It has now been nearly four weeks since Donald Trump said he would reveal his foreign policy advisers in “about two weeks,” and no list of advisers has materialized. When pressed about the topic during Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate, Trump named three people who he said he trusted for foreign policy advice — but it appears the individuals he named are not on the same page as The Donald.
As Trump has repeatedly made big claims about steps he would take in the realm of foreign policy, he has spent months deflecting questions about who is advising him. He has occasionally put out one or two names but has largely said “I watch the shows” when asked where he gets information about world affairs. On Thursday, Trump reassured the Fox News debate moderators that he would “get the best people, people that I’d be comfortable with.”
“I think Richard Haass is excellent. I have a lot of respect for him. I think General Keane is excellent,” Trump said during the debate. “I think that there are — I like Colonel Jacobs very much. I see him. I know him. I have many people that I think are really excellent but in the end it's going to be my decision.”
So who are these three men? Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, served in both the George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations and has a high profile. However, the Council on Foreign Relations is a nonpartisan organization, and a spokeswoman for the group, Iva Zoric, said Thursday that it does not endorse or exclusively advise any candidate. Haass does often meet with presidential candidates, and he met with Trump once, Zoric told the Associated Press, “as he has with six other presidential candidates from both parties.”
Haass himself tweeted during the GOP debate to distance himself from Trump and clarify his involvement — or lack thereof — in the front-runner’s foreign policy.
as @CFR_org president I do not endorse candidates. What I have done is offered to brief all candidates, & have briefed several, D & R alike.
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) March 4, 2016
As for the other two names Trump mentioned, it is unclear if they are actively advising the candidate. Army Col. Jack Jacobs is a military analyst for MSNBC and Jack Keane is a retired four-star general and former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army who now serves as chairman of the board for the hawkish think tank the Institute for the Study of War.
Trump has previously mentioned Jacobs as someone he respects, but Jacobs told Mother Jones in August that he had never spoken to the New York billionaire about military policy.
“He may have said the first person who came to mind," Jacobs said after Trump named him while talking on “Meet the Press” in August. “I know him. But I'm not a consultant. I'm not certain if he has a national security group of people. I don't know if he does or if he doesn't. If he does, I'm not one of them.”
Jacobs, who received a Medal of Honor as well as other awards for his service in Vietnam, suggested that perhaps Trump picked up information from his television appearances. “I talk about a wide variety of things on television,” the retired colonel said. “Who knows what anybody absorbs? But I'm delighted to hear that he's a fan of MSNBC.”
Keane also disagreed with some of Trump’s foreign policy ideas in an interview last August. In addition to talking about deals he would make with Russian President Vladimir Putin and suggesting the U.S. kill the families of terrorists, Trump has said he could destroy the Islamic State group by taking its oil reserves.
“If you took ISIS' oil, that would not stop them. It's not their only source of revenue,” Keane said during a Fox Business interview in August. “It would be a setback, but it would not stop them.”
He added that while Ben Carson, now dropping out of the presidential race, also oversimplified the fight against ISIS, his plan of taking the group’s land was probably a more viable solution than grabbing their oil. Keane has not publicly responded to Trump’s comments in Thursday’s debate.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2016
Trump recently named Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama — considered one of the most conservative members in Congress — as the chairman of a National Security Advisory Committee.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to recommend and facilitate discussions among exceptional and experienced American military and diplomatic leaders to share insight and advice with Donald Trump, regardless of their political views. Mr. Trump and the American people know our country needs a clear-eyed foreign policy rooted in the national interest. We need to understand the limits of our ability to intervene successfully in other nations. It is time for a healthy dose of foreign policy realism,” Sessions said in a statement released by the Trump campaign Thursday.
In that announcement, the campaign said it would reveal members of the committee “over the next few weeks.”
Previously, Trump has also mentioned John Bolton, the George W. Bush administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, as someone he looks to on national security. He called the former ambassador a “tough cookie” on “Meet the Press” in August. Bolton, known to be very hawkish, strongly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while Trump strongly opposed the war and repeatedly criticized Jeb Bush during the campaign over the topic.
Bolton has advised other 2016 White House hopefuls and said on Fox News in September that Trump’s foreign policy could be described by his campaign slogan. “He wears it on his baseball cap. It says, ‘Make America Great Again,’ what else do you need to know?” Bolton asked.
While Trump has been struggling to name foreign policy advisers, a group of more than 70 Republican national security leaders wrote an open letter this week criticizing Trump’s proposals and calling him unfit to be commander in chief. This opposition came as former presidential candidate Mitt Romney also made a speech imploring voters to choose anyone but Trump and calling the candidate’s character and judgment into question.