A few days ago President Trump decided to make two standard attendees of the National Security Council Principals Committee – The Director of National Intelligence (DNA) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) – into “as needed” attendees. At the same time he established his Chief Strategist – a wholly political position – a member of the Principals Committee. This had caused a great deal of consternation, and rightly so, as the National Security Council is a place for identifying and creating strategy to address the critical threats to our national security worldwide. The DNI and CJCS are uniquely placed to provide insight into both identification of and response to key national security concerns, and their input should be weighted heavily within the Principals Committee. But more concerning that the removal of the DNI and the CJCS is the addition of the Chief Strategist. Such a position is not specifically disallowed by 50 U.S. Code § 3021, but it is certainly not mentioned. A national security meeting is simply not the place for a political strategist. Identification of national security threats should be predicated solely on evidence and responses should be based solely on the assessed risk on inaction and our capabilities to respond. A political agenda should not inform these decisions.
President Trump has made it clear already that he is unwilling to hear differing opinions. He continues to rebuff the expertise of his own Secretary of Defense regarding the legality of torture, does not consult key cabinet members before drafting executive orders if he believes they may push back, and dismisses those who do push back. The message here is clear enough; he is not interested in having people who might tell him things he does not want to hear, and he intends to allow political objectives to inform assessments fo security risks instead of the otehr way around.
There are very real concerns in the world right now, and our nation’s leadership needs to have serious-minded people with specialized knowledge drafting our responses to these issues. We cannot refuse to acknowledge the Russian threat of cyber-attacks here in the US and in Europe or their continuing threats to the sovereignty of neighboring states, such as Ukraine and the Baltic states. We need a level-headed assessment of the potential threats from Iran, our ability to protect strategic interests of the US and allies in the South China Sea, and the strategic impact of unstable relations with long-time military partner Philippines. These are far from the only threats we face, but mishandling of Russia or China, and to a lesser extent Iran, have the greatest chance of drawing us into open war. We need stability in our support for allies and alliances to prevent threats in the Middle East, East Africa, and East Asia from gaining prominence.
Aside from issues particular to Stephen Bannon, having a political strategist in lieu of your chief intelligence and military advisors is a sure way to develop unsound policy. Political policy must be developed to support an independently developed strategy related to national security. Bannon cannot bring the insight on the current global security situation needed to develop a sound strategy. Instead, with Bannon advising Trump without the interference of those with actual knowledge, they can move forward with hopelessly misinformed, short-sighted, and globally destabilizing policies that will take us to the brink of was with the world’s major powers – possibly beyond.
But at least Mr. Trump will never have to hear “no.”