America needs a healthy National Security Council, but President Donald Trump is trying to stack the body with loyalists while ousting others to prevent any more members from testifying or blowing the whistle against him.
When Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman testified against Trump last year during House impeachment hearings, he was only doing his job as a member of the council, especially since he had been the point person on matters involving Ukraine at the time Trump attempted to extort the country for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
By withholding military aid from Ukraine, Trump put our ally in danger because that money was meant to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression.
By testifying against Trump and outing his scheme, Vindman did his duty.
But Trump fired Vindman on Friday in retaliation against his role as a witness, and NSC expert Dr. John Gans says Trump is moving to gut the National Security Council so there won’t be anyone left to blow the whistle in the future.
“The dismissal is just one part of a campaign by the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, to trumpify one of the most powerful and important institutions in government,” Gans wrote in the New York Times. “Over the last six months, while impeachment dominated the news, Mr. O’Brien undertook the first restructuring of the council in a generation. He cut 60 to 70 positions, about a third of the staff, many of them career professionals. He also directed that the National Security Council focus less on transnational issues like global economics and nonproliferation, and more on bilateral and geographic priorities. In all, Mr. O’Brien’s trumpification of the staff will hamper the United States’ ability to meet the world’s challenges, and hamstring the next president.”
Indeed, the National Security Council cannot simply focus on “geographic priorities”. There’s a whole world out there beyond our shores to think about, and that’s the only way to keep our country safe. Ignoring the world is how threats sneak up to our doorstep and strike. There’s simply too much at stake to let Trump turn the NSC into his own personal racket that only looks at the small picture. To be truly effective, the NSC needs to look at the big picture. It needs to look out for the national interest, not Trump’s interest.
“At great risk to the country, Mr. Trump and Mr. O’Brien are finally winning the war at the council,” Gans concluded. “But it’s the next president’s loss, and thus all of ours. Whoever replaces Mr. Trump will inherit a weaker and less worldly National Security Council, and learn the hard way it’s far easier to deconstruct a staff than rebuild one. As a result, even after Mr. Trump leaves the White House, Trumpism will continue to corrupt American foreign policy.”
Of course, the next president could simply reach out to the staffers who left because of Trump or were ousted by him. Surely many of them would agree to return so we can quickly rebuild this crucial body that has been around since just after World War II. The safety of our country literally depends on it.
It will still be tough to rebuild, but the point is that presidents should not use the National Security Council for personal or political gain. It’s there for one reason, to advise the president on matters of national security and foreign policy. And it cannot do that job effectively if all the staffers are sycophants who allow him to use it to commit crimes.
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