Sunday, January 29, 2017

politicizing the NSC

President Trump has signed an order -- National Security Presidential Memorandum 2 -- setting forth the procedures for the National Security Council's operations. The basic outline is the same that has been followed since 1989, the Scowcroft modelof an NSC, a Principals Committee, Deputies Committee, and Assistant Secretary level groups, here called Policy Coordination Committees.

The most notable deviations from prior practice are the inclusion of the Chief Strategist [Steve Bannon] as a standing attendee and a provision saying the Vice President may preside when the president is absent. There is a longstanding tradition that domestic political arguments are not supposed to be made in NSC meetings even if they are important considerations for the president. Inclusion of Bannon makes that tradition harder to maintain. Designation of the Vice President suggests that President Trump envisions greater than normal absence from NSC deliberations.

A curious omission from the order is any mention of the proposed National Trade Council. In prior administrations, foreign economic policy was handled by staffers dual-hatted with the NSC and the National Economic Council. Under Trump, foreign economic issues are to be handled by the NSC, with the president's economic advisor chairing the Deputies Committee for such issues. The administration really needs to clarify those lines of authority.

Another omission is any mention of the Science Advisor, who under Obama was specifically empowered to be involved when science and technology issues were considered.

I regret the blurring of the line between political and national security advice and the likelihood that this will further politicize national security policymaking.

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