Jonathan Stevenson writes: The Trump administration’s decision to remove its chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from the National Security Council’s principals committee, along with the deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland’s likely exile to Singapore, as the United States ambassador, seems to indicate that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, is finally getting a little hard-earned bureaucratic traction.
Not so fast: Other signals suggest that President Trump’s national security team remains as weak and dysfunctional as ever. And while some people are crediting General McMaster with a big win, the reality is much different.
Reportedly from the moment he hired General McMaster, President Trump gave him broad staffing freedom. Yet Ms. McFarland, whom General McMaster wanted out, remained in place for well over a month. More egregiously, in mid-March, General McMaster tried to fire Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council. Mr. Cohen-Watnick, a holdover from Michael Flynn’s aborted stint as national security adviser, complained to Mr. Bannon and Jared Kushner, who prevailed on Mr. Trump to have him reinstated.
The idea that the 30-year-old Mr. Cohen-Watnick should be senior director for intelligence programs — a position held by senior career C.I.A. officers in the Obama administration and others — is dubious. Furthermore, General McMaster’s decision to get rid of Mr. Cohen-Watnick was well within his pay grade. And Mr. Trump’s countermanding an understandable and routine staffing decision not only reneged on his deal with General McMaster, it also segued to an episode of clear White House obstructionism. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: While the White House on Wednesday pushed back against the perception that Bannon had been demoted, McMaster’s camp described Bannon’s removal and the restoration of joint chiefs chairman Gen Joseph Dunford and intelligence chief Dan Coats to the council as a key objective for the national security adviser.
“Huge,” said one McMaster ally who requested anonymity. “That’s a big deal.”
The ally said the move showed McMaster establishing his influence with the president. McMaster was neither part of Trump’s election team nor even his second choice to run the NSC.
The McMaster ally described Bannon’s removal as a “priority” for senior advisers “both in and out of the West Wing”, including defense secretary James Mattis.
Bannon’s presence on the council, which considers itself above partisan politics, was considered troubling to those aligned with McMaster.
In addition, McMaster “absolutely” wanted Dunford and Coats clearly positioned as permanent members of the NSC, a step that the memorandum restored.
The memorandum placed McMaster in a dominant position over the Homeland Security Council, giving him the power to determine the agenda for both bodies. It also empowers homeland security chief Tom Bossert and economic policy chief Gary Cohn to prepare Trump for key decisions requiring presidential action “at the sole discretion of the national security adviser”. [Continue reading…]