Bannon on the National Security Council

Bannon on the National Security Council

On Monday, Jan. 30, the Trump administration announced the new configuration of the National Security Council (NSC). Each president is expected to make some adjustments to the NSC's organization, but President Trump took the extraordinary step of adding Chief White House Strategist Steven Bannon to the Council’s Principals Committee. Trump also removed the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence from the Committee, presenting a stark inversion in the NSC’s composition.

The NSC is the primary advisory council to the President in areas of national security. Established in 1947, the Council is the military’s central nervous system, and its recommendations and actions have enormous consequences. The Principals Committee, an elite group of national security figures that work directly with the President, is the central command of the NSC. War and peace are forged within the principals committee, and the cost of its actions is weighed in American lives.

Trump’s executive order directs that “The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shall attend [the Principals Committee] where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.” It also makes clear that Bannon will become a full member of the Committee. According to Politifact, Trump “includes one major departure from both Bush and Obama: adding the position of chief strategist as a member of both the regular council and principals committee.”

During the Obama administration, the chief political strategist, David Axelrod, attended some NSC meetings for informational purposes. So while this is not the first time that a political strategist has sat in on NSC meetings, it is the first time that a political strategist has become a formal member of the Principals Committee.

 In a CNN op-ed, David Axelrod said, “Bannon will exercise authority no political adviser has had before. He will be a full participant, not an observer, in national security deliberations.”

Similarly, David Rothkopf, editor and CEO of the FP group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine, said that Bannon “has been given a very substantial national-security portfolio despite very little experience in that area and a permanency on the NSC. And 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.'”

Being a part of the naval force for seven years is the closest experience Bannon has had with national security. It is unclear how his experience with news and media outlets will help him be suitable for a position usually held by experienced and high-ranking generals. Needless to say, national security experts are concerned and have little to no confidence in Bannon. 

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