He has helped presidential candidates, worked with secretaries of state, run a law firm, written a book of essays. Meet Robert O’Brien, the fourth national security advisor in the Trump administration.
US President Donald Trump lost little time in picking a replacement for John Bolton, the third national security advisor he worked with during his tenure. Bolton was sacked (or resigned depending on who you choose to believe) over his differences with Trump earlier this month, especially over Iran, Venezuela, Russia, North Korea and Afghanistan. Trump also did not like his mustache.
Selecting a new national security advisor for the fourth time in three years, Trump named Robert O’Brien for the position on Wednesday, September 18. O’Brien has served as Trump’s special envoy for hostage affairs at the US Department of State since May 2018.
Trump tweeted enthusiastically about O’Brien, writing, “I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!” Previous holders of the job included two military men in addition to John Bolton: HR McMaster and Michael Flynn.
O’Brien is a lawyer from Los Angeles who co-founded a boutique law firm called Larson & O’Brien LLP. According to his biography on the company website, “he represents individuals and companies in the entertainment, oil and gas, technology, finance and real estate industries” and serves as the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, “coordinat(ing) the United States Government's diplomatic engagements on overseas hostage-related matters.”
O’Brien most recently was in the limelight during the trial of A$AP Rocky in Sweden, where he was sent by Trump as an observer. The US rapper was released from custody thanks to O’Brien’s efforts. Even though A$AP Rocky was found guilty in August, he did not have to do any more jail time but just pay damages.
O’Brien was a senior foreign policy advisor for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s presidential campaigns, the BBC reports. He also worked in the Geroge W Bush administration, as a representative to the UN General Assembly.
O’Brien worked with Bolton, then the ambassador, while at the UN. He has also worked for former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, the BBC reports.
Trump’s appointment of O’Brien to the role, which does not need to be approved by the Senate, may help soothe tensions within the Republican Party.
Reactions to Trump’s choice
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters that O’Brien “understands the world for the dangerous place it is. He’s got great negotiating skills as our hostage negotiator,” adding that “he’ll be a very sound policy advisor.”
Reuters also reported John Barrass, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, as having told Fox News “he will do a fine job.”
Republican Senator Ted Cruz, whom O’Brien advised during his presidential run, also released a statement full of praise for the new national security advisor, calling him “exceptionally qualified.”
Cruz said he is confident “[O’Brien] will advance our national security during this time of heightened global tension, when enemies like Iran and rivals such as Russia and China are challenging us with new dangers, and I look forward to working with him in confronting those dangers."
Andrew Exum, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence for Middle East policy during the Obama administration also praised O’Brien, despite being a Democrat.
"All I have to say is that @robertcobrien is a really, really good person and that I wish him all the best in what will certainly be a challenging role," Exum tweeted.
Ned Price, the former spokesman for the US National Security Council under former President Barack Obama, tweeted that Trump’s choice was a shrewd one, in picking a personality he wouldn’t clash with, unlike that of John Bolton.
"Trump, after enduring the Bolton experience, clearly has no use for a strong personality or ideologue in the National Security Adviser position," wrote Price, according to Al Jazeera.
"Pompeo may not be dual-hatted as Secretary of State and NSA, but he might as well be with this arrangement," he added, referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
O’Brien published a book of national security essays called “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis,” in 2016. The book features O’Brien’s world views which seem to fall in line with Trump’s.
In the book, O’Brien quoted his 13-year-old son as saying “Dad, I saw on the news that the thing is starting when all the dictators come to America and give speeches about how bad we are.” O’Brien wrote: “His statement is one of the better descriptions of the United Nations General Assembly that I have ever heard.”
O’Brien and Trump, who has pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran (JCPOA), also see eye to eye on the Islamic Republic.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world and is building an archipelago across the Middle East using proxies and Revolutionary Guard forces from Yemen to Syria to Lebanon,” O’Brien wrote in an essay.
Trump has been a vocal critic of NATO, and has demanded allies to spend more on defence. Trump also wants to include Brazil as a major non-NATO ally. O’Brien’s views expressed in his book are of a similar ilk.
O’Brien called NATO “the most successful military alliance in history” and added “NATO allies must be encouraged to invest in their own defense.”
O’Brien also suggested a more inclusive “a global freedom alliance” whose candidates include, among others, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Colombia, Singapore, Israel, the Philippines, and potentially, India, as it sheds its non-aligned ideology and moves away from its weapons purchasing relationship with Russia.”