Matthew Pottinger must have been surprised to learn that he does not exist. As the top official for Asia on President Donald Trump's national security council, Pottinger had briefed dozens of reporters on North Korea, two days before Trump teased an angry New York Times article based on an official "Does not Exist. " The President was furious that the Times had paraphrased Pottinger, who was talking about background information and therefore could not be identified in his story, as it was "impossible" for Trump to proceed with his June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, because there was not enough time to prepare.
"Use real people, not false sources," scolded Trump.
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There was a debate online about whether the Times aptly characterized Pöttinger, who never used the word "impossible," even though he had come close, saying the summit date is "in 1
But there is no debate about whether Pottinger really is. What's more, he is one of Trump's longest-serving employees. As director of the National Security Council for Asia, the 45-year-old, sand-colored and boyish-looking president is the president of the government in North Korea and China. He organized Trump's 12-day trip to Asia last fall, during which time he was rarely far from the President's side. He has played an important role in coordinating Trump's North Korea policy since the beginning of last year – one reason why he was one of the few US officials who came to Pyongyang with Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo earlier this month. And he was in the middle of the White House preparations for a possible summit meeting with Kim.
Pottinger says former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is "one of the most eminent people in the entire US government"
That comforts friends and admirers who say Pöttinger is among the most grounded and thoughtful – "reasonable," as more than a suppressed – people in Trump's orbit. "I've found him to be smart, enlightening, inquisitive and not dogmatic," said Harvard professor and national security strategist Graham Allison, who spoke with Pottinger about China policy. "He is loyal to the team – but listen."
While hawks like Bannon love his harsh views of China, even democrats call his views mainstream. Still, some foreign policy experts wonder at what they call the discrepancy between his job title and his resume, and wonder what a nice guy like him does in a place like this. Because even Matt Pöttinger probably never expected to show up here.
Some people are organizing their lives by landing a higher job in the National Security Council. Pöttinger has more or less coincidentally joined him. The son of a former lawyer became a Wall Street banker, studying Chinese at school and fluently learning Mandarin before working as a Reuters China correspondent. Within a few years, not yet 30, he was the head of the Beijing Bureau of the Wall Street Journal . As a reporter in a country without free media Pöttinger was harassed, arrested and forced to take notes on the toilet to prevent their seizure. At a Beijing Starbucks he was hit once by a government coup in the face, which warned him to leave the country.
China's approach was spectacularly backward: its experiences as a beleaguered foreign correspondent influenced Pottinger's views on China's authoritarian government, and people who know him remain in his memory as he campaigns for tougher US policies to test his rise.
In 2004, Pottinger's life took an unexpected turn. He watched as an al-Qaeda beheaded online at age 32 in the US Marines video, a catalyst for his convocation. He was no longer able to vomit after barely passing his preliminary physique, but it was not long before he walked six minutes. "Friends are asking if I'm worried about moving from a life of independent thought and action to a life of hierarchy and teamwork," he wrote shortly after his appointment in an essay for the Wall Street Journal Title "Mightier Than the Pen." "At the moment, I find that appealing because it means being part of something bigger than me."
Through several trips in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pottinger became an intelligence officer, gained a bronze star, and rose on the rank of major. In Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who later worked on a critical analysis of US intelligence operations that made Flynn's name in national security circles (although Pottinger, not Flynn, has often done the most), struck Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn. Pottinger, who did not want to be interviewed for this story, was never a Trump-style # MAGA Conservative. But he remained a Flynn loyalist, though others were uncomfortable with the increasingly angry policy of the former lieutenant-general.
Pottinger was from the military and in a Manhattan hedge fund when Flynn called for election and offered him an NSC job. Some friends and colleagues warned that he was losing his reputation as a meat grinder. They knew Pöttinger as a fairly typical conservative internationalist without Trump's populist or resentment. (His only political donation in 2016 was $ 1,000 to Democrat Representative Seth Moulton, a former US Navy.) But Pottinger accepted what some people who know him call a military sense of duty. "For me, it's remarkable that anyone got involved with this decency and quality at Flynn," says a former high-level foreign policy hand of the Obama White House.
Some also found it notable that a man had never worked a day in civil government or played a role in US Asia policy would now have such a consequence. After some reports, Pöttinger was originally the director of the NSC in China, but landed the director's more important job in Asia, after Flynn had found no more mature candidate.
But Pottinger has survived and dozens of other early settings survive Trump's Everlasting White House. Following Flynn's release in February 2017, his successor, Lt. General HR McMaster, partly because of their joint military service (which Pottinger also used for retired Marine General John Kelly, the retired Chief of General Staff of the White House)). And people who have talked to Pottinger say he expects to stay under Trump's last security adviser, John Bolton. Like McMaster and Flynn before him, Bolton has relatively little experience in Asian politics – the same goes for Pompeo – and should benefit Pottinger very much.
Good-natured and colorful profane, Pöttinger is also with Trump and other White House officials with his stubborn stance on America's rivals, especially China and North Korea. He describes it as a mistake by the US to welcome China into the global economy in the hope of creating a friendly economic and strategic partner. This has made him a proponent of the Trump policy, which has treated trade with China as a national security issue.
