15 November 2016

This retired Army general was a scholar and acolyte of David Petraeus. Now he’s on Team Trump.

Dan Lamothe

Michael Meese, then an Army colonel and professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., introduces Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during an event in 2008. (Cherie Cullen/Defense Department) 

One of the first senior officials that President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to help guide his administration as it takes power is a retired military officer and highly regarded scholar who actively assisted Pentagon efforts to nation-build in Iraq and Afghanistan — something Trump has repeatedly criticized. 

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael J. Meese was a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus in both countries, and spent nine years teaching at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. He deployed from there to serve as Petraeus’s assistant chief of staff in Afghanistan for a year beginning in July 2010, and to Iraq in both 2007 and 2009 to guide the surge and eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops there that Petraeus led. He also earned a doctorate from Princeton University while serving. 

Retired Army Col. Peter R. Mansoor, Petraeus’s former No. 2 officer, said that Meese is known as bright, talented and conscientious among his peers. In Afghanistan, he was in charge of alliance relations in the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, a complicated job at an especially bloody time in the war after the Obama administration surged tens of thousands of troops to battle the Taliban. 

“Anyone who can keep that group heading in the same direction should be well suited to assisting the Trump team with government transition in the weeks ahead,” Mansoor said. 

Meese, a 32-year Army veteran, declined to comment for this story. Originally a field artillery officer, he retired in 2013 and has served most recently as the chief operating officer of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association, a nonprofit that helps military families with insurance, financial planning and survivor assistance. He’s seen as someone capable of assisting the Trump transition with both veterans and defense issues. 

In 2012, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is escorted to his helicopter by Col. Michael Meese after delivering remarks to attendees at a conference at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. (Glenn Fawcett/Defense Department) 

Former colleagues describe him as affable, pragmatic and private with his political views. His father, Edwin, also is involved in the Trump transition, and is a longtime member of the Republican Party who served in several roles in the Reagan administration, including as attorney general. 

“I suppose it makes sense that Mike would have inherited the same contacts and be recognized by the new administration for his gravitas,” said Bruce Hoffman, the director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. He recruited Meese to teach there part-time after he retired from the Army because he found his work as a founding member of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy impressive. 

“I think he’s an enormously accomplished scholar and leader, and I’ve always found to have both an intellectual and practical approach,” Hoffman said. 

In 2014, Meese argued in a piece written for the National Defense Universitythat polarization in politics has limited the ability to enhance national security. He cited the federally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration, and argued that if defense spending must be cut, it should be used to bring down the federal deficit, and not spent on social programs. 

“While some might argue the military should not comment on domestic programs or entitlement spending, it is not only appropriate, but it is essential that leaders provide their best judgment about the impact of those programs on economic security and national defense,” he wrote. 

Retired Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor, who retired as the U.S. Military Academy’s academic dean in the spring, said that Meese was regarded as a team builder at the academy. He did not know Meese was considering a position with the Trump administration, but said him being involved could help reach across the aisle politically. 

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