As we all continued to reel over the weekend thanks to an unconstitutional and exceedingly cruel ban on Muslims, another equally terrifying action took place in the White House. On Saturday, the failed real estate tycoon who has somehow taken over the Executive Branch—apparently to establish absolute rule—signed a memorandum downgrading the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and elevating white nationalist and Nazi Steve Bannon to the National Security Council. Director of the CIA, currently Mike Pompeo, will also take a permanent seat on the council for the first time since 2005.
This is no mere procedural hiccup. It is a move of tremendous significance.
Changes to the NSC
Reince Priebus told NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday that the DNI and Joint Chiefs will be “included as attendees any time that they want to be included.” So presumably if they are aware of the meetings they can choose to come, although they’re not “necessary” any longer according to Fearless Leader who will ignore their advice.
To clarify, this mean the highest ranking military and intelligence officers in the country are now no longer in permanent positions on the council. In contrast, Bannon, a political operative with no national security experience, will have a permanent place at the table.
The next day, Press Secretary and “opposite day” champion of grade schools across the nation, Sean Spicer, said any concerns were “much ado about nothing.” Of course given his tendency to misunderstand facts so profoundly that he will retweet a message from The Onion that lampoons him, this is cold comfort at best.
Republican Senator John McCain of the often self-defeatingly backward state of Arizona (I say that with both love and frustration as I am a fourth generation native of the state) told CBS on Face the Nation that this was “a radical departure from any National Security Council in history” and that the Joint Chiefs is “the one person which is indispensable” on the NSC.
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice characterized this change as “stone cold crazy.” Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who headed the CIA and also served as Director of National Intelligence, agreed with McCain. Gates said, “adding people … never really bothers me,” but removing members was worrisome.
“My biggest concern is there are actually, under the law, only two statutory advisers to the National Security Council and that’s the Director of Central Intelligence, or the DNI, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think pushing them out of the National Security Council meetings, except when their specific issues are at stake, is a big mistake,” he said. “I think that they both bring a perspective and judgment and experience to bear that every president, whether they like it or not, finds useful.”
David Rothkopf sees a dark future arising from Bannon’s permanent presence at the table, and calls him “precisely the wrong person for this role”:
“Indeed, rumors are already circulating that Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner are the go-to people on national security issues for the administration, again despite the lack of experience, temperament or institutional support for either … You end up with a bad NSC structure being compromised by a kitchen cabinet-type superstructure and the whole thing likely being made even more dysfunctional by a president who, according to multiple reports, does not welcome advice in the first place — especially when it contradicts his own views.”
Bannon: transforming the NSC into a political machine
The principal reason that Bannon shouldn’t be anywhere near the NSC is that the council is intended to be apolitical. Given that Bannon is clearly pushing a political agenda, this cuts against the council at the deepest possible level.
CBS News reports that former acting CIA chief Michael Morell said that “having someone like Bannon in the room brings politics into a room where there should be no politics.” This is certainly true, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
The specific nature of Bannon’s repulsive politics are also a major cause for concern. He is the former chairman of Breitbart, a website which calls itself “the platform for the alt-right,” alt-right being code for neo-Nazi, white nationalist, and white supremacist movements in the US. This also makes it a touchstone for much of the actual terrorism that threatens US citizens; despite what the current White House says, the greatest terrorist threat to Americans by far comes from “alt-right” white males like the man who shot up the mosque in Canada this week.
As soon as Bannon entered the White House as an advisor, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) condemned the move:
Dear President Trump: Your pick for “chief strategist,” Stephen Bannon, has no business working in the White House. Bannon presided over a news empire where he, according to former staffers, “aggressively pushed stories against immigrants, and supported linking minorities to terrorism and crime.”
“We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon said in July, using a term that is really just a rebranding of traditional white nationalism. Under Bannon, Breitbart published a call to “hoist [the Confederate flag] high and fly it with pride” only two weeks after the Charleston massacre when the country was still reeling from the horrors of the murders. Under Bannon, Breitbart published an extremist anti-Muslim tract where the author wrote that “rape culture” is “integral” to Islam.
Until he moved operations to the Trump Camp, Bannon spread his bigoted message via Breitbart, one of the most-read right-wing websites in the US and a longtime purveyor of fake news that has often led to violence. Various Breitbart headlines that propel it to new lows include “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?” Commentators make vicious, uneducated comments, such as calling a conservative commentator a “renegade Jew,” and comparing the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust.
