Over the past weekend, this memorandum was widely reported due to the highly controversial changes in the Principals Committee (PC) of the National Security Council apparatus. Many of the reports are not quite accurate – conflating the PC with the National Security Council (NSC) itself, when in fact they are different parts of the overall National Security structure that now includes a Homeland Security Council. In fairness, part of the confusion has to do with the fact that political appointees are now to attend all meetings of the NSC.
It took some research to learn about the overall structure that has evolved since its beginnings in the National Security Act of 1947 signed into law by President Harry Truman. Only a few cabinet members were statutory members of the NSC at its inception; others members of the NSC were to be named by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Some news reports have subsequently indicated POTUS 45 was not aware of the advise and consent clause.
Since 1947 various changes have been made to update that law, some by new legislation and some by executive actions. Most prominent is the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and a then new Homeland Security Council (HSC).
Briefly stated: the Principles Committee (PC) now oversees the operations of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council, each of which has unique membership. Some individuals and offices are designated as “invited to attend all meetings” while others are invited to attend only when issues pertaining to their office are on the agenda. In the current memorandum, the PC “…shall continue to serve as the Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States.”
Each president since 1947, early in his tenure, has issued a memorandum to establish the official membership as provided for by the law. Thus, it should be no surprise that POTUS 45 would issue such a memorandum. What is surprising and controversial is the shifting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence from regular membership of PC membership to a lesser status and the removal completely of the Secretary of Energy and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations from any membership. Most alarming was the naming of two political advisors – Steve Bannon, Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist and Reince Priebus, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff – to the regular attending membership of the PC and NSC. All previous administrations studiously avoided mixing national security and politics by not having a chief political advisor in this role. Needless to say, this has sent Washington into a tizzy, and rightfully so.
So much has been written and reported about this order that I will provide no further comment other than to say Stephen Miller, Advisor to the President, appears to have been the author of the executive order. Over time we may learn he is the one writing the various presidential action documents after being given the general outlines by others. Whoever it is, I am not at all impressed.
In closing, I am going to add a strongly worded personal opinion (and that is why I have included ‘My Opinion’ as one of the categories for this post). In the George W. Bush presidency, the power of the office (or the ‘real president’) was Dick Cheney, it least until post 2006 election. In this presidency, the real president is emerging as Steve Bannon. I was hoping for what I thought was a best case scenario given all the bad options – one of his family members – to be the power behind this incompetent person, but that is not who is surfacing as having the most influence of and power over this president. Now that we know that, we need to be savvy in our resistance and act accordingly. We need to avoid being distracted by diversionary tactics and look for what is really happening or what is the longer term agenda not obvious in the immediate confusion.
Presidential Memorandum signed January 28, 2017