Bannon’s ‘Strategic Initiatives’ Cabal Inside the NSC Is Dangerous Hypocrisy
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By Derek Chollet and Julie Smith
It has been a tough few days for the National Security Council. The news that Trump’s political guru Stephen Bannon secured a place on the NSC’s Principals Committee was troubling enough, but the creation of a Bannon-led “Strategic Initiatives Group” within the NSC further erodes its stature, independence, and influence.
We would be the first to say that the NSC is imperfect. As two people who worked in President Barack Obama’s White House, and who were designated to lead Hillary Clinton’s NSC “landing team” had she won the presidency, we’ve thought a lot about how to make the NSC and interagency process work better — something we’ll have a lot more to say about at Shadow Government. For now, suffice to say that in almost every way, Trump’s team has done the opposite of what we would suggest. This kind of “disruption” may feel good right now and may send Washington’s Twitterverse into apoplectic frenzy — but Trump will soon learn that it will only bring dysfunction, and likely worse. Dust off your histories of Iran-Contra to get a sense of what may come.
A common refrain across Washington over the past two years has been that the NSC is in dire need of reform. Critics generally cite four main problems with the NSC: it’s too big, it’s too controlling, its processes are outdated, and it lacks the ability to think strategically. As such, the structure and mission of the NSC has become a hot topic in policy circles. Various think tank have issued earnest reports — like this and this and this — that recommend structural changes to make the NSC more effective and better equipped to deal with today’s security challenges. Congress has also gotten in the game, with attempts to legislate the size of the NSC (under the assumption that smaller is better), and even toying with the idea of making the national security advisor subject to Senate confirmation. While experts have differed on the specifics, there is now widespread support in both parties to make changes to a system that was created back in 1947...