Empowering the New National Security Advisor

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General Michael Flynn’s resignation and the selection of H.R. McMaster as the new National Security Advisor has brought the roles and responsibilities of this position into sharp relief.  As a former official who has served as the top East Asia member of the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush, as the top CIA analyst on China, and as the editor of the President’s Daily Brief, I have spent a great deal of time in meetings in the Situation Room (most often as a backbencher) and in thinking about the system for national security decision-making and the role of the Intelligence Community in that process.  The issues faced by President Donald Trump’s national security team are not new but the President’s unconventional style confronts the new National Security Advisor with some unique challenges.

It is said that President Trump prefers an improvisational operating style in which he is the hub and hears competing views directly from different advisors before making a major decision.  If true, it will be incumbent on his new National Security Advisor to conform to his preference to find the most effective foreign policy decision-making approach.  The competition of ideas in national security is desirable and necessary, but it must be orderly and transparent to participants in the national security policy process—with the National Security Advisor as the honest broker to keep the game fair.  On several occasions, I witnessed Cabinet members meet privately with the President to get a decision from him before they even consulted the National Security Advisor. 

The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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