There is a considerable amount of visible internet and social media angst surrounding the National Security Council and staffing decisions made by National Security Advisor HR McMaster. CTH has no insight into the inner workings of disagreements within the current NSC, however, with a modest amount of both skepticism and cynicism the current level of alarm appears over indulged.
Within any work group there’s going to be differences of opinion. Within any national security working group there’s going to be ideological differences of opinion. The issues are important and very complex. The differences should never be dismissed or marginalized in their potential consequence. That said, it’s not the differences of opinion that present problems – it’s when those differences become entrenched in opposition to the reason for the groups primary function. That’s when differences become problems.
Consider the foreign policy proposals, and worldviews therein, of candidate Donald Trump and candidate Ted Cruz. Now think about taking the foreign policy/NatSec principals from both candidate camps, and the outlooks carried therein, and put them into the same council chamber to hammer out papers of recommended action toward policy.
Can you see the structure for an underlying problem? Now overlay the ideological interests of the institutional military with a healthy dose of both deep state and religious (centered principle outlook) career ideology, and you’ve got a recipe for disagreement. Well, that’s essentially what I see when reviewing various media reports of internal group conflict points.
The Atlantic presents an article about an NSC staffer being removed for the production of a rather entrenched ideological view –SEE HERE– and Breitbart provides another example of removal for a like-minded albeit possibly less entrenched view –SEE HERE -. Oh, and there’s literally dozens more depending on your normal internet travel pattern.
CTH looks at all of these reports with a level dose of both skepticism and cynicism.
Skepticism surrounding the underlying tone in presentation of the information, and cynicism in the conclusions, logical or illogical, drawn from within each presentation. Let me explain by taking the Muslim Brotherhood issue as one example that seems to draw out the polarity of opinion.
I’m solidly in the camp of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood. From my decades of looking at them as an organization from the Holy Land Foundation trial, to the various Arab Spring uprisings (Islamist Spring), and with specific attention to the epicenter of the ideological conflict in Egypt, I agree with President al-Sisi that the Muslim Brotherhood is a dangerous geo-political entity constructed to be favorable to the worst elements within extremist Islam.
That is to say the Brotherhood is the political shield that gives validity to various extremist elements of Islam. Additionally, and with direct association, the preferred propaganda media outlet for the Muslim Brotherhood has been al-Jazeera (Qatar based).
In order for al-Sisi to protect the larger Egyptian population he needed to get control of the extremists. It was a matter of immediate urgency, and later ongoing necessity, for him to banish the Brotherhood and kick out al-Jazerra.
Those decisions provided the space for breathing room away from the shouting. The Brotherhood leadership went to Qatar, and then eventually to Turkey after Qatar came under the original Arab State pressure (2013) to stop supporting these horrible political extremists.
That same inner-Islamic conflict still remains in place today between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Qatar. That ideological feud erupted again in 2017 and is still ongoing.
The fact that Turkish leader Recep Erdogan was so willing to open his doors to harbor the Brotherhood Leadership in exile also served as a keen precursor to the ideology behind the Erdogan mask. Since accepting the Brotherhood Turkey has increasily moved toward extremism and totalitarian control. These issues are not unrelated even though the slide toward Erdogan’s authoritarianism took place over several years.
That said, I can totally understand why President Trump can support al-Sisi’s position 100%, and yet not label the Brotherhood as an officially recognized terrorist entity with all that label entails. Again, the Brotherhood is political (face to the world) AND ideological (face to Islam). The label alone provides the extremists (al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, ISIS, AQIP, AQIM and al-Shabab) with ideological recruitment tools.
That’s the argument against the label. And that’s a solid argument.
President Trump doesn’t label the Brotherhood as a terror network, but he simultaneously, and very publicly, supports Fattah al-Sisi doing so. Within the complexity these are not mutually exclusive points of policy. Additionally, President Trump also supports Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar following al-Sisi’s lead.
President Trump supports every article of policy that isolates and marginalizes the Brotherhood. Heck, he not only supports it – he challenges the majority mid-East nations to support it. Remember: “drive them out” etc. However, notice President Trump doesn’t provide a problem for the goal by becoming part of the ‘great Satan narrative’; later to be used by the ideological Brotherhood as a shield and a sword.
I can entirely reconcile the reasons for this administration not to affix the label. It’s a policy and a strategy… and so far, at least in granular movement, it’s working. ISIS is being defeated, extremist elements are on their heels, and hopefully in the longer-term this pragmatic policy will prove to be very effective.
However, I can also entirely see a reason for those who, understanding all historic references, want the U.S. to take exactly the same approach as Egypt. I disagree, because it’s more fair to see if the alliance effort/approach works first, but I can see validity in the counter position reasoning for their stance.
Now, if you overlay an entrenched disposition drawn out and influenced by elements within political policy and political media who have an underlying religious basis for their unwillingness to accept pragmatism, well,… then the conversation gets more…. well, confrontational and immediately challenging. I’m using the word “challenging” here with a great level of diplomacy between the syllables.
This example is what it sounds and apparently looks like around the NSC table on just this one-single-issue. This is just one single organization and approach toward that political organization within one single regional policy and recommendation to the President.
Multiply that understanding times the complexity of Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, China, A.S.E.A.N nations and take it to the exponential level with Turkey and the EU; and well, you see how differences of opinion can go from zero to infinity level angst in minutes.
The paralysis of analysis is also a problem, and nothing creates that dynamic more than a dysfunctional NSC.
Again, to understand the complexity here consider former CIA Director George Tenet trying to get to George W. Bush, for weeks, with a warning about airlines and the use by terrorists in the summer of 2001 prior to 9/11. Read Tenet’s book “At the Center of The Storm” to see how challenging it was while Condoleezza Rice was Bush’s first year National Security Advisor.
Against the backdrop of 9/11/01 I think we can all well understand the ramifications to differences of opinion within the NSC, and the need for clarity of purpose with specific policy recommendations therein. It is entirely possible that Condi Rice carried a tremendous amount of regret in hindsight.
But I mention all of these aspects only to contrast how easy it is for all of us to sit in judgement of these personnel changes and inner-group battles within the NSC as they are rolled into the political media for us to consider. The executive people loading the information pellets into our feeder machines have an ideology also. Remember that when you pull their lever, read their narrative, and subsequently exit with your pellet.
Ultimately, there’s one Commander-in-Chief looking through the fog of often contrary opinion, and measuring it through the prism of his or her own compass. Fortunately we have a President who is well versed in looking at multi-dimensional and complex problems and applying a sequential linear approach toward them.
Fortunately we have a President sharp and smart enough to evaluate the progress at each point he chooses along the road and make adjustments to the direction regardless of political benefit or cost thereof.
Fortunately we have a president willing to challenge the Condi Rice’s or HR McMasters’ of the world, reset the conversation points and say “yeah, but what if”?…..