Trump Adds Bannon to National Security Council, McCain and Press Freak Out. But Is It Unprecedented?

Amid the overwhelming amount of attention to the executive order regarding refugees and the subsequent furor surrounding it, President Trump announced that he had restructured the National Security Council.

Trump also announced that his Chief Strategist Steve Bannon would be a part of that restructuring.

President Donald 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.

Reaction to the news of Bannon’s inclusion on the council was largely negative.

Senator John McCain went so far as to call the move “radical”:

John McCain is harshly criticizing the elevation of White House strategist Steve Bannon to President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, calling the move “radical” because it minimizes the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I am worried about the National Security Council. Who are the members of it and who are the permanent members? The appointment of Mr. Bannon is something which is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history,” McCain said on “Face the Nation” on CBS on Sunday morning.

Is it radical, though?

The NSC is an advisory council which falls directly under the purview of the Executive branch. Since its creation, presidents have viewed its role differently and molded it to their preferences:

President Truman’s NSC was dominated by the Department of State. President Eisenhower’s predilection for the military staff system, however, led to development of the NSC along those lines. The NSC staff coordinated an elaborate structure for monitoring the implementation of policies. The NSC’s Executive Secretary became an assistant to the President, but was sufficiently self-effacing not to conflict with a powerful Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.

President Kennedy may have initially looked to a strong Secretary of State to take charge of foreign policy-making, but turned to other strategies when it became apparent that the Department of State did not have sufficient authority over other departments. Kennedy, who preferred policy-making with ad hoc groups, dismantled Eisenhower’s elaborate NSC machinery and allowed the Special Assistant for National Security Affairs and his staff to assume the primary coordination role. Kennedy’s freewheeling style tended to erase the distinction between policy-making and operations that President Eisenhower’s regimented staff system so carefully observed.

Sharing Kennedy’s affinity for informal advisory arrangements, President Johnson let the NSC structure atrophy still further and, like his predecessor, relied instead on the National Security Adviser and his staff and various ad hoc groups and trusted friends.

Each administration’s history shows varying degrees of depending upon personal advisers versus military advisers.

The Heritage Foundation notes here that President Obama’s most trusted adviser, Valerie Jarrett, was able to bypass the agency to achieve a political end:

There were many other instances of politicization in national security decision-making. The NSC staff, for example, was left out of the loop in the President’s decision to grant partial amnesty to the children of illegal immigrants—a decision driven staff-wise largely by political advisor Valerie Jarrett. Even though immigration clearly touches on homeland security, the NSC staff in charge of implementing the new immigration policy was bypassed: Some NSC staffers learned of the decision only when they were asked to clear on a press release. The NSC staff was routinely sidestepped as well on budget and economic decisions even when they directly affected national and homeland security.

People obviously have the right to personally oppose Bannon’s inclusion on the Council, but history doesn’t support McCain’s claim that the move is at all radical.

What do you think?

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