(Rich Galen, Mullings) – The other day I said that it was time for the President to begin resetting the way the White House is organized. Yesterday, it was announced that senior strategist (and formerly co-President) Steve Bannon had been thrown off the National Security Council – taking away a major part of Bannon’s portfolio.
I promise to continue using my powers only for good.
I recognize that in the full sweep of events this week – Syria, North Korea, healthcare collapsing (again); plus visits from the King Abdullah of Jordan and President Xi Jinping of China – a change in the makeup of the Principals’ Committee of the NRC might not be front page news.
That ignores the fact that here, in Our Nation’s Capital, we spend a great part of our day on Kremlinology – who’s in, who’s out, who’s influence is growing, who’s is contracting and, in this Administration, what new job did Jared Kushner take over today?
But, to be serious, the move to strengthen the hand of professionals on the National Security team to include the NSC, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a good sign.
President Trump, in his Rose Garden Presser with King Abdullah, appeared to have pivoted from the “I’m not the President of the world” riff that he had used in a speech as recently as two days ago. According to New York Newsday:
Trump accepted that the Syrian civil war is now on his shoulders. “I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly,” he said. “It is now my responsibility.”
The White House spent the previous 48 hours reminding everyone (as the President did again yesterday) of President Obama’s infamous “red line” quote that, when Syrian President Assad crossed it, did not change Obama’s calculus.
Remember, the Obama White House sent the relatively new Secretary of State, John Kerry, out to give an impassioned speech laying out the case for surgically precise bombing which, it was widely believed, would be aimed at Assad’s air force and the bases that support it.
Hours after that speech, Obama changed his mind and did nothing. The nothing Obama did created a power vacuum into which Russia – under the personal flag of Vladimir Putin – raced with troops, tanks, and aircraft.
That the latest chemical attack by Assad on his own people came right after the U.S. Secretary of State announced a major shift in U.S. policy by saying the Syrian people would decide Assad’s fate rather than “Assad must go” which has been the operating principle since the civil war in Syria began.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio said
“It’s concerning that the secretary of state, last Friday, said that the future’s up to the people in Syria on what happens with Assad. In essence almost nodding to the idea that Assad was going to get to stay in some capacity.”
Rex Tillerson appears to want nothing to do with diplomats. That’s an odd aversion for the Secretary of State. It is like the Secretary of Agriculture wanting nothing to do with farmers.
The Washington Post reported recently that
“Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly – or even make eye contact.”
That report has been disputed by the Associated Press.
Nevertheless, the President has been strengthening his national security team. First, getting rid of Mike Flynn, now sending Steve Bannon to the locker room are the most visible changes.
We haven’t had a report of President Trump berating a foreign leader since, well, since he declined the opportunity to be photographed shaking hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
To be fair, CNN’s report of the awkward moment included this: “It wasn’t clear if the two heard the request” for a handshake from the press corps.
President Trump will be meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korea will likely be a major topic. Maybe trade. Some global warming.
The world is horribly complex.
As the Dude famously said in “The Big Lebowski”
“This is a very complicated case. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, a lotta strands to keep in my head, man.”
Mr. Galen is a veteran political strategist and communications consultant. He blogs at www.Mullings.com.