President Barack Obama’s National Security Council (NSC) is far too big and engages in too much aggressive activism, former military officials said Monday.
Instead of facilitating communication, the NSC’s goal has switched to “warping” Department of Defense decisions and micromanaging the intelligence community. NSC’s explosion in size, from 40 staffers under former President George W. Bush to 400 under Obama, has coincided with its self-granted expansion in jurisdiction over policy. This explosion has former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre worried, Breaking Defense reports.
“In our review of the last couple of months, what comes out is the excessive demands of the NSC process and the ways in which it’s warping …. the department,” Hamre said at a Monday panel hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz delivered a damning blow.
“The NSC should not be activists,” Schwartz said. “They should have a limited — if any role — in execution. I think there’s a fundamental dysfunction there which is not healthy.”
One Democrat with a long history in the defense industry told Breaking Defense in January that one of the most frustrating elements of the NSC is that it’s staffed by people without real-world experience, either in intelligence or the military.
The White House is largely responsible for massively expanding the power and scope of the NSC, though Jamie Garelick, a member of the Defense Policy Board, said the Obama administration’s preoccupation with executive authority does not just restrict itself to defense but applies across the board.
Anxieties about the role of the NSC turn up frequently in Washington, D.C., especially when it oversteps its bounds and makes headlines for inserting executive narratives in order to override departmental decisions.
In one of the most recent and egregious examples, Obama via the NSC told the FBI to downplay the San Bernardino shootings. The FBI took a tremendous amount of heat for not immediately classifying the shootings as terrorism and momentarily supplicating to White House priorities.
The White House has repeatedly tried to avoid classifying terror-inspired incidents as terrorism, which was brought into sharp relief by the Fort Hood shootings. It took Obama six years to admit that the shootings committed by Major Nidal Malik Hasan were not in fact examples of workplace violence, but were terrorism.
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