If Joe Biden wins the general election on Tuesday, he won’t have to start from scratch like Jimmy Carter. However, based on interviews with nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials, he will still find that he needs to be rebuilt-perhaps even completely reinvented-NSC Donald Trump is left behind.
Peter Feaver of Duke University said: “Trump wants a very weak National Security Council in order to maximize his personal autonomy-basically enabling him to govern through Twitter. “One way he did this was to shrink it.”
During Barack Obama’s tenure, the staff of the National Security Council (NSC) surged to more than 200 people. Critics accuse the National Security Council of impediment, over-operation and micro-management of everything from the Afghan army to Myanmar̵
Trump’s team severely reduced the policy staff of the National Security Council and marginalized many professional officials in an atmosphere of mutual distrust.
A former National Security Council staff member said: “We are not only on the sidelines, we are insulted.” “This is not a hospitable environment at all.”
A spokesperson for Biden’s transition work declined to comment on his plans for the National Security Council. His aides insisted that their top priority now is to win Tuesday’s election, and the former vice president’s campaign and those around him said they did not take everything for granted.
However, if he wins, Biden is expected to strengthen and drastically change the National Security Council to match his foreign policy priorities. So: focus more on pandemics, climate change, and economic governance, rather than on the traditional security-focused work of the Trump years.
Biden will also face dilemmas, such as whether to continue to serve as a professional government employee in the Trump era or to start with a completely clean title.
Michael Singer, a former aide to the George W. Bush administration, said that perhaps most importantly, Biden must decide, like Obama did, “whether he will make the National Security Council the main promoter of all aspects of national security”, or more Many powers are delegated to cabinet agencies.
The new president reshapes the standards of the National Security Council according to his own preferences. However, current and former US officials and foreign affairs analysts who closely follow the National Security Council believe that given the way Biden operates under President Trump, the level of change under Biden’s leadership will be extraordinary.
Biden’s first task is likely to be the appointment of a national security adviser. Tony Blinken, his long-time foreign policy aide, is very popular. (Blinken has stated that, unlike Trump, Biden will emphasize the League of Nations and the promotion of democracy as part of his foreign policy during his presidency, but he rarely talks about the structure of institutions like the National Security Council.)
The next task will be to evaluate, reorganize and possibly expand the roster of government officials and political appointees who make up NSC employees.
When Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, took over in the fall of 2019, he quickly reduced the Security Council’s policy staff, according to his statistics from 174 to what officials said is about 110 people. Reduced by more than one-third.
These changes were made after years of devastating leaks and Trump’s allegations that the “deep country” in the government bureaucracy is thwarting his agenda. In the last few years of Obama’s tenure, his team was also reducing the number of NSC personnel, but now former US officials say O’Brien has cut too far.
“Only too much fat can be reduced, and soon you will begin to fall into muscles. Obviously, this team has become stronger,” said a former official of the Obama administration.
During Trump’s tenure, the National Security Council has been working hard to achieve its official goal-to coordinate decision-making between agencies-partly because the president tends to refute expert advice, make immediate decisions and often change his mind.
After four turbulent years: Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was fired and later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. His second HR McMaster was never confused with Trump and lasted for about a year. His third president, John Bolton, wrote a popular memoir, tore up the president’s “excellent news” and called him “republic danger”.
The NSC was also stranded by other actors (including Trump’s female son and senior adviser Jared Kushner and senior aide Stephen Miller), involving major issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian crisis to immigration policy.
After O’Brien took over from Bolton, he tried to revive the traditional National Security Council (NSC) decision-making process, a highly structured system of memos and meetings composed of cabinet members and other senior aides. Bolton reduced the regular meetings of senior officials and preferred to make his own decisions.
According to John Ullyot, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, O’Brien held 238 so-called principal and representative committee meetings, and during Trump’s entire tenure, the proportion of such meetings exceeded 40. %.
Despite this, O’Brien is sometimes out of sync with Trump and other senior officials-for example, in conflict with the chairman of the Afghan Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Apart from the big move, Biden has not many public clues to explain his plan for the NSC. A specific pledge he made was to immediately restore Bolton’s disbanded Global Health Security and Biodefense Agency. Obama alumni said the department could have helped fight the coronavirus pandemic.
For the Biden team, a particularly sensitive issue is how many current National Security Council staff will be required to leave. Trump’s political appointment to the National Security Council will of course resign before his inauguration. But NSC is mainly composed of professional government employees detailed by other agencies.
When Trump first took office in the Oval Office, many of his political appointees abused professional staff in the National Security Council and other government departments. These civil servants were ridiculed as “Obama’s legacy”, although some of them have been in government for decades and many have been accused of insufficient loyalty to Trump.
Democrats are one of the most staunch defenders of professional officials, and they find themselves the crosshairs of Trump’s political appointees. But now some of Biden’s supporters are unwilling to trust professional government workers who choose to join Trump’s National Security Council at this stage.
A former staff member of the National Security Council said: “Given the degree of dysfunction and the challenges facing the Biden-Harris administration, I think it will help to bring in new people to the greatest extent.”
Some people say that each staff member should be interviewed and evaluated as appropriate. Everyone said that it is crucial not to use words like “Trump control” or “deep state” to restore the morale of employees throughout the profession.
When Hadley served as George W. Bush’s national security adviser, he tried to minimize the problems he encountered in the transfer of other presidents. In the last year of the second semester, he helped organize what is often referred to as the “gold standard” of transition.
These include regular meetings with Obama’s transitional aides and preparation of dozens of briefing memos for the upcoming team.
Biden and his transition team didn’t know all the work they needed to do about the NSC until they met with Trump aides and entered the White House courtyard. There are already concerns that the Trump team will not be as active as needed.
A former U.S. official said: “I am really worried about this transition.” “You have a lot of lunatics, they will try to create some kind of problem, to lock in a certain kind of policy, thus creating a problem, and thus unable to implement the new government Do things.” Still out of pure malice. ”
But if Biden and his team are to fulfill the many promises he made during the 2020 campaign, they need to act quickly to build the national security infrastructure they envision.
The second US former official said: “In the early days, you have the opportunity to exert the greatest influence.” “You have the momentum for the election. It’s a new beginning.”
For Biden, fortunately, “the staff of the National Security Council are the most flexible of the national security agencies,” Feaver said. “It always adjusts to the president’s style and personality, and can do this faster and more significantly than the various departments and agencies. The president got the National Security Council they asked for-for better or for worse.