By Brian Brinker:
If Donald Trump wants to shake up the National Security Council, more power to him. The American people demanded change with his election, and he is right to fulfill his promises. But removing the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, America’s highest ranking general, isn’t just boneheaded, it’s flat out mind-boggling.
Meanwhile, even as America’s highest ranking general is being left out of the room, press mogul Steve Bannon is getting a permanent appointment to the council despite lacking the credentials to have earned a seat. This isn’t a personal indictment on Bannon, but instead a genuine concern that the National Security Council is being turned into an “Old Boys” social club rather than a meritocracy. Few councils, if any, are as important, and few people short of the President are more deserving of a seat than America’s top general. The problem is that Mr. President apparently thinks otherwise.
Further, as of right now the Director of National Intelligence is also being taken off of the list of regular council members. This director is in charge of all of America’s intelligence communities. Think about that: our Director of National Intelligence won’t even be a regular attendee at our National Security Council meetings. What is the point of appointing someone to the post if they aren’t going to be included in the relevant discussions? The Director of National Intelligence is one of our most vital appointments, particularly given our times. With terrorism abroad and radicalism at home, we need our intelligence community to be as intelligent as possible.
For now, the National Intelligence spot is vacant, and hopefully Trump’s exclusion will be lifted once someone of his choosing is appointed. Hopefully, whomever is appointed will be an actual intelligence or security expert. Trump’s appointment of Bannon to the National Security Council should raise eyebrows at the very least, but more on that later.
A position that was first created in 2004, the Director of National Intelligence is supposed to provide oversight for all of America’s 17 different intelligence agencies. The entire point of the position is to ensure that intelligence is being gathered and distributed effectively among the various agencies. In the past, turf wars and ineffective sharing of information was common inter-agency practice. While this still remains an issue, by having a national director appointed, the White House can further encourage best practices.
America’s Top General Should Be on The Council
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is America’s highest ranking military official. The current sitting Chair is Joseph Dunford, a decorated Marine who was appointed by then-President Barack Obama in November of 2015. The Chair doesn’t have operational authority over the military, but instead acts more as the President’s principal advisor on military-related issues.
That makes Trump’s exclusion of General Dunford especially worrisome. The whole point of Dunford’s appointment is to provide sound advice– how can he do so when he’s not in the room? But yes, Dunford was appointed by Obama, not Trump, making him a political outsider in the White House.
The appointment of the Chair spot, however, is a relatively non-political affair, based more on experience and merit. Dunford was chosen because during his distinguished military career as a Marine, and gained respect for his effective leadership and received numerous awards. He has long been a favorite among military experts and GOP politicians alike.
The Chair of the Joint Chiefs generally serves two-year terms, and Dunford would have to be reappointed this fall. Tthe Chairman also serves at the President’s pleasure, however. If Trump feels that Dunford is not fit for a spot on the National Security Council, then he should explain why he feels so publicly. The President should also ask that Dunford step down, then appoint someone else.
Yet Dunford’s appointment was originally applauded by the Republican Party, he was confirmed unanimously by a Republican-controlled Senate. He’s as distinguished of a military officer as any in the United States, and his time as Chair has generally been well-regarded. This forces me to wonder if President Trump is playing politics with a position that shouldn’t be political.
Bannon Should Have No Place On The NSC
Steve Bannon does not deserve a permanent seat on the National Security Council. This isn’t a personal indictment of the man. Yes, I do have my criticisms and suspicions of Bannon, but that’s not why I’m writing this. My concern with his appointment is simply his lack of experience in national security.
Bannon did serve in the Navy in the 70’s and 80’s, but that experience doesn’t qualify him on its own. As an organizer or press expert, Bannon has the credentials. As a political advisor? Bannon helped guide Trump’s successful campaign. Again, he has the credentials. As a security advisor? Not quite, especially in comparison to America’s leading general.
For far too long, Washington D.C. has been ruled as an elitist insider club. Trump has promised to drain that swamp, but the demotion of America’s premier general and elevation of a political insider like Bannon reeks of elitism. If Trump wants to trust Bannon as his advisor, that’s his business; yet to demote a widely respected career general in favor of a media executive is mind-blowing.
Bannon seems to have a seat at the table primarily because he’s a Trump insider. Again, whom Trump appoints to advise him is his concern, but the National Security Council should be a “Need to Know” committee. Certainly, America’s highest ranking General, as well other leading intelligence officials like the Director of National Intelligence, should be in that room, front and center.
The mere thought of leaving America’s esteemed military in the dark is offensive. Our military needs to have access to information and intelligence at all times. Removing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will reduce the effectiveness of both America’s military and intelligence community. Further, to even suggest that the National Director of Intelligence doesn’t have a spot on the Council — but a personal advisor does — is an insult to the Trump administration itself.
Brian Brinker is an OpsLens Contributor and political consultant. Brinker has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.