There was some cosmic justice. After stringing along a slew of nominees for secretary of state, ultimately humiliating Mitt Romney, President Donald Trump got a dose of his own medicine. The Post reports:
Retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward has turned down President Trump's offer to become his new national security adviser, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.
Harward would have replaced Michael Flynn, who announced his resignation late Monday amid allegations that he discussed U.S. sanctions with a Russian official before Trump took office and then misrepresented the content of that conversation to Vice President Pence and other administration officials.
One factor in Harward's decision was that he couldn't get a guarantee that he could select his own staff, according to a person close to Trump with knowledge of the discussions.
No, it's not normal for a high-level pick to turn down the president -- publicly.
Multiple former national security experts conjectured that the hang-up specifically was Trump's deputy national security adviser, KT McFarland, a TV commentator who has not served in government since the Reagan era. Few foreign policy professionals consider her qualified for the job.
An experienced former foreign policy official tells me: "Harward insisted on a very reasonable condition, which was naming his own deputy. Now the administration has an even deeper problem: either the next candidate will make the same demand, or he or she will appear to be weak and overly ambitious by accepting conditions Harward turned down." The official suggested: "The way out of this is to give KT McFarland a nice, sunny embassy -- fast."
Harward certainly knows the struggles that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson have had hiring their own staff -- neither has an announced deputy; Harward was not about to subject himself to the same micromanaging from the White House.
Former State Department official and vocal Trump critic Eliot Cohen says, "It makes it very difficult for any serious person to take the job under less reasonable conditions than Harward seems to have demanded, i.e., control of staffing." He explains, "No sane person would take this extremely important and difficult job without (a) control of staffing, and (b) eliminating or neutering Bannon's shadow NSC staff." He adds: "Without those things you're doomed not to frustration, but failure. The question will be whether Trump can bring himself to accept that, or go looking for a mediocrity - who will, in turn, help facilitate more failure."
Harward's decision reflects how far the president and this administration have fallen in the eyes of esteemed national security experts, including current and former officials. The White House is without an experienced chief of staff or normal internal decision-making procedures. Stephen K. Bannon got himself inserted into the National Security Council's principals meeting; Trump plans to bring on a crony, Stephen A. Feinberg, to "review" the intelligence operation. The president is in the middle of a crisis of his and Bannon's making. Trump delivered an unhinged monologue at his news conference on Thursday, which re-raises questions about his emotional and mental health.
As CNN's Jake Tapper tweeted, "A friend of Harward's says he was reluctant to take NSA job [because] the WH seems so chaotic; says Harward called the offer a '(expletive) sandwich.' "
Sooner rather than later, we hope that for the country's sake, Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump (or someone else Trump will listen to) will lay it out bluntly: He can have Bannon running roughshod over the administration, or he can be a successful president; he cannot have both.
Bannon has intruded into national security matters and wound up embarrassing the president with, among other things, the failed travel ban. Bannon's pro-Soviet tilt is unacceptable to Cabinet-level hires, to both political parties and to our allies. That Bannon would not foresee this nor understand the folly of his effort to push Trump into the embrace of an aggressive foe is political malpractice of the highest order. He has managed to make half of the country think Trump is a Russian spy or up to his eyes in financial debt to Vladimir Putin.
Trump -- not unlike Bill Clinton after an ineffective first year in office -- should clean house, find a heavyweight chief of staff and banish Bannon, who has no clue how to develop and implement policy, at least not any policy that withstands scrutiny. Bannon can head up Trump's political operation, or cut out the middle man and be a lobbyist for Russia.