The French government’s top merit award, the Legion of Honor, was presented this month to former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser for his help in the May 2019 rescue of two kidnapped French tourists held in Burkina Faso.
“I was surprised and humbled” in receiving the award established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, said Robert O’Brien, who shared key intelligence with the French military for its mission, which also rescued American and South Korean hostages.
The award is France’s top medal given to military officials and civilians. It has gone to world leaders, actors, and notable media figures. O’Brien’s name will now be placed next to many Americans, including Alexander Graham Bell, Bob Dylan, Dwight Eisenhower, Charles Lindbergh, and Colin Powell.
“It’s got some history behind it,” O’Brien told Secrets.
He was awarded the rank of chevalier in the Legion of Honor by French President Emmanuel Macron for all of his work as America’s 27th national security adviser, according to the French government.
As national security adviser to Trump, O’Brien was involved deeply in many key foreign policy initiatives, including the creation of the Abraham Accords in the Middle East.
But the medal presented in Paris this month was tied directly to his helping in the French raid that cost the lives of two French soldiers but led to the safe recovery of the four hostages held by Islamic militants.
“I had worked very closely with the French, first as a hostage envoy,” said O’Brien, explaining the background for the award.
“One particular mission back in May of 2019, we had helped the French locate a couple of hostages. Two guys had been taken hostage in a game reserve in Benin, were being driven up to Mali by the hostage-takers-slash-terrorists. And we had helped with the intel and where they were. The French launched a very daring raid, rescued the guys, and at the same time found an American and a South Korean woman who had also been taken hostage that we weren’t aware of,” O’Brien said.
Former Trump aides have been shut out of many international decorations. But Trump’s relationship with Macron was a close and special one, O’Brien said.
The decoration was presented by French army Gen. Benoit Puga at the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris. The palace was used in the design of some buildings in San Francisco, O’Brien’s hometown, “so I felt at home,” he said.
Since leaving the White House, O’Brien has established a consulting group, American Global Strategies, and hit the campaign trail for GOP candidates including Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).