Wednesday, June 5, 2013

missed opportunity at the NSC

President Obama is reported to be replacing his national security adviser, Tom Donilon, with UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who was probably not nominated to be Secretary of State because that post requires Senate confirmation while the White House job does not.

One of my longtime hopes has been that the NSA position be codified and empowered in law, an action that would require Senate confirmation. This idea has been strongly resisted by former advisers like Brent Scowcroft, who argue that it would deny presidents the right to choose their advisers. Nowadays they could add another objection: the hyperpartisanship over even nonpartisan national security jobs makes confirmation an uncertain, slow, and bitter process.

Nevertheless, I think presidents [who can seek advice from anyone, regardless of their official positions] would be more effective if their primary foreign policy person had the legal authority to get things done that involve more than one cabinet department. I would like the NSA to have the power to convene interagency groups, task them, and maybe even give them some limited money for activities. But no official can do that without the formal authority conveyed by Senate confirmation.

It's ironic -- and sad -- that the absence of Senate-confirmed officials at the NSC, in contrast to much of the rest of the Executive Office of the President, means there is no one to testify before Congress regarding the various National Security Strategy reports required from the President. Nor could nonconfirmed officials like Richard Holbrooke testify about their interagency policy efforts as a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Obama administration missed its opportunity in the first term to seek legislation strengthening the NSC interagency process and is missing another opportunity now by continuing to centralize policy in the national security staff without centralizing authority in its leader.

No comments:

Post a Comment