September 11, 2001 happened a little over seven months into former President George W. Bush's presidency. America is only five months into President Donald Trump's administration, but the political newcomer has been slow to appoint critical national security staff. It's leaving many to fear that if a crisis occurs Trump might not be ready.
A recent op-ed in Politico Magazine by former United States Permanent Representative to NATO Douglas Lute notes that the only national security team that exists is 10-12 staff under H.R. McMaster. Many departments have their own security staff that would serve as a counterpart in the Defense Department or the State Department. In fact, fewer than the 10 percent required are staffed.
"There is simply no substitute for getting the team in place, and soon," Lute wrote.
The administration also faces the task of creating a support staff that can make decisions and executes plans. He explains that McMaster sets the example by establishing relationships with his counterparts Rex Tillerson, former Gen. James Mattis, John Kelly, Dan Coats, Mike Pompeo and Gen. Joseph Dunford. Those under them do the same.
Lute writes that right now there is no process and as such, there is no "fire drill." As a result, "every issue becomes a crisis," which draws away from long-term planning and preparation for major events.
He notes that the only bright spot is that the team at the top is solid with decades of experience in McMaster. Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer tweeted Friday that he heard from a U.S. ally's defense minister that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Gen. James Mattis are ignoring President Donald Trump entirely when it comes to foreign policy decisions.
Lute argues "an effective NSC steadies the ship of state." The White House is supposed to delegate to the departments and agencies to manage, something Trump isn't known to do well.
"We pay a heavy price for the ongoing extended transition," Lute said of Trump's continuing transition. "Without the team in place and procedures set, decision-making becomes ad hoc and unpredictable, leading to mistakes and poor execution."
The New York Times reported in April that Tillerson has “done almost nothing” to fill nearly 200 State Department jobs requiring the Senate's approval. A recent report reveals that Tillerson is holding back out of fear of leaks. As a result, the State Department will be understaffed well into next year.
"Such an imbalance will be difficult to reverse," Lute warns, "even as new players later join the team upon confirmation. Today's security challenges cannot be managed from the White House alone."
America is living on "borrowed time," he warned and 2018 is too late.
"Opponents deliberately will test us, friends will move on in their own interests, natural disasters will happen. No one will wait for us to get our act together," he closed.