This bizarre fascination with All Things Hitler and Holocaust aside, Breitbart also favors Trump and promoted the “John Wayne of politics” shamelessly throughout the election. “[W]e should thank God that Trump is in this race… He will set back the destruction of America.”
Breitbart is the mouthpiece of the white supremacist lunatic fringe in the US. This dangerous movement rejects progressive values, including racial equality, feminism, LGBTQ rights, and anything to do with immigrants and refugees. The SPLC characterizes the Brietbart readership as “a loose set of far-right ideologies” which values the preservation of “white identity” highly, placing that valuation front and center.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has also condemned the “alt-right” movement and Bannon himself through its chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt, who called Bannon “a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘Oft-Wrong’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.”
Bannon’s appointment was also criticized by Oregon Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley wrote a letter to the then PEOTUS on this point which was signed by nine other senators including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren:
Your campaign conduct and Electoral College victory have unleashed a wave of verbal and physical assaults against our fellow Americans.. . .Unfortunately, these acts of hate have been enabled by your campaign strategy of promoting bigotry, racism, and sexism. It is the logical consequence of your campaign attacks on and discrimination aimed at Hispanics, African Americans, veterans, immigrants, women, Muslims, Jews, and individuals with disabilities.. . .As you assume the mantle of leadership in office, it is your responsibility to put an end to the crimes of hate and prejudice sweeping our nation.. . .You have the power as President to move beyond the hate-filled rhetoric of your campaign.. . .We call on you to exclude the proponents of discrimination and hatred from the ranks of your Administration, and that includes immediately firing Steve Bannon as your Chief Strategist.
How these changes will change our national security
What do these changes mean for national security? Confusion, lack of experience, more turbulence between the executive and the intelligence community, uninformed decision-making, and poor judgments to be made.
First of all, there is already a serious rift between the Malignant Narcissist in Chief and the intelligence community, irrespective of whether he will acknowledge that fact or not. The rift is a direct result of his ongoing bad behavior and startling ignorance of protocol, and his unwillingness to learn how to do his job within the national security context.
The rift has now worsened because he has just demoted the highest-ranking intelligence officer in the United States, the director of national intelligence, and the highest-ranking military officer in the United States, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In all previous administrations, those positions—or, before they were created, their equivalents—held permanent positions on the NSC.
Now, the party line is that the presence of these key officials will be requested only when their specific expertise is needed. We already know when it is that the Big Boy Pants Wearer feels he needs the expertise of others: never.
Furthermore, back on planet Earth in reality, it is difficult if not impossible to imagine any national security context in which their views would not add value. The real question, then, is why this move could ever be a wise one, even during times of relatively few threats. Given the array of threats the United States currently faces the change is downright idiotic, not to mention foolhardy and hazardous.
So now, here we are. The relationship between the illegitimate president and the nation’s intelligence community hangs by a thread. Our alleged leader has no national security experience, a distinct disdain for facts, a penchant for lying, a desperate need for good counsel—and an inability to accept any. Yet he chose two people in positions that could have at least tempered this volatile situation, only to demote them.
This chain of egregious errors signals just how terrible this person’s decisions are going to be. This should horrify and frighten anyone with a lick of sense.
Now, we have Bannon running the show as he whispers into the ear of Noted Internet Troll, Donald Trump. He has openly expressed his desire to take down our existing system of government, and it seems that he is on target thus far. He is unfit for any responsible position in government, let alone one this sensitive, one that will determine the fate and safety of so many.
What will happen when Bannon and, for example, national security adviser Michael Flynn clash on some issue? Both will have access and clearance. They will need to curry favor to be heard in the Trump administration, and any news or advice that is unwelcome or sounds unfavorable to “the Chief” will be immediately met with hostility, and possibly even termination.
In short, we have a recipe for disaster on our hands. A narcissist who will hear only what he wants to hear, and a team who can comply, or take their chances on being removed. Trump is mentally unstable and entirely ignorant about everything from national security to foreign policy. Bannon is malicious and has an actively aggressive agenda against women, anyone who isn’t white, anyone not born in the US, LGBTQ people, and an almost endlessly long list of “Others.” Without adequate supervision and control over this twosome, decisions that could endanger people at a global scale are not just possible, but likely.
The “America First” idea is based on the idea that politics, foreign relations, and even life in our global village is a zero sum game. If other people and other countries are prospering, we are somehow losing. This places us in the role of the unhinged loner nation, without alliances or partners.
Bannon pulling Trump’s strings is probably the most dangerous combination possible. National security leadership is essential to the presidency, and it has just been turned on its ear. This shift is likely to yield catastrophic results—for America first, yes, but for everyone else, too.