Admiral Michael G. Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and briefly under Barack Obama, published an op-ed in today’s New York Times explaining exactly why Donald Trump’s decision to give his Chief Strategist and white supremacist Steve Bannon a permanent seat on the National Security Council (NSC) is deeply troubling.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the President’s top military adviser, and the director of national intelligence is the President’s top intelligence adviser; both have been removed from the core group of the NSC and replaced with Bannon.
Admiral Mullen is deeply concerned that the removal of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and director of national intelligence signals a move away from informed security policy. Military and intelligence expertise is vital to shaping successful geopolitics and crafting a stable global security situation. Mullen writes,
“In my experience, there are very few — if any — meetings of the principals committee at which the input of the military and the intelligence community is not vital. With an increasingly belligerent Russia, tensions in the South China Sea and a smoldering Middle East, it makes little sense to minimize the participation of the professionals leading and representing these two groups.
“The Trump White House insists that the new organizational structure does not downgrade the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or the director of national intelligence. … If this is true, the administration should clarify that by making them permanent members of the principals committee. That would send a strong signal that Mr. Trump will still take seriously the military and intelligence community.”
The new permanent principals committee seat is occupied by Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs banker, a Hollywood investor, and the former head of Breitbart – a far-right fake news outlet catering to white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, and xenophobes. He achieved political prominence through his role in the Trump campaign and transition teams, and through his subsequent appointment as the Trump Administration’s Chief Strategist.
Bannon is not a national security expert, he is a professional ideologue and a white supremacist who a pair of leather boots away from being a modern He. Muellen explains in no uncertain terms why Bannon must be removed:
“The second much needed adjustment to Mr. Trump’s arrangement of the council is the removal of Mr. Bannon from the principals committee. Putting aside for a moment Mr. Bannon’s troubling public positions, which are worrisome enough, institutionalizing his attendance threatens to politicize national security decision making.
“The security council was formed in 1947 to serve a unique role in our government. It facilitates and coordinates, providing a forum through which federal agencies discuss and debate policy and, ultimately, provide counsel to the president about how best to keep the American people safe. … Those discussions can get heated at times. … But they seldom get political — nor should they.”
George W. Bush barred his chief political adviser from attending NSC meetings. Obama’s political adviser attended NSC meetings during the early days of the Administration but did not engage in discussions or vote. Trump’s break with tradition is extreme. He is putting a political adviser in a greater position of power than the true security experts.
Foreign policy is always shaped by politics, but the life and death issues the NSC faces every day should be tackled with as much cool-headed realism as possible. Ideologues have nothing to contribute.
Marisa completed her undergraduate degree in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin with a double major in creative writing and media studies. She is an advocate of progressive policies and focuses her interests on gender equality and preventing sexual and domestic violence.