The appointment to the Principals’ Committee of Stephen Bannon, a political operative with no meaningful foreign policy or defense experience or expertise, rightly has astounded and perplexed foreign officials and observers of U.S. national security policy. For many analysts, it portends an increasingly erratic and unpredictable America and jeopardizes its leadership of the free world, which already has been called into question by both friends and adversaries. Yet the focus on the changes to the Principals Committee has obscured an even more ominous development — the apparent relegation of the National Security Council staff to a secondary status, and the placing of the executive national security agencies at an even further remove from the national security decision-making process.
When President Donald Trump has met with, or spoken by phone to, foreign leaders, National Security Advisor Mike Flynn has not always been at hand. But Bannon, the president’s political consigliere; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; and Steve Miller, Bannon’s deputy and protégé, have always been present. They are clearly the policy advisors of last resort, and, presumably, are in a position to invalidate, or for that matter block, any other inputs the president might otherwise have received.
To say that this arrangement does a tremendous disservice to American interests is the height of understatement. The three men have no experience in national security affairs, but may well delude themselves into thinking that receiving a briefing or two on any given subject renders them sufficiently expert to advise the president. As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might have said, “they don’t know what they don’t know.”