A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has condemned the president’s inclusion of Steve Bannon on the national security council, in a forceful op-ed published Monday in The New York Times.
Retired Adm. Michael Mullen, who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 2007 to 2011, sharply criticised an executive order President Donald Trump signed last month that gave his chief strategist a permanent seat on the NSC Principals Committee, while allowing the participation of the Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs only “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”
That doesn’t seem to make sense to Mullen, who wrote of his experience in those meetings under Presidents Bush and Obama.
“In my experience there are very few — if any — meetings of the principals committee at which the input of the military and the intelligence community is not vital,” Mullen wrote. “With an increasingly belligerent Russia, tensions in the South China Sea and a smouldering Middle East, it makes little sense to minimise the participation of the professionals leading and representing these two groups.”
Mullen isn’t the first to criticise Bannon’s involvement in NSC meetings. Republican Senator John McCain called it a “radical departure” from past practice, and former Defence Secretary Robert Gates characterised the sidelining of the top chiefs of the military and intelligence communities as a “big mistake.”
The retired admiral brought up past organisations of the NSC, such as under President Bush, who did not allow his political advisor Karl Rove to attend. And while President Obama’s advisor David Axelrod did attend some meetings early on, Mullen wrote, he didn’t speak or vote on any of the topics.
That’s not the case with Bannon, who will have voting rights on high-level national security discussions.
“Having Mr. Bannon as a voting member of the principals committee will have a negative influence on what is supposed to be candid, nonpartisan deliberation,” Mullen wrote. “I fear that it will have a chilling effect on deliberations and, potentially, diminish the authority and the prerogatives to which Senate-confirmed cabinet officials are entitled. They, unlike Mr. Bannon, are accountable for the advice they give and the policies they execute.”
He went on to call his presence “unhealthy for the republic.”
Mullen isn’t known for making partisan political statements. Since retiring in 2011, he’s mostly stayed out of the limelight; Mullen has mainly taught classes on diplomacy and military affairs at Princeton, and has joined some corporate boards.
“Admiral Mullen worked for Bush 43 and Obama,” said Ward Carroll, the president of Military One Click and a retired Navy commander who served with, and remains close to Mullen. “He is motivated by service, not politics. He wouldn’t have made this kind of effort if he wasn’t deeply concerned about our national security posture.”
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