employees from the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, as well as international experts and supporting staff.
O’Brien was also a member of the International Republican Institute delegation that observed the parliamentary election in Ukraine in 2014. At that time, the Institute’s chair was the well-known John McCain.
This fact from O’Brien’s biography is quite interesting, considering Trump’s recent call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeking his help in digging up dirt on the former vice president and current 2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Exactly how the new national security advisor is going to work things out with Zelensky remains to be seen.
There is speculation that one of the reasons for Bolton’s resignation was his failure to obtain any damaging information during his recent visit to Ukraine. This is unfortunate for Trump since it is going to partially affect the results of the upcoming presidential election in the U.S. Obviously, compromising information could be used to remove Trump’s Democratic opponent.
So, the main question here is whether O’Brien will be able to overcome the challenges that Bolton could not or was unwilling to overcome.
The new national security advisor is starting his job at a moment of crisis in the Middle East following the attack on the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Iran has already been named a primary suspect, and a lot of people on Capitol Hill are in favor of a military attack on Saudi Arabia.
So far, President Trump has not yielded to the pressure, and has punished Iran exclusively by imposing sanctions.
At the same time, the new job will be a comprehensive test of O’Brien’s professional skills among the heightened political tensions.