On Wednesday morning, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council at the behest of President Trump – and apparently with the input of new National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Bannon had been placed on the NSC under controversial circumstances – the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence had both been downgraded from their normal positions on the NSC in favor of Bannon.
The White House presented the move not as a slap at Bannon, but as Bannon having fulfilled his mission at the NSC. According to The New York Times:
A senior White House official presented the move as a logical evolution, not a setback for Mr. Bannon. He had originally been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on Mr. Flynn and to “de-operationalize” the N.S.C. after the Obama administration, this official said on condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. This official said that process had been completed. Bannon made a similar statement: “Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration. I was put on to ensure that it was deoperationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.”
What does that even mean?
The notion that Bannon was placed on the NSC in late January in order to wrest control of the organization from Team Obama makes no logistical or political sense. Breitbart’s headline – “STEVE BANNON LEAVES NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AFTER SUSAN RICE TAKEDOWN” – is simply silly. Obama’s team in the NSC left with him. Why would Bannon need to be on the NSC to reveal Rice’s nefarious activity, particularly since the Trump team only supposedly found out about Rice’s “unmasking” after Bannon joined the NSC? He wouldn’t. And in fact, Ezra Cohen-Watnick is remaining on the NSC – and Cohen-Watnick was the original source linking House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes to the Susan Rice story. If this is about de-operationalizing, shouldn’t he leave, too?
The timeline doesn’t match up. It also wouldn’t explain why Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert would be downgraded.
It makes far more sense that McMaster is whipping the NSC into line. BuzzFeed has a more credible narrative:
In recent days, McMaster overturned a decision by his predecessor Michael Flynn to hire Robin Fontes as senior director for South and Central Asia, according to four individuals familiar with the decision. In her place, McMaster hired Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert and Russia hawk whose views about Moscow’s influence in Central Asia are likely to conflict with those of Bannon and Trump who seek a rapprochement with Russia.
This is good news for the Trump administration. Professionals should be in charge of foreign policy, given the rocky shoals Trump will undoubtedly face as president.