[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
I have a new article up at The Chicago Progressive, where I look at facets of the current exasperating disarray in national security.
American presidents, particularly in their second term, tend to emphasize foreign and defense affairs in establishing their legacy because it is where our political system and the Constitution give them the greatest freedom of action. Success or failure here for their administration emanates from two distinct but related areas: formulating good, effective, policy ideas and secondly, policy execution by strategy and implementation with our allies and adversaries. Lacking good policies, an administration is simply a caretaker government on autopilot; lacking competent execution, good policies will be frustrated, then discredited and potential opportunities lost. The primary tool the POTUS has to see his foreign policies carried out is the National Security Council and the inter-agency process it supervises; while membership of the NSC was set into law in 1947, every president is free to establish and staff the national security decision making process that suits them best. Unfortunately, this means that while every president gets exactly the NSC he wants, too few of them get the one they most need or deserve. [….]
….Furthermore, no president, not even the highly secretive Richard Nixon, can run a one-man foreign policy (though Nixon, it must be said, certainly tried) nor should President Obama be expected to do so. The Obama administration is closest to using the “Operational NSC” model, which worked relatively well during the first term. While not friction-free, Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, John Brennan and several others were very experienced senior officials and political heavyweights accustomed to working closely with the Oval Office who were able to counterbalance the excessive influence of a relatively junior White House staff whose primary experience was and remains domestic politics. No such check and balance exists today. Brennan departed his post as counter-terrorism adviser to the President to head the CIA, Hillary Clinton left to prepare to run for president, while Panetta and Gates returned to private life. When the dean of the American foreign policy community, Leslie Gelb, the respected former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Democrat who is no conservative, called for the firing and replacement of the entire senior White House staff, it was unprecedented but not surprising. A staff that cannot get little things like a photo-op right are not of the caliber to serve the president in questions of war and peace [….]
Read the rest here.