Bannon is prejudiced, unfit for Security Council

Credit: Qingyi Dong/ Credit: Qingyi Dong/
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Last week, President Donald Trump added his controversial chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, the main advisory body within the White House that helps to plan and execute the president’s foreign policy. At the same time, the president removed the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence from the Principals Committee. This move, the latest in a series of mounting controversies surrounding Bannon, is outrageous and dangerous for three reasons. First, Bannon’s hateful and bigoted record makes him unfit to objectively advise the president on matters of national security and foreign policy. Second, Bannon lacks any experience or qualifications in foreign policy that would make him fit to serve in this capacity. Finally, Bannon’s explicitly political role within the Trump administration, coupled with the purging of apolitical officials like the Joint Chiefs, implies that Trump’s foreign policy decisions will be guided by political expedience, rather than national interest or security.

Bannon should not advise President Trump on issues of national security because his history of personal prejudice renders him incapable of making objective decisions in foreign affairs. Before joining Trump’s campaign, Bannon was the Chairman of Breitbart, a far-right political website with white-nationalist ties and a history of racist and sexist articles. Bannon also has his own history of making anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, anti-semitic, and misogynistic statements. Truthfully, these views make him unfit to serve in the White House in any capacity, because Bannon’s influential role within the Trump administration gives him a powerful national platform to push for regressive domestic policy changes that will harm immigrants, women, and religious and ethnic minorities in the United States.

But Bannon now has a platform from which he can export his extreme and dangerous ideology to the entire world. The president depends on the National Security Council to review the intelligence that the government gathers and to make decisions about how to protect the United States from foreign threats. This requires that members of the Principals Committee objectively assess the information they are provided, so the committee can create practical and well-grounded recommendations to the president. How can Bannon be trusted to objectively assess intelligence from a majority-Muslim nation given his well-documented history of anti-Muslim sentiment? Likewise, how can Bannon be trusted to provide level-headed council on Israel, when he criticized his daughters' school because of their Jewish classmates? Bannon’s worldview is clouded by prejudice, and that makes our nation less safe.

Bannon has no experience in foreign policy or national security. It’s striking that the president chose to remove from the National Security Council some of the nation’s foremost experts on military strategy and intelligence, namely, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Experience. Each of these public servants has decades of experience in assessing threats to national security and helping to shape the nation’s foreign policy and military strategy. Some argue that Bannon’s past military service is experience enough. However, Bannon only served for seven years, and he left the Navy over thirty years ago. Moreover, he was an officer charged with executing military strategy, not a strategist helping to shape it. Bannon’s role on the National Security Council is one normally reserved for generals.

Trump’s decision to reorganize the National Security Council is unacceptable because it sends a clear message that the White House intends to politicize the nation’s approach to security. Bannon’s role in the White House is as its chief political strategist. In other words, it’s his task to shape the administration’s message and public image. While the political strategists of previous administrations, such as Karl Rove and David Axelrod, have been informed on the National Security Council’s deliberations, neither sat on the Principals Committee or shaped the actual policies it created. By removing apolitical actors like the Joint Chiefs and replacing them with Bannon, Trump clearly plans to put his political image over the nation’s security. Protecting national security, setting military strategy, and shaping foreign policy all require hard choices, including decisions that might be unpopular with the public, who don’t have access to the classified information that contours the realities of such situations. As chief political strategist, Bannon’s role isn’t to make tough, unpopular decisions, but, in fact, to do just the opposite. Trump has demonstrated that he intends to put political expedience over national security, and that is unacceptable. He must remove Bannon and reinstate the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence.

While Congress doesn’t have the authority to remove Bannon from the White House entirely, they do have the power to reverse Trump’s decision regarding the National Security Council if he refuses to do so. Congress created the National Security Council with the 1947 National Security Act. That act designates several “statutory attendees” who are required by law to be included in its deliberations, including the Vice President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense. Congress should amend the act to include the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence as statutory attendees. In addition, Congress should amend the National Security Act to stipulate that no member of the president’s administration with an explicitly political role, such as the chief strategist, can be installed onto the Principals Committee. Steve Bannon, because of his prejudice, inexperience, and politicized role in the Trump Administration, makes the United States less safe. Congress must act to remove him from the National Security Council if Trump refuses to do it himself.