"Matt was a key architect of the papers that arrested China's economic aggression strategy that went through the [NSC] trial and was backed by the president," said Nadia Schadlow, a former McMaster MP who left the White House last month , That was the basis for Trump's announcement of tariffs on Chinese imports of up to $ 60 billion on March 22, an early salvo in several weeks of high-stakes negotiations to avoid a trade war with Beijing.
Pottinger also played a key role in crafting A Trump document on the national security strategy released last year tightened the official rhetoric of the Obama era by branding China a "revisionist power" calling "the region [Asia] In their favor, "Foreign policy insiders angered officials in Beijing – who tried to end Pottinger by joining other Trump officials, including President-in-Office's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
In a private environment, Pöttinger also warned that Washington has underestimated the global power that China will project through its massive One Belt, One Road infrastructure project to connect Asian countries under the aegis of Beijing. But he is not entirely dogmatic in his views: After Allison had written a book that some China considered hawks like Bannon "accomodationist," Pottinger invited the Harvard thinker to shadow the NSA Asia experts. "Pöttinger is a hawk, but he is considered an honest broker," Bannon said.
After all, an article in the 2017 Nationalist Chinese Tabloid Global Times named Pottinger as a key member of a "broad" Trump team requiring "ongoing vigilance." A source familiar with the Trump administration is China policy said Pöttinger's dim view of the Beijing government is one reason why Chinese diplomats have worked to cultivate Trump's son in law, Jared Kushner alternative entry point to the White House.
Apart from China, no problem has consumed as much of Pöttinger's time as North Korea. Pottinger has quartered Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" on the country, which focused on tightening economic sanctions. But in the months before Trump unexpectedly accepted Kim's invitation to a meeting, it was also about discussions about a possible military attack to slow down Kim's nuclear and missile programs, or at least signaling a sign of US resolve.
The Preemptive Idea North Korea's outcry frightens many of Washington's foreign policy veterans, who warn that catastrophic escalation and death could come in spectacular numbers. Even in the White House was spoken of a limited first strike – sometimes called "bloody nose" – which last winter sparked protests against Trump's planned election of Ambassador to North Korea, Victor Cha, whose planned nomination was subsequently wiped out
Unclear what exactly Pöttinger represented in the White House, he has left numerous experts from abroad who have the impression that he is ready to lead the idea of a military strike. In part, he has argued that Kim does not want nuclear weapons to prevent only a US attack on his regime, but keep the US at bay if he pursues aggressive strategies, possibly even the conquest of South Korea.
North Korea has "a very robust conventional deterrent that has worked for decades, so what are they trying to achieve?" Pottinger asked at a public forum in May 2017. "If you look at the darker secondary aspects of why you're trying To reach this arsenal, you will find some very troubling answers … They want to use these weapons as an instrument of blackmail to achieve other goals – perhaps even in a forced reunification of the peninsula someday. " military options have "definitely a higher risk tolerance" Pottinger than many other experts and government colleagues, said a former US official with Pottingers views.
It is possible, as others argue, Pottinger (along with his former boss, McMaster) might oppose the military option as a means of intimidating Kim and, perhaps, Chinese officials, who have pressured Trump to suppress Pyongyang's trade , have played. But some find this idea worrying. "It plays fast and loose with US credibility and ignores the fact that even hollow rhetoric can develop a life of its own," says Van Jackson, a former Pentagon Asia specialist under Obama.
What is likely is that despite a sketchy February report in a South Korean newspaper that is unproven, Pöttinger never said to an audience in closed doors that a military strike against North Korea would use Trump in the midterm elections. "Pöttinger is a naval who has served in two wars and does not easily act militarily," tweeted the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the so-called "reckless indictment."
Military conversation The action has lessened for the time being. But it can fight back if Trump and Kim are unable to make a deal and escalate the hostilities between them. Even many Pottinger admirers say that he, like so many Trump advisers, is in an impossible position – he leads a foreign policy process for a president with little interest in the kind of expertise or formal considerations that define the National Security Council. Although Pöttinger has helped to sharpen America's official position vis-à-vis China, he has little to do against Trump's chaotic and zigzagging approach to trade negotiations with the country or his seemingly improvised and sentimental negotiations with Kim.  "Basically, [NSC aides are] respond to tweets all the time," said a Bush White House White House official speaking to Trump foreign ministers. Another ex-official from a former republican government who has been working on Asian politics added, "It gets me a lot of sympathy, but it also makes me feel like what the hell are you still for ?"
In this sense, it was perhaps symbolic that Trump – probably not knowing that Pöttinger had briefed the reporters last week – publicly publicly denied the existence of his senior Asian adviser. It was a special humiliation, perhaps only possible in the Trump era. But maybe Pottinger always knew what he was after and decided it was worth the price. Speaking at the Milton Academy, the Massachusetts Prep School he had completed 20 years earlier, Pottinger challenged students to challenge their comfort zones.
"Doing things that are difficult, things that are uncomfortable, and things that are sometimes humiliating," he said, "and you will be rewarded in an enormous way – ways that you can do in any form of public service make it more effective, which I hope many of you end up with. "