Wednesday, May 27, 2009

National Security posts revamped

A fascinating story; a small piece appeared in today's WSJ.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is merging the domestic and foreign sides of the White House national-security team, effectively eliminating a division created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Just because it was put in place eight years ago does not mean it needs stay on permanently.

The White House will use the reorganization to make broader changes as well. Among them is the creation of positions at the National Security Council focused on cybersecurity, energy, the environment and the threat of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, officials said Tuesday.

All three are critical to national security.

Mr. Obama's decision to merge the teams carries some political risk, as Republicans have been stepping up attacks on the administration's handling of national-security matters.

Whether the charges that the President is lax on national security convince anyone other than the usual suspects on the right wing is highly debatable. Republicans are looking for something, anything, to hang their hats on, and are trying everything to see what might work.

The president said Tuesday that the change reflects "the fundamental truth that the challenges of the 21st century are increasingly unconventional and transnational, and therefore demand a response that effectively integrates all aspects of American power."


Homeland-security duties will be folded into the NSC, said John Brennan, deputy national-security adviser for homeland security. Mr. Brennan said the separate White House staffs made sense in the early days after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the Department of Homeland Security was still young and benefited from additional oversight and input. The department "has become a more capable department and is able to address a lot of these issues now on their own," he said.

In effect, government is being streamlined and reduced, which should, of course, appeal to the supposed advocates of smaller government -- except that it isn't their idea.

The move follows a review that started in February. Retired Marine Gen. James Jones, who heads the NSC, said foreign and domestic distinctions are often moot. He also suggested the prior system might have blinded officials to imminent danger. "There is no right hand, left hand anymore. There's a single vector," Gen. Jones told reporters.

Vector, not silos; new buzzword? Still, he's right.

Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said Mr. Obama is entitled to "considerable deference" on the national-security structure. But the Maine senator also said she is concerned that the structure would lead to confusion among staff and dilute the focus of the top official at the NSC in charge of counterterrorism.

How so?

In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush downgraded the status of the White House official in charge of counterterrorism, a move that drew substantial criticism in the aftermath. Following the attacks, he created the White House Homeland Security Council as a sort of parallel entity to the NSC.

Hey, smart move: downgrade counter-terrorism. Right on the mark, again. And, once proven wrong, what did he do? Grow government, of course, while continuing to invoke the aura of that Big-government advocate, Ronald Reagan.

Even though its dedicated staff will be gone, the Homeland Security Council itself survives under Mr. Obama's plan as a sort of discussion forum for domestic-security policy. Mr. Obama also said Tuesday that his top counterterrorism official would maintain a direct reporting line into the Oval Office.

Among the other shifts at the NSC, a new entity, dubbed the Global Engagement Directive, will aim to coordinate public diplomacy, foreign assistance and international communications at a single White House desk.

Streamline government; what a great idea.

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