As the U.S. faces mass protests over unequal treatment of African Americans and states confront a fresh surge in coronavirus cases, Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, is warning that opponents of the U.S. are trying to gain an upper hand on democracies who are consumed with domestic problems.
“Our adversaries are attempting to take advantage of current circumstances to do us harm or gain an edge on America and the free world,” he told staffers of the National Security Council in an all-hands telephone call last week.
But he tried to buck up the morale of employees of the NSC, some of whom have previously been viewed with suspicion by the president amid the Ukraine affair.
“Because of your steadfastness in implementing the President’s ‘peace through strength’ policies and that of our colleagues across the U.S. government, our opponents will fail in their malign efforts,” O’Brien said.
In media appearances, O’Brien has said he does not think there is “systemic racism” in U.S. law enforcement and that “some bad apples” were responsible for incidents of police brutality driving the protests.
In a copy of his formal prepared remarks obtained by POLITICO, he called George Floyd’s death “a senseless” and “horrific killing that has shocked and outraged good people everywhere, including President Trump. Our hearts ache for Mr. Floyd’s family, and we hold them in our prayers each day.”
But he also said that he was thinking about and praying for the number of law enforcement officers who have also been killed in recent days.
As the nation does soul-searching about how to address the harsh treatment of African Americans by police, O’Brien said that “while our country is not perfect, our ideals are as perfect as man can formulate.”
He also called the coronavirus the “Covid-19/Wuhan virus” twice in his remarks, a subtle nod to efforts by Trump and hawkish advisers like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior White House aide Peter Navarro to focus blame on China for covering up the outbreak early on. And he lumped in the “large-scale protests across our country” with a laundry list of “other national security issues,” including the airstrikes that took out Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, suggesting he viewed the social unrest in dozens of American cities as squarely within his domain to opine on.
O’Brien also implicitly compared the country’s current troubles to what Britain went through in World War Two by recommending Erik Larson’s new book, “The Splendid and the Vile” about the Blitz during the Battle of Britain.
“I recognize the same resolve that Churchill’s staff demonstrated during those difficult times in the manner in which you — our NSC staff — serve amidst the challenges we face today,” O’Brien said.
He reminded staffers that because Covid-19 was still a big threat, the NSC would continue operating on “a maximum telework posture for the coming weeks.” While Trump and some senior White House staffers have been skeptical of wearing masks, O’Brien told NSC officials to wear masks “whenever possible” on the White House campus.