WASHINGTON: The administration of Donald Trump will probably slash the size of the National Security Council and return it to its traditional role of coordinating national security policy across the national security and intelligence communities. For most of the Obama Administration, conflicting cabinets ruled and battled to often bad effect, one staffed by the actual Cabinet officers and their subordinates, and one by the shadow cabinet of the NSC staff. It made policy, instead of coordinating policy as it is charged to do by the law that created it in 1947.
There was the sudden and unexpected decision to walk away from an alliance with France aimed at overturning the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. There were the prolonged and conflicting signals coming from top Pentagon civilians, the Navy, top Pacific commanders and the White House about whether, when and how to execute Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea while China illegally and immorally destroyed some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs to lay claim to fake islands in the region. And numerous other less prominent policy decisions.
The National Security Council ballooned to more than 400 staff in the Old Executive Office Building and elsewhere. Staffed by inexperienced, if well educated, people whose loyalty was first political — not professional — the NSC often appeared to mistake the absolutely necessary hearty and effective policy debate with disloyalty or an effort to “undermine civilian control of the military.” Republicans bridled and inserted language in the National Defense Authorization Act capping the NSC staff at 100 or requiring that, if it didn’t shrink, the National Security Advisor would be subject to Senate confirmation, a restriction unlikely to meet with the approval of any leader of the Executive Branch.
Two advisors to President-elect Trump confirmed they hope to slash the NSC down to around the size it was before 9/11, between 40 and 60 staff. The likely Navy Secretary nominee, outgoing House Armed Services seapower and projection forces chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, mentioned the issue in an interview with Defense News before the election. It’s not clear what Trump’s choice for National Security Advisor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, believes about the size of the NSC. But most of his tenure in military intelligence occurred when the NSC was much, much smaller.