Trump's administration picks suggest hard line stance on national security
Donald Trump on Friday nominated three conservative stalwarts to take key posts in his administration, including Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, suggesting the US president-elect will take a hard line on immigration and promote a hawkish foreign policy.
Early reports suggest that Trump will make former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee the US Ambassador to Israel, a move that will signal a long-standing Trump proposition of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. A Huckabee ambassadorship will also appeal to right-wing Israeli politicians. However, Huckabee's appointment was denied by a Trump spokesman.
To lead the CIA, Trump tapped hawkish congressman Mike Pompeo, a strident opponent of the Iran nuclear deal and a sharp critic of Trump's White House rival Hillary Clinton during the hearings into the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Pompeo, 52, said he was "honored and humbled" to accept the nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
The retired army officer, a West Point and Harvard Law School graduate, also has defended the CIA's use of interrogation techniques that are widely condemned as torture.
The Kansas lawmaker co-authored a report slamming then-secretary of state Clinton's handling of the Benghazi attack, in which the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans died.
House Speaker Paul Ryan offered glowing praise of Pompeo, hailing him as "one of the strongest national security voices in Congress" and who will "bring integrity and dedication to the CIA".
With regard to Pompeo, the American Civil Liberties Union warned that his "positions on bulk surveillance and Guantanamo Bay also raise serious civil liberties concerns about privacy and due process".
Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, praised Pompeo as "bright and hard working," but noted he had strong differences with the nominee, "principally on the politicization of the tragedy in Benghazi".
Pompeo has expressed steadfast opposition to the multilateral deal with Iran that severely limited the country’s nuclear capabilities. In a July 2016 op-ed on Fox News, Pompeo said the US should “walk away from this deal”.
He has vowed to overturn it, and suggested in a 2014 roundtable with journalists that the United States should bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, a proposal that US intelligence experts said would only delay Tehran's development of a warhead, not halt it.
He has taken positions that are at odds with Trump's, notably on Russia's actions in Ukraine and its military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who also is supported by Iran.
A member of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Pompeo, 52, was first elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave from the congressional district centered on his hometown of Wichita. Members of both parties regard him as intelligent, collegial and capable, with a keen grasp of national security issues.
The incoming commander-in-chief also appointed retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn as his national security advisor.
Flynn is highly respected as a decorated military intelligence officer who helped combat insurgent networks. But he left the military after President Barack Obama fired him as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 following complaints about his leadership style.
Flynn's appointment does not need approval from the Senate.
With Trump’s victory already stoking fear among Muslim Americans, amid talk of creating a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries, offering Flynn the national security advisor job will not send a reassuring message.
"Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL," he tweeted in February.
Earlier this week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on Trump to avoid appointing Flynn to the position "because of his history of anti-Muslim comments and associations".
“I've been at war with Islam ... or a component of Islam, for the last decade,” Flynn has said.
CAIR cited him as calling the religion a “cancer” at a Texas event this year.
“A person who believes the faith of one-fourth of the world’s population is a ‘cancer’ should not be advising the president on anything, let alone on our nation’s security,” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.
The attorney general acts as the country's chief law enforcement officer and head of the Justice Department. Civil rights groups slammed Republican Senator Jeff Sessions as a poor choice to head a department charged with protecting voting rights and running immigration courts.
"How can we trust someone in that role who has demonstrated he thinks all forms of immigration are bad for America?" said Beth Werlin, head of the American Immigration Council.
Trump described Sessions in the statement as having a "world-class legal mind".
However, Sessions has baggage. He's made racially charged comments in the 1980s, which killed his chances at becoming a federal judge.
In 1986, Sessions said that a prominent white lawyer was a "disgrace to his race" for defending African-Americans.
He also reportedly joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he had thought its members were "OK, until I found out they smoked pot".
Back in 1986, Sessions said that a prominent white lawyer was a "disgrace to his race" for defending African-Americans.
Sessions has also been a fiery opponent to immigration, waging an all-out assault on the efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform through Congress in 2007 and again in 2013.
Senate Democrat Patrick Leahy hinted that his colleagues will approach Sessions' confirmation process with an open mind.
"Senator Sessions and I have had significant disagreements over the years, particularly on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and criminal justice issues," Leahy said.
"But unlike Republicans' practice of unprecedented obstruction of President Obama's nominees, I believe nominees deserve a full and fair process before the Senate."
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.