Almost forgotten among all the uproar over Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration order was another order he issued changing the makeup and protocol of the National Security Council in a most bizarre way. He added Steve Bannon to what is essentially the policy arm of the NSA and removed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence.
President Trump on Saturday ordered the Pentagon to devise a strategy to defeat the Islamic State and restructured the National Security Council to include his controversial top political adviser as he forged a partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin in their first official phone call…
Counseling Trump in the effort will be Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist whose influence inside the administration is expanding far beyond politics. In a separate presidential memo, Trump reorganized the National Security Council to, along with other changes, give Bannon a regular seat on the principals committee — the meetings of the most senior national security officials, including the secretaries of defense and state.
That memo also states that the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will sit on the principals committee only when the issues to be discussed pertain to their “responsibilities and expertise.” In the previous two administrations, both were included as regular attendees.
The White House thinks the changes will make the NSC more adaptive to modern threats. Trump said the changes would bring “a lot of efficiency and, I think, a lot of additional safety.”
The changes affirm the ascent of Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart, a conservative website that is popular with white nationalists, who has emerged as Trump’s political consigliere and the keeper of the president’s populist flame.
In what possible universe would it make sense to remove those two crucial national security figures from the NSC and replace them with Bannon, a highly partisan douchebag who knows less about the military, intelligence and foreign policy than your average fruit salad? Experts in the field reacted very harshly to the order. David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy magazine put out a couple of blistering tweets:
I've studied NSC my entire adult life. Putting Bannon on it and making DNI and Joint Chiefs optional is lunacy. Shows zero comprehension.— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) January 29, 2017
Bannon doesn't have the qualifications to be a TSA screener much less to be WH Counselor…even less still to serve on NSC.
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) January 29, 2017
And Norm Ornstein:
Trump is declaring war on the Joint Chiefs just as he did with the intelligence community. This is truly dangerous. It cannot stand
— Norman Ornstein (@NormOrnstein) January 29, 2017
Former NSA and Naval Intelligence officer John Schindler says this amounts to a coup:
Yesterday's WH recasting of the NSC, letting Flynn+Bannon run it WITHOUT DoD+IC, really amounts to a coup, at least in #natsec terms.
— John Schindler (@20committee) January 29, 2017
At the very least, I think we can consider all questions about which of Trump’s consiglieres is going to win the fight for influence over him to be answered. Bannon won. And you know this had to be his idea. Trump is too ignorant to have thought of it himself.