Nov 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Divisive Pentagon hire may rush troop withdrawals before Trump's exit

President Trump

President Trump. Photo: Jim Watson / Getty Images

President Trump's newly installed acting Pentagon chief is bringing on a senior adviser in a sign the administration wants to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East before the end of his presidency in January, three people familiar with the move told Axios.

Why it matters: A senior administration official says a wave of firings at the Pentagon and the hiring of Ret. Army Col. Douglas Macgregor is in part a settling of Trump's personal scores — but senior White House officials also have made clear "they want them more publicly to talk about getting out of Afghanistan by the end of the year."

  • Trump, who ran in 2016 on a promise to bring U.S. troops home, is frustrated with the slow pace of withdrawing troops from the Middle East, another senior administration official said.
  • The president has told advisers on numerous occasions he wants troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas.

In a 2019 interview with Fox's Tucker Carlson, Macgregor said he would advise the president to get out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible," including removing the U.S. embassy from Kabul, and that talking to the Taliban was unnecessary.

  • Macgregor also said the U.S. needs to pull its troops out of Syria immediately and America had no national interest there.
  • He said, "We need to listen very carefully to the Iranians ... find out what their interests are and look for areas where we can cooperate" and that the U.S. needs to "turn the operational control of the [Korean] Peninsula militarily over to President Moon and the Koreans."

What they're saying: The Pentagon, in a statement to Axios, confirmed Macgregor has been hired as a senior adviser to acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. It said Macgregor's "decades of military experience will be used to assist in the continued implementation of the President’s national security priorities."

The big picture: Since Joe Biden became president-elect, Trump has refused to concede the race — but he's also moved rapidly this week to fire top officials in the Pentagon's civilian leadership.

  • That includes Mark Esper, as well as the former Defense secretary's chief of staff and other high-level officials in charge of intelligence and policy.

Details: Macgregor, a decorated combat veteran, is a Trump loyalist and regular Fox News commentator. He's known for his questioning of conventional Army leadership and decision-making, including strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his extreme rhetoric about Muslims and undocumented immigrants.

  • He was passed over earlier this year for the Pentagon's top policy job amid reports Esper had concerns about him.
  • Macgregor was announced over the summer as Trump's pick for U.S. ambassador to Germany. He has criticized the EU and Germany for being too welcoming to "Muslim invaders."
  • Macgregor has advocated for martial law at the U.S.-Mexico border, and per CNN's reporting, and advocated the use of deadly force to deter illegal immigration. In a 2016 blog post, he also wrote: "Once it becomes clear that Central Americans AND Mexicans [and other illegals], are NOT going to survive an attempt to enter the US, and will be LUCKY if they are turned back rather than killed in the attempt to violate US sovereign borders, the flow will diminish substantially."
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