American Elephants

National Security Is Too Serious To Turn Over To Political Hacks. by The Elephant's Child


Kim Strassel, in The Wall Street Journal, has turned a judicious eye on the National Security Council and how it’s nature and composition have changed in the era of Barack Obama.

If the Bergdahl uproar feels creepily reminiscent of the Benghazi uproar, or the Syrian “red line” uproar, or the choose-your-own-Obama-foreign-adventure uproar, it’s because they all have a common denominator. This is what happens when political hacks formally take over foreign policy.

It’s the “formal” point that bears some meditation. Barack Obama isn’t the first president to make foreign-policy decisions on the basis of domestic political calculations. He does, however, win the distinction of being the first president to utterly disregard—to treat with contempt—the institutions and procedures that were designed to help the commander in chief insulate the serious business of foreign policy and national security from baser political concerns.

At the heart of this effort is the National Security Council, which has served presidents since its inception under Harry Truman. Made up of the president, vice president, a national security adviser, various Cabinet secretaries, and representatives from the military and the intelligence agencies, the NSC has been by procedure and fierce tradition a rare apolitical forum, a place for the president to hear hard reality. NSC staff are foreign-policy grownups, and its meetings are barred to political henchmen.

At least that was the tradition. In spite of his assured air of competence, the new president seemed to know where he needed more expertise, hence the influx of czars or advisers in every policy venue. It was reported that the president preferred to have advice tendered simply in 3 short choices, so he could pick the one he wanted for execution. No long meetings, no lengthy reports.

David Axlerod, campaign guru, became a senior adviser, and was to be found  attending meetings of the National Security Council. Obama’s first NSC adviser, former Marine General and NATO Commander Jim Jones left after only two years after clashes with Mr. Obama’s inner circle. He was replaced by a Democrat political operative and former lobbyist, Tom Donilon. And also included were Tommy Vietor, an Obama press aide from his senate run, and continuing political operator and spin master, and Ben Rhodes, a former speechwriter as Deputy National Security Adviser.

Mr. Obama’s first instinct is to rely on the old “Obama loyalists” for advice— his former campaign manager, David Plouffe, his former press secretary Robert Gibbs, a former speechwriter and Mr. Vietor who has left the NSC to do political consulting. All political operatives. We are told that Valerie Jarrett is always consulted.

Obama did have some experienced hands once in Bob Gates followed by Leon Panetta as Secretaries of Defense, but they were replaced with Chuck Hagel, whose qualifications seem to be that he was an enlisted man in Vietnam, a Republican,( bipartisan credits) and opposed the Iraq War just like Obama did.

It is becoming ever more apparent that all decisions are political, and politics is everything. The news is to be managed, and that which turns sour is to be spun or moved off the front pages with something more interesting. Deep knowledge of past history is missing, and how events will affect America is just another notion to be spun. The new national security adviser is Susan Rice who will say whatever the teleprompter tells her to say, which becomes a little preposterous in someone who is supposed to advise on national security. We are told that Obama consults only with his narrow group of closest advisers. There is no evidence he has learned from the few grownups he has had as advisers, nor no evidence he knows that informed advice is missing.

The National Security Council is not the place for speechwriters and political hacks. They may offer advice, but it is not about National Security.

I didn’t think much of Bill Clinton as president, but I think he was trying to do the best he could for the American people. I thought Jimmy Carter was incompetent, but he was an incompetent patriot. I don’t know exactly what Barack Obama’s aims are, but they do not involve an a belief in American exceptionalism, nor is there any evidence that Mr. Obama even understands what most Americans mean by that term.


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