One of my bigger inner conflicts over the past few months is how to view the National Security Council, its affiliates and constituent pieces.
I’ve been listening to the Intelligence Matters podcast, and I’m impressed by the sobriety and relative political neutrality of our “intelligence community.” Dissatisfaction with Trump is implicit fairly often, but so are defenses of Trump against some of the most strident criticisms of him. I heard one of them just yesterday mildly say that Trump’s penchant for economic sanctions has forced the intelligence community to up their game on economic analysis.
That same speaker, addressing an audience heavy with students who likely were considering intelligence work, described it by analogy:
- How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles? Okay, keep your hands up.
- How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is? Okay, keep your hands up.
- How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is and you know you only have a quarter of the pieces? Okay, keep your hands up.
- How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is, and you know you only have a quarter of the pieces, and the President of the United States wants to know what the picture is in 5 minutes to inform a major decision?
So when someone refers to “Obama holdovers” at NSC rather than to “career intelligence professionals,” my crap detector awakens. That, basically, is the schtick of Rich Higgins in The White House Fired Me for My Loyalty. Higgins also wrote the forgettable POTUS & Political Warfare.
In the former, he complains:
Staffers were assigned to develop plans for ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Instead they came up with reasons it couldn’t be done. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, delivered them to the president and explained why he couldn’t keep his campaign promises.
There were a few Trump loyalists on the staff, but we were outnumbered and mostly ignored. It was clear that the Trump presidency wouldn’t succeed unless the resistance was defeated. That meant Obama holdovers had to be replaced by people who would carry out the new president’s agenda. We few loyalists drew up a list. When Gen. McMaster found out, he called an all-hands assembly and declared: “There are no ‘holdovers.’ We are all on the same team.”
(Emphasis added) In the latter he argues — oh, I don’t know how to describe it except “Hey! Look at me, Mr. Trump! I’m your man!”
Come to think of it, that’s the subtext of the former, too.
I am uneasy at the plausible threat of the “deep state” to self-governance, but I’m very uneasy at the thought of “loyalists” Larry, Moe and Curly Joe, with little or no national security experience, supplanting “holdovers” to carry out the new president’s agenda” for a possibly dishonorable or ruinous withdrawal from Afghanistan. I think I’d rather risk the experienced “deep state” keeping us involved for reasons they can articulate other than in word salads.
That decision, though, is not a no-brainer. I was grateful to the Wall Street Journal for publishing this odd opinion piece that inadvertently made the alternative to “deep state” look as scary as it did by the self-outing of a sycophantic Trump loyalist who comes across as not terribly bright.
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In the fearful day of judgment, O Lord, forgive my prissy efforts at purity.
I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.