President Donald Trump's move to oust Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council can be seen as retaliation for coming forward to testify in the impeachment inquiry. But that is not all that Vindman's departure represents.
Indeed, argued NSC expert Dr. John Gans in The New York Times, the removal of Vindman is also the latest step of a much longer effort to tear down the council and reduce it to something that is weaker, less effective, and more beholden to the personal whims of the president.
"The dismissal is just one part of a campaign by the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, to trumpify one of the most powerful and important institutions in government," wrote Gans. "Over the last six months, while impeachment dominated the news, Mr. O’Brien undertook the first restructuring of the council in a generation. He cut 60 to 70 positions, about a third of the staff, many of them career professionals. He also directed that the National Security Council focus less on transnational issues like global economics and nonproliferation, and more on bilateral and geographic priorities. In all, Mr. O’Brien’s trumpification of the staff will hamper the United States’ ability to meet the world’s challenges, and hamstring the next president."
"Mr. Trump inherited from President Barack Obama the most powerful National Security Council in history," wrote Gans. "But the new president struggled to win over the hundreds of staff members who’d fought for the sorts of globalist policies — like trade deals and alliances — he had long opposed. Mr. Trump certainly tried to conquer the staff, naming a loyalist retired lieutenant general, Michael Flynn, as his first national security adviser and his nationalist adviser Steve Bannon to a high-level committee within it. The message was, as a Trump hire told one member of the staff, 'The president doesn’t care about the things you care about, and the sooner that you know about it, the better.'"
Flynn and Bannon were forced to leave the administration before long, but, Gans noted, that was not the end of it.
"The dysfunction at the council, which Mr. Flynn’s successors H.R. McMaster and John Bolton failed to end, helped break the government," wrote Gans. "Congress’s impeachment hearings revealed the depth of the crisis: Mr. Trump used the staff and others to help shake Ukraine down for dirt on a political rival, while Colonel Vindman, the staff’s Ukraine point person, and the rest of the council pursued a different policy altogether. Far from becoming Mr. Trump’s warriors, staff members like Colonel Vindman became witnesses against the president, exposing the sordid breakdown to Congress."
"At great risk to the country, Mr. Trump and Mr. O’Brien are finally winning the war at the council," concluded Gans. "But it’s the next president’s loss, and thus all of ours. Whoever replaces Mr. Trump will inherit a weaker and less worldly National Security Council, and learn the hard way it’s far easier to deconstruct a staff than rebuild one. As a result, even after Mr. Trump leaves the White House, Trumpism will continue to corrupt American foreign policy."
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