“A radical departure from any National Security Council in history”
Donald Trump’s executive order targeting refugees and immigrants may have only been the second most disastrous decision he made this weekend.
On Saturday, Trump quietly demoted the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence from his National Security Council and replaced them with his controversial personal advisor, Steve Bannon. The JCS and DNI are the two leading adivsory positions on the council, making their demotion much, much more than symbolic.
The decision means the nation’s most vital national security decisions will now be filtered through a political appointee with ties to the Alt Right movement and who just a few months ago was running a highly partisan news web site. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have always sat in on NSC briefings, will now only attend meetings that directly involve, "issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed," according to Trump’s order.
“I am worried about the National Security Council. Who are the members of it and who are the permanent members?” McCain said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “The appointment of Mr. Bannon is something which is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history."
“I think pushing them out of the National Security Council meetings, except when their specific issues are at stake, is a big mistake," Gates added in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. "I think that they both bring a perspective and judgment and experience to bear that every president, whether they like it or not, finds useful."
The shocking decision further aggravates public and private tensions between Trump and the intelligence community. As Gates noted, it’s not unusual for members to be added to the NSC, but taking away two central voices, particularly the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is truly unprecedented and will limit the input of experienced voices advising Trump as he charts the nation’s course on international affairs.
Even more disturbing is that while much of the world rightfully focuses on Trump’s attempts to bar refugees and legal immigrants from entering the U.S., very little attention is being paid to the NSC move. It’s understandable on the surface, as the very human individual faces of refugees makes for a more emotionally compelling narrative than the complex rigors of federal bureaucracy. But however inflammatory, the refugee issue is likely to quickly sort itself out through court injunctions and a massive, growing public outcry. Meanwhile, there is almost nothing anyone can do about Trump’s decision to limit, and heavily skew, the level of expertise he allows to filter through the NSC.
And because those are the decisions that so often create refugees, rather than simply deciding where they can and can’t go, it should be all the more upsetting to people paying attention to how this new administration’s policies are already having an impact around the globe.