In a very strongly-worded and no punches pulled op-ed in The New York Times tellingly titled, “I Was on the National Security Council. Bannon Doesn’t Belong There,” Admiral Mike Mullen, who served on the National Security Council under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, lays down the facts on and concerns about Steve Bannon’s participation.
Admiral Mullen says that “Some of Mr. Trump’s plans, such as including the director of the C.I.A. as a full voting member of the council, are welcome.” He notes, however, that there is is a very big “but”:
“But some of Mr. Trump’s other plans are unsettling and should be remedied as soon as possible — in particular the role he has given to his top political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon.”
He explains the need for “professionals” on the council:
In my experience there are very few — if any — meetings of the principals committee at which the input of the military and the intelligence community is not vital. With an increasingly belligerent Russia, tensions in the South China Sea and a smoldering Middle East, it makes little sense to minimize the participation of the professionals leading and representing these two groups.
Next, he goes on to explain why Steve Bannon does not belong as a participant in what can be “heated” and “territorial” discussions:
“Putting aside for a moment Mr. Bannon’s troubling public positions, which are worrisome enough, institutionalizing his attendance threatens to politicize national security decision making.”
These discussions, he says, “seldom get political — nor should they.”
We have already seen concerns raised about Steve Bannon’s influence in the White House and his power struggles with Reince Priebus, including concerns raised by Madeleine Albright and others that it is Bannon who is calling the shots, and that Trump either does not know or perhaps does not even understand what it is he is putting his signature to.
Trump has shown that he is sensitive to these concerns. What he has not shown is that he genuinely understands how serious they are. Mullen observes that Bush excluded Karl Rove and that though Obama allowed David Axelrod’s attendance in early meetings, “he did not vote or otherwise engage in the discussion.”
Trump may or may not have known he was adding Bannon to the National Security Council when he signed the papers, but he is there now and now it is Donald Trump’s problem to resolve.
Ranting in tweets that he “calls his own shots” isn’t going to comfort anybody, least of all sober-minded individuals like Admiral Mullen who have not only talked the talk but walked the walk in our nation’s service while Trump was fleeing the draft and thinking he deserves a Medal of Honor for having sex.
Donald Trump is a businessman (and a not very successful one at that) and to politics, a dilettante, and Mullin rightly fears Bannon “will have a chilling effect on deliberations and, potentially, diminish the authority and the prerogatives to which Senate-confirmed cabinet officials are entitled.”
As Mullin stresses, they are accountable; Bannon is not, and “it results in a blurring of presidential responsibilities — Republican Party leader and commander in chief — that is unhealthy for the republic.”
It is to be hoped that Donald Trump will address these very real and serious concerns and in more than defensive, hysteria-ridden tweets.
So far, he has given us no reason to feel confident that this will happen. As Mullen concludes, “partisan politics has no place at that table. And neither does Mr. Bannon.”