By Miriam Raftery
February 3, 2017 (Washington D.C.) – Decisions made this week are drawing criticisms over President Donald Trump’s handling of sensitive foreign policy and military decisions—and who is involved in making those decisions.
Top officials for past Republican and Democratic presidents have spoken out against Trump’s executive order giving political advisor Steve Bannon a full seat on the principals committee of the National Security Council, while limiting the Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from attending National Security Council meetings except when it considers issues in their direct areas of responsibilities, the New York Times reports.
Bannon’s last job was publishing Brietbart news, a mouthpiece for alt-right, white supremacist, anti-immigrant and conspiracy theory stories as well as conservative news. Bannon is also an ex-Navy surface warfare officer who has worked as an investment banker and Hollywood producer.
Josh Bolten, chief of staff for President George W. Bush, prohibited Bush’s top political strategist Karl Rove from attending National Security Council meetings. A president’s decisions with those advisors “involve life and death for the people in uniform,” he has said, adding that those decisions should “not be tainted by any political decisions.”
Leon Panetta, former CIA director, defense secretary and White House chief of staff who has served under two past presidents, stated bluntly, “The last place you want to put somebody who worries about politics is in a room where they’re talking about national security.”
President Barack Obama’s aide David Axelrod occasionally was allowed to attend NSC meetings but never served as a permanent member.
Bannon’s role in life-and-death decisions made by the National Security Council, and the absence of the nation’s top military and national security experts on that Council, take on added significance following Trump’s first military order: a raid last weekend on an al Qaeda branch in Yemen that went awry. The Pentagon said the raid killed 14 militants but concedes civilians likely also died. Medics at the scene reported that around 10 women and children were killed, Reuters reports.
Even more troubling, Reuters states, “U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved the first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations. As a result, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamic extremists.”
President Barack Obama had been briefed on the planned raid during his time in office but had delayed any approval of the action, according to Reuters.
Also troubling are reports that President Trump was not in the situation room during the raid, the Washington Post reports, a major departure from protocol.
Other reports this week indicate Trump made inflammatory statements in phone calls with leaders of Mexico and Australia, hanging up on the latter. He has also provoked tense situations with Iran, China, and other nations, leading conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post to conclude that incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is inhering a “house of horrors.”
The conservative columnist concludes, “If he can persuade Trump to use a script on the phone and demand Bannon, who is primarily responsible for the travel ban fiasco, out of the NSC, he will earn our gratitude.”
Senate Democrats are calling for an investigation into the Yemen raid and one Democratic Senator has introduced a bill that would require removal of Bannon off the NSC and express the will of Congress for the top military and security officers excluded to be once again included in all NSC meetings.
But given the Republican majority in the Senate and House, action on either of those items would require support of a significant number of members in Trump’s own Republican party.