The Bush administration’s decision to reorganize the National Security Council (NSC) has attracted little interest in official Washington but is potentially significant in suggesting how national security policy in the Bush second term will diverge from its predecessor.
Affecting the reorganization are changing administration priorities and approaches as well as the recent appointment of Ambassador John D. Negroponte as the first director of national intelligence: A new player that needs to be dealt into the complex and rule-less game of high-level policy formulation and implementation. The reorganization was reportedly set out in a memorandum to the vice president dated March 28.
It was a pre-determined reality that the NSC would run differently with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (and J.D. Crouch as primary deputy) than it did under Condoleezza Rice, with her long and close working relationship with the president. The new internal organization, however, appears to be an attempt to give additional significance to the NSC as policy coordinator, rather than seeing the institution lose significance, as happened, for example, when Henry Kissinger went from being national security adviser to secretary of state in the Nixon administration.
A new high-level policy-coordinating role has been set up for the NSC staff. The new reorganization includes the creation of five new positions for deputy national security advisers — for Combating Terrorism; Iraq and Afghanistan; Global Democracy Strategy; International Economics; and Strategic Communications and Global Outreach. Each represents an announced administration policy priority. This strengthening of the tasks of the NSC staff (rather than the adviser and deputy) is itself a change from the first Bush term organization. Miss Rice’s importance to the president did not lead to a correspondingly significant role for the NSC staff (especially after Clinton-administration holdover Richard Clarke’s public break with the administration).
The NSC changes suggest that the bureaucratic dominance over national security policy — especially over the concept of a global war of terror that the Department of Defense established over the Department of State after September 11 — may not endure. This reflects not only the increased importance of Miss Rice’s move to the State Department and the impending departure from the Pentagon of Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary Douglas Feith who helped implement this dominance but also changing realities.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are moving away from purely or even primarily military problems amenable to military solutions. There is an increasing need to integrate all elements of U.S. national power into a national strategy. The reorganized NSC staff has a potential to coordinate the inputs of the Pentagon, State and other agencies. The NSC can help make sure the level of integration of emerging policies is at the White House rather than the Pentagon despite the priority given its policy goals in areas where U.S. military forces are engaged. In the words of the March 28 memo, the reorganization is aimed at “focusing interagency efforts on the president’s priorities.” Where the recent intelligence reviews have tried to take a sledgehammer to the massive and long-standing problem of coordinating and integrating the work and policies of different government agencies, this reorganization applies a smaller chisel, aimed not just at intelligence but at the president’s selected top priorities.
If the reorganized NSC staff is able to play this integrating role, it will be because the president will have to make it clear that is how he wants it. Otherwise, even a well-known deputy national security adviser, with a limited staff and no independent budget, will find that coordinating the actions of multiple departments, all with multi-billion dollar budgets and the significance that provides, plus dealing with congressional involvement, may end up too weak to be other than a peripheral player.
Personnel decisions are policy decisions. The appointment of first-term NSC staff members Elliott Abrams and Faryar Shirzad to the global democracy and economic positions pre-dated the March reorganization. The upcoming selection of the remaining three deputy national security advisers will show how seriously the White House will aim to implement the coordinating function inherent in the NSC reorganization. If they are seen as the president’s people in an administration that obviously strongly values such links and are empowered to include congressional concerns rather than ignore them, they may be able to help create a more cohesive U.S. national security policy.
David Isby is a Washington-based author and consultant on national security issues.