Two prominent Trump administration allies are lobbying the president to tap retired Col. Douglas Macgregor as a top Pentagon policy official, setting up what could become be a contentious confirmation fight focused on Macgregor’s history of controversial claims about American Jews and their alleged influence over the media and U.S. government.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) have urged Trump to nominate Macgregor to replace John Rood, the Defense Department's top policy official, who was ousted in February.
While Macgregor, a frequent guest on Carlson's primetime television program, shares Carlson’s skepticism towards the Trump administration’s Iran policy, it is his views on Jews that are most likely to threaten his potential nomination, as well as his dovishness on China at a time when China’s role in concealing the threat of the Wuhan virus is under increasing scrutiny.
In a wide-ranging 2012 interview circulating among national security insiders, for example, Macgregor insisted that "neocons" are "making decisions in Washington that in their minds are beneficial to a foreign power and are not necessarily good for the American people or the United States."
"It is a mistake to insist, as I increasingly hear from people, that ‘all Jews are somehow or another unconditional supporters of whatever the Israeli state wants to do regardless of what is in American interest," MacGregor told the Daily Bell. "That's simply not true. What you have are numbers of people who call themselves neocons. They operate in a variety of settings in the government and in the media, and they support or advocate, for all intents and purposes, unconditional support for whatever the Israeli government wants to do. They are no means the majority and they are by no means representative of what I would call Americans who happen to be Jewish."
Carlson and Paul have both worked to sway Trump's stance on foreign policy, which has veered between aggressive pushback against America's enemies and Trump's own more isolationist tendencies. Carlson was an influential voice in persuading the president not to retaliate against Iran for attacking an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and in pushing him to dismiss former national security adviser John Bolton. Paul, meanwhile, has offered himself as a personal emissary between Trump and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif in an effort to restart negotiations between the two countries.
Paul adviser Doug Stafford told the Washington Free Beacon Macgregor would fit well in Trump's "America First" administration. "Senator Paul has always suggested to President Trump that he fill more foreign policy spots with people who agree with his foreign policy," Stafford said. "Colonel Macgregor agrees with President Trump and his America First policies."
Carlson did not respond to a request for comment.
When Bolton departed the White House, Macgregor's name was floated as a potential replacement after it was reported he spoke personally with the president.
If nominated, Macgregor is likely to face an uphill battle in a post that would require Senate confirmation, according to GOP congressional aides who told the Free Beacon that hawkish Republican lawmakers would be hard pressed to greenlight a Pentagon official who has downplayed the threat of Iran and China in the era of coronavirus.
"China's economic power — its ability to influence and shape markets — is a threat to some extent," Macgregor explained in February, as the first American coronavirus infections started to crop up on the West Coast of the United States. "We don't feel any threat, any genuine threat, in my judgement at all. If you look at China's nuclear power, they have roughly 300-350 nuclear weapons, and they haven't added to those… I don't see China as an aggressive, expansionist military power, and so I frankly don't sign on for that particular interpretation."
He has also routinely minimized the threat posed by Iran, arguing in an appearance on Carlson's program that "there's no evidence that Iran wants to attack us."
His comments came on the heels of an Iran-sponsored terror attack that month in the Strait of Hormuz on commercial fishing vessels and two Saudi Arabian oil tankers.
The next month, Iran downed an American drone in the same region and launched several more attacks on oil tankers. These attacks culminated in Iranian-backed terror groups in Iraq launching missile strikes on American outposts near Baghdad. The Trump administration responded by killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
Macgregor blamed Trump's response on his "neocon" advisers.
"Republicans aren't going to put someone who actively denies the greatest military threats America faces in charge of evaluating military threats at the Pentagon," said a senior congressional aide who works on foreign policy issues. "Whoever is pushing Macgregor on the president hasn't thought this through, or they have thought it through and they're misleading the president."
That is not to say the retired colonel is without supporters, particularly among groups backed by the billionaire donor Charles Koch, which are known for promoting a more restrained American foreign policy.
"I've seen Doug under fire in direct combat and I've seen him be right, time after time, on the most consequential foreign policy issues of the past two decades," Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, a senior fellow at the Koch-backed group Defense Priorities, told Politico. "As important, no one is more skilled at being able to translate Trump's best foreign policy instincts into successful policy."
Editor's Note, April 7, 2020, 5:46 p.m.: After publication, Tucker Carlson told the Free Beacon he has not spoke to President Trump about Col. Douglas Macgregor.