by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
First, McMaster must take charge of and reform the National Security Council (NSC). In light of Steve Bannon’s weird antics and Flynn’s feuding, the NSC needs clear leadership. Name aside, the key responsibility of a national-security adviser is to manage rather than advise. Whether it’s an intelligence assessment from the CIA or the NSA, or a threat report from the FBI or Department of Homeland Security, a sanctions-related concern from the Treasury Department or a foreign-relations crisis report from the State Department, McMaster will have to deal effectively with many different agencies. In recent years, few of McMaster’s predecessors have succeeded at doing so. Susan Rice, for example, effectively rendered the NSC a talking shop for President Obama’s impotence.
Reforming the NSC, McMaster should trim its bureaucratic fat and empower the best talent in the U.S. government. When, for example, a crisis develops in the Persian Gulf, McMaster should ensure that it is the best analysts at the State Department, CIA, or Pentagon — not the desk officer at the NSC — who brief the principals. This will quicken the government’s reaction, while also giving Trump the best possible options. Yes, the NSC bureaucracy (and indeed the bureaucracies at State, CIA, Defense, etc.) will resist these dilutions of their bureaucratic power. McMaster must face them down anyway.
To succeed, McMaster will also have to wear the suit of a civilian as well as he wears the uniform of an officer. As former Delta Force operations officer Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Jim Reese explained to me: ‘‘McMaster is a top-notch officer — one of the finest in the Army right now. He is aggressive, smart, and will sit down to make assessments. But McMaster has no experience outside the Army. And here’s my question: He might be a great leader but is he the right leader?’’ Reese observed that McMaster lacks private-sector experience, and that some four-star general officers might dislike taking directions from three-star McMaster.
Second, McMaster should take a foreign trip to Europe in order to consolidate U.S. allies.