Why Trump has an opportunity in Kelly

(CNN)In retired Marine General John F. Kelly, the President just got himself a no-kidding, bona fide, straight-shooting, full-tilt leader as a chief of staff.

Here’s hoping Mr. Trump knows how to use him.
Because if he taps into General Kelly’s inherent qualities, the President could actually come out on the far side of these first six tumultuous months looking pretty good. Well, better than that, actually. He could come out with a plan to achieve a heckuva lot in his next six months … and longer.
    He could make a full-court press for an infrastructure bill, make some progress on tax reform.
    He could get his hands around a strategy for Afghanistan and maybe even sharpen the effort against ISIS in Syria.
    He might finally find a road ahead with Russia, and he will certainly find in General Kelly a man who will contribute meaningfully to the very complex challenges North Korea poses.
    And here’s another item worth mentioning: with Kelly at the helm, the President might finally get his house in order.
    He’ll be able to do all these things with General Kelly and more, because Kelly is a leader. A natural leader. It’s not even something I think he thinks about much. He just does it … wouldn’t know how not to lead, quite frankly.
    And Kelly is a believer, too. People closer to the general than I am tell me he is unabashedly committed to President Trump’s agenda, if not also President Trump the man. He has worked assiduously at the Department of Homeland Security to execute Mr. Trump’s immigration and border objectives, and he believes in his heart that Mr. Trump has exactly the right vision for the country.
    There will be a lot of things the President has to worry about in coming months. General Kelly’s personal loyalty does not appear to be one of them.
    I worked with General Kelly on the staff of Leon Panetta, then-secretary of defense. Kelly, a three-star at the time, was Mr. Panetta’s senior military assistant. He was a marvel of organization and efficiency, of candid counsel and dogged persistence.
    Here he was, a combat veteran, a man who had seen the hell of war and the pain of losing his own son to it … a man with, understandably, strong views about terrorism and extremist violence. And yet he did that job with all the flash and flair of a man stooping to sweep off his front porch.
    To him, drama is a movie genre he can choose on Netflix — if he even watches movies much — not a way of life.
    Kelly doesn’t suffer fools, and he sure as hell doesn’t suffer individualism, ego and anything less than 100% teamwork.
    I remember asking the general to write a note of encouragement to my son, who was then just about to ship off to Navy boot camp. I won’t betray the contents of exactly what he wrote; that should stay in our family. But basically it was about the importance — the privilege — of sacrificing one’s personal needs and desires for the greater good. It was about duty.
    And I guess that’s the only thing I really worry about. His sense of duty is so clear that Kelly could fall easy prey to those in the West Wing who ascribe to, shall we say, less exalted motives.
    He’s no shrinking violet, mind you, and certainly no stranger to staff shenanigans. But, in addition to being loyal to Mr. Trump, he knows and professes a higher loyalty to country.
    “I believe in respect, tolerance and diversity of opinion,” Kelly said during his confirmation hearing in January. “I have never had a problem speaking truth to power, and I firmly believe that those in power deserve full candor and my honest assessment and recommendations.”
    Would that everyone in the West Wing could take that same approach.
    In the end, I suppose, it will come down to how much Mr. Trump invests in Kelly … in how central to the effort he deigns to make the White House chief of staff.
    At the Aspen Security Forum last week, panel moderator Pete Williams, of NBC News, noted Kelly’s penchant for beginning every set of public remarks by praising the men and women of DHS.

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    “We don’t often hear a lot of that from cabinet members,” said Williams. “Does that just sort of come naturally to you from your years in the military or did you think that that’s something that needed to be done?”
    “Well,” replied Kelly, “it’s called leadership.”
    So, there’s your new chief of staff, Mr. President … if you’re wise enough to use him.

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