The military may have found an unlikely ally in the Trump administration

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at a swearing-in ceremony for the US ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Washington on March 29.
REUTERS/Carlos Barria

When Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, became part of an attaché to travel to Iraq for an unannounced meeting on Monday, it raised eyebrows given his limited diplomatic and government experience.

Leading the trip to Iraq, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was reported to have invited Kushner to get a sense of what the situation in Iraq was like, “firsthand and unfiltered,” the BBC said. Kushner then agreed to make the trip to Iraq on behalf of Trump, who has yet to visit the country, to show support of their government and meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

“As well as receiving briefings and updates, Mr. Kushner is traveling on behalf of the president to express the president’s support and commitment to the government of Iraq and US personnel currently engaged in the campaign,” said Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, the special assistant to the chairman for public affairs.

“The more appreciation you could have for what’s actually happening on the ground, the more informed you are when you start talking about the strategic issues,” Dunford said.

Kushner’s trip to Iraq comes amid a pivotal campaign to retake Mosul, the second-largest city and one of the last remaining Islamic State bastions, and shortly after a US-led coalition airstrike was thought to have killed scores of civilians in the city. According to the United Nations, the campaign against Mosul has caused nearly 290,000 people to flee the city, and it has seen action not only from Iraqi Security Forces but the US Marines as well.

Kushner with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before leaving Ramstein Air Base in Germany en route to Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/US Navy

‘Adapt and overcome’

Though Trump and the US intelligence community have had a tenuous relationship since the election – in part because of investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible ties with Russia – the Pentagon, traditionally a reclusive department, may have begun embracing Kushner’s presence as a way to fix that.

“If I were the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I would do exactly what general Dunford has done … because he does have the trust and confidence of the president,” Mark Hertling, the former commander of US Army Europe, said of Kushner in an interview with CNN. “This is something in the military we call ‘leading up’ – you get to the principal through other people by informing them and helping them become part of your argument.”

“And Kushner … will suddenly get some real quick information in a very short period of time on the ground in Iraq – he will also get a 16-hour plane ride back and forth with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and get a whole lot of information … on other parts of the world,” Hertling said.

“That will allow Chairman Dunford and Secretary of Defense Mattis to help ‘lead up’ when President Trump perhaps might be making a decision which is contrary to the security of the United States.”

Kushner at the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad on Monday.

The acceptance of the new administration’s associates was not limited to Kushner. BuzzFeed News reported that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis already had offered a similar invitation to Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist. Additionally, Dunford and Mattis were reported to have also invited White House staff to attend high-level meetings in the Pentagon.

“You have to understand where the levers are. You don’t have to like it, but that is where they are,” a defense official added in a BuzzFeed News report. “It’s in our interest.”

A loose example of the newfound relationship between the Trump administration and the Pentagon could be found in a New York Times report published Sunday, where the officials found themselves in an impromptu round of musical chairs:

“Inside the White House, the most visible sign of Mr. Kushner’s influence on China policy came in March at the beginning of a meeting of the National Security Council’s ‘principals committee’ to discuss North Korea.

“He was seated at the table in the Situation Room when Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked in. Seeing no chairs open, General Dunford headed for the backbenches, according to two people who were there. Mr. Kushner, they said, quickly offered his chair to General Dunford and took a seat along the wall.”

Whether Kushner may be able to successfully influence Trump on matters of defense and foreign policy – perhaps at the behest of defense officials – remains to be seen. But given the amount of face time with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other foreign ambassadors in the coming weeks, it’s only a matter of time that Kushner will be using his political capital to sway White House policies, or help swing the Pentagon’s sword.