Democracy, Populism, & Domestic Politics,
Power & Security,
Col. Vindman and the Trumpification of the National Security Council
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February 10, 2020
John Gans | New York Times
On Friday, the White House announced that it was transferring Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified during the House impeachment hearings, out of the National Security Council. The move is unsettling, petty and vindictive. But it’s not a surprise: The dismissal is just one part of a campaign by the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, to trumpify one of the most powerful and important institutions in government.
Over the last six months, while impeachment dominated the news, Mr. O’Brien undertook the first restructuring of the council in a generation. He cut 60 to 70 positions, about a third of the staff, many of them career professionals. He also directed that the National Security Council focus less on transnational issues like global economics and nonproliferation, and more on bilateral and geographic priorities. In all, Mr. O’Brien’s trumpification of the staff will hamper the United States’ ability to meet the world’s challenges, and hamstring the next president.
The staff of the National Security Council has evolved since its creation in the National Security Act of 1947, which sought to connect the various departments and agencies that together drive the nation’s foreign policy. At first, the staff served merely as administrative clerks to the principals on the National Security Council — the president, secretaries of state and defense and other leaders. According to its first director, the staff coordinated and integrated the “ideas in crisscrossing proposals” from around government.
But over the years, various presidents have coopted the council’s staff, which grew both bigger and more influential, especially after 9/11 — to the point where it not only distributes a meeting’s agenda, but sets the government’s.