The Federal government is now filled with newbies who do not understand the jobs to which they have been assigned, do not understand governance, and are highly unqualified for the positions they occupy. This includes the president, vice president and nearly all cabinet members, as well as other advisors. They came into office thinking they would make their own rules as they went along, but after nearly three months, they are finding that actions have consequences, and appear to be floundering like fish out of water, while at the same time trying to cover their foibles and give the appearance that this is all part of some grand plan. Today’s ‘breaking news’ is further evidence of this.
Almost immediately after his inauguration, Trump announced a move that was considered by many to be both dangerous and stupid. He reorganized the National Security Council by elevating his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The National Security Council was established in 1947 by President Harry Truman. Its primary function is to advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policy issues. It was created because policymakers felt that the diplomacy of the State Department was no longer adequate to contain the USSR in light of the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Steve Bannon, who has been considered Trump’s closest advisor, is a member of the alt-right, a known racist, white-supremacist, neo-Nazi, islamaphobe. He is the ‘former’ CEO of Breitbart, though most speculate he is still calling the shots there. He has absolutely zero experience in governance, and nothing in his background qualified him for a position on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council.
Today, Bannon was removed from the National Security Council, and theories about the reason are not in short supply. The Joint Chiefs chairman and intelligence director are having their roles as “regular attendees” of the Principals Committee restored. So … what prompted this move? It depends on who you ask. Here are a few:
Steve Bannon: “Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration. I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.”
Amy Siskind: “BREAKING: Bannon is off the National Security Council! If I’m a betting woman, with the world in chaos, I’d bet McMaster finally told Trump my way or I’m gone!”
Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labour, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley: “Trump reorganized his National Security Council today, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from the NSC’s principals committee. Translated: Bannon screwed up so badly on the healthcare bill that Jared and Ivanka have maneuvered to reduce Bannon’s influence on Trump, at least for the time being. But the White House continues to be such as cesspool of back-stabbing intrigue and chaos that Bannon could be back any moment.”
David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine: “I think if you give somebody with no experience and a political agenda, and a dubious one at that, a permanency, it casts the on-demand participation of the chairman of joint chiefs and director of national intelligence in a very different light, because it’s saying, ‘We are not prioritizing professional expertise; we’re prioritizing political agenda.’ “
A number of White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Bannon’s sole purpose on the NSC was to keep an eye on (former) National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, who was terminated within days of accepting his position due to lying about conversations he had in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. This explanation makes no sense, because if Trump did not trust Flynn and felt he required a watch dog, why did he choose Flynn in the first place? However, I have quit looking for anything coming out of this administration to make sense, so who knows?
My opinion has no more merit than any of those listed above (except Bannon, as he is speaking the party line), but for what it is worth, I believe National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster may have convinced Trump, either with logic (who am I kidding???) or with threat of resignation. Before McMaster was selected to replace Flynn, Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward was selected, but turned down the position because it was made clear that he would lack any degree of autonomy, and not even be allowed to select his own staff. Perhaps McMaster has taken a tough stand on this issue, and it is certainly understandable why he would not want Bannon, who has nothing to contribute, taking up space on the committee while the important people take a backseat.
McMaster is one of the very few people in this administration who is both qualified for the position and seems to be of good character. Even a majority of Democratic senators voted to confirm him last month in a vote of 86-10. I was first impressed by McMaster in February when he pushed back against Trump’s insistence on using the term “radical Islamic terrorism”, saying it is not helpful to the U.S. in working with allies to defeat global terrorism. It said that he has the courage to stand by his convictions and to stand up to Trump.
We may never know exactly what drove the strange scenario as to why Bannon was given a place on the Principals Committee, then removed less than three months later, but I cannot help wondering if this may signal a cooling of the relationship between Trump and Bannon. If so, that can only be seen, I think, as a good thing. Bannon is a loose cannon, a self-professed Leninist who has said he wants to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
One word of caution … let us not get so distracted pondering the causes and effects of Bannon’s removal from the NSC that we take our eye off the ball … the main issue … the Russian connections between Team Trump and Team Putin.