President Donald Trump's national security adviser is planning to rely on a new layer of hand-picked aides to serve as a "barrier" between the professional staff of the National Security Council and top White House officials, according to two sources with direct knowledge.
Such a move by retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn is stoking fears of an even more insular decision-making process than reigned during the Obama administration, which was roundly criticized for micro-managing national security and eroding the influence of the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies. And it is prompting some frustrated career staffers in the primary policymaking body inside the White House, who had been asked to stay on under Trump, to consider departing instead, say the sources.
"You will not have the experts in the room when the principals are having these discussions," worries one NSC veteran who has heard complaints from White House officials this week. The person, like others, agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
"They are not being used," added another source with direct knowledge of the developments, who similarly expressed concern that the Trump team is "doubling down on cutting out the professional experts."
"They have been emasculated and have no authority," the source added. "But they are still getting hammered by agencies and allies and don't know what to tell them. … Many are heading for the exits."
The concerns come after Trump granted his political strategist Steve Bannon, who is separately constructing his own power center inside the West Wing, membership of the highest rung of the National Security Council, traditionally reserved for Cabinet chiefs. Permitting a political operative to participate in the high level meetings was seen by many as a dangerous break with tradition and prompted at least one member of Congress to recommend the 1947 law that created the body be changed.
The staffing deliberations also come after reports that the president and his senior aides did not fully consult with his secretaries of Homeland Security and Defense before issuing a controversial executive order temporarily banning travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries.
The small coterie of advisers would be under Flynn — and above the senior directors of the NSC staff who are organized around regions of the worlds and security threats such as terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
One of them, according to two sources, is David Catler, who like Flynn worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency and was the national intelligence manager for the Middle East at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He now holds the broad title of deputy assistant to the president for regional affairs.
The White House declined to address questions about a new layer of personnel at the top rungs of the NSC structure — and none was identified in an executive order that Trump signed on Saturday laying out its overall makeup and membership. Nor did it address specific questions about Catler's role and authority.
But a spokesman told POLITICO that Flynn intends to rely on a smaller staff and "run a very precise and orderly and quick process." The spokesman cited the fact that there is now one executive secretary for both the NSC and the companion Homeland Security Council, which includes many of the same members and relies on much of the same staff.
Officials regularly criticized the Obama administration for ballooning the size of the NSC and shutting out Cabinet level departments. In last year’s defense bill, Congress passed a provision limiting future NSC staffs to 200 people to prevent overreach — although scholars have questioned whether such a limit is constitutional.
There is wide bipartisan support for shrinking the NSC.
"Everybody has been saying for years that the NSC was too big and too micro-managerial," said Steve Sestanovich, a top State Department official in the 1990s who served on the NSC in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. "If the new administration is willing to take that problem on, more power to them."
Flynn said at a think tank discussion last month that "our mission is to ensure the president and the national security community is committed to carrying out necessary reforms." And in a brief memo to Cabinet departments this week hee pledged that he and his team "will be working closely with you and your teams."
But longtime participants on the National Security Council deliberations from both parties expressed concern that the early signs portend the same type of micro-management under Trump as during Obama — or worse.
"What you’re seeing here is two things: one, a total politicizing of the national security apparatus, and two, a second power center being created," said another Obama NSC veteran. "It’s the place policy will get made and it will push aside career NSC staffers.”
Indeed, in terms of the day to day operations, the Trump order issued on Saturday outlining the basic structure of the National Security Council is viewed by many as failing to address the Obama White House's management problems.
For example, it similarly mandates that members of the NSC staff chair regional and issue-related policy coordination committees, sometimes known as interagency working groups, and can invite representatives from executive departments where they deem appropriate.
"It means you’ve got the White House in the room the whole time,” said Vikram Singh, who previously served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia during the Obama administration. "This sounds like a continuation, ironically.”
Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser for President George W. Bush, said in the overall structure as laid out in the executive order "won't fix that problem" of micromanagement. "It depends on how it is used. But I know Flynn and company want to bring things back to the more strategic level and get out of the micro-managing detail."
Sestanovich, however, warned that a smaller organization could create its own problems. "If the NSC staff is smaller, does that mean other bureaucracies do what they want with less oversight, or that the White House calls the shots from a smaller knowledge base and with less consultation?"
For others the unfolding set-up is even more concerning given the slow pace at which the Trump administration has staffed top security and intelligence posts in the Pentagon, State Department and other key agencies.
"What do you have to coordinate if you’re having trouble staffing?” asked Heather Hurlburt, who previously served on President Bill Clinton’s NSC. "It kind of gives another meaning to micromanage.”
Coordinating more with Cabinet departments than was the case with the immigration ban will also make for better decisions, advises Nicholas Burns, who served on the NSC under presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton.
"I would like to believe these are just the operational mistakes of the first ten days in office and they will do better,” Burns said. "The system works best when the president trusts its leading secretaries and delegates to them.”
سایت تابناک از انتشار نظرات حاوی توهین و افترا و نوشته شده با حروف لاتین (فینگیلیش) معذور است.