Reports on Sunday that Jared Kushner was headed to Iraq (which were the result of a protocol breach by White House officials) sparked speculation that President Trump’s son-in-law was adding another item to his absurdly large list of responsibilities, which includes overhauling the federal bureaucracy and Veterans Affairs, tackling the opioid crisis, and managing relations with China, Canada, and Mexico.
But it appears Kushner’s trip wasn’t the result of the president handing him another knotty task, like when Trump told Kushner before a room full of donors, “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.” Politico reports that General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, invited Kushner to accompany him to Baghdad as part of the Pentagon’s effort to reach out to members of Trump’s inner circle.
Administration officials said that after early disagreements with the president over personnel matters, both Dunford and Defense Secretary James Mattis have been devoting considerable time to building relationships with top White House officials. This includes private meetings with President Trump and inviting White House advisers to high-level meetings at the Pentagon. It appears the defense officials hope to ensure they’re heard, regardless of which faction happens to be on top in Trump’s White House. One of the national security officials said the idea is to make sure “everybody is seated at the table.”
Critics noted that it’s highly unusual for a political adviser to visit Iraq before the national security adviser or the secretary of State, but the Pentagon is merely acknowledging the reality of how the Trump White House functions.
“You have to understand where the levers are. You don’t have to like it, but that is where they are,” a defense official told BuzzFeed News. “It’s in our interest.”
Of course, giving Dunford the chance to bond with Kushner during a long plane ride wasn’t the trip’s only purpose. Dunford said he invited Kushner and Thomas Bossert, the White House Homeland Security adviser, to Iraq so they could hear “first-hand and unfiltered” from military advisers about the battle against ISIS. “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.
The New York Times noted the trip also offered an opportunity to reassure Iraqi leaders after President Trump included the nation in his first travel ban and suggested the U.S. might take its oil.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that during his meeting with the U.S. delegation on Monday, the Americans “stressed its support to the government in its war against terrorism and expressed their admiration for the improved combat capabilities of the Iraqi forces as they achieve victories against ISIS.”
Kushner “involves himself in high-level discussions on all manner of policy priorities,” according to Politico, so it’s safe to assume that he may be weighing in on the war against ISIS at some point. However, on Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer pushed back on the idea that Kushner is “overseeing Iraq” instead of officials in the State Department and the Pentagon.
On the other hand, Spicer did seem to acknowledge that experienced government officials have less influence over the president than his 36-year-old relative.
Kushner “has a direct line to the president whereas the other institutions do not,” CBS correspondent Margaret Brennan asserted.
“Okay, great,” Spicer replied. “That’s even better then. I think that’s a win for our government.”