"Be selective about whom you take on as friends, colleagues, and neighbors. The world is full of agreeable and talented folk. The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best. But remember that our moral influence is a two-way street, and we should thus make sure by our own thoughts, words, and deeds to be a positive influence on those we deal with. The real test of personal excellence lies in the attention we give to the often neglected small details of our conduct. Make it your business to draw out the best in others by being an exemplar yourself."
Opinion | Robert C. O'Brien: Here's how I will streamline Trump's National Security Council
The Washington Post · by
Robert C. O'Brien is national security adviser.
In the three years since President Trump's election, the United States has seized the initiative from its adversaries all over the world. We decimated the Islamic State as a military force. The president fulfilled a campaign promise to walk away from the nuclear deal with Iran, which was funding terrorism. He restored America's partnerships with Israel and with Arab governments both to constrain Iran and to protect U.S. interests in the Middle East without drawing the country into another ground war.
The president used a firm hand with Moscow, expelling Russian spies, increasing sanctions,
closing Russian consulates
and providing arms to Ukraine. With North Korea, he combined maximum economic pressure and military deterrence with a willingness to engage in personal diplomacy to advance peace.
Most important, as outlined in his
2017 National Security Strategy
, the president has begun aligning our foreign and national security policies with the principal challenge facing the United States: prolonged peacetime competition with great powers such as China.
Put simply, the president has executed a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy to ensure that it recognizes and protects the concrete interests of the American people. As his
new national security adviser
, I have commenced changes to the National Security Council staff designed to assist the president as he continues to execute his foreign policy vision for the country.
For most of the United States' history, presidents ran national security and foreign policy by overseeing the State Department, the Navy Department and the War Department. After World War II, defending America in the modern world required new intelligence agencies, the unification of the armed services under a massive new Defense Department, and later the creation of new civilian organizations with some defense functions, such as NASA and the Energy Department.
Congress created the National Security Council to assist presidents in managing the complexities of this expansion of the federal government. The 1947
establishing the NSC, which originally consisted of the president, vice president, and the secretaries of state and defense,
: "The function of the Council shall be to advise the president with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security."
The word "advise" is fundamentally important. While the statutory members of the NSC, in some cases, run departments that execute foreign policy, the NSC staff at the White House was intended to coordinate policy rather than run it. My job as the national security adviser is to distill and present to the president the views and options that come from the various departments and agencies. The NSC then ensures that those agencies actually execute the president's decisions. This is the "honest broker" model of the national security adviser, best personified by Brent Scowcroft, who held the post during both the Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush administrations.
During the Obama administration, the NSC ballooned to well
over 200 policy staffers
. By comparison, a mere
12 NSC policy staffers
helped President John F. Kennedy deal with the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. As President Jimmy Carter handled multiple crises in the late 1970s, the NSC staff totaled just 35 professionals. During the first term of the George W. Bush administration, with two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan underway, the policy staff was about 100 people.
After consulting several of my predecessors and analyzing the NSC's current configuration, I have determined that the agency can and should be streamlined, and in the process restoring the NSC to its historical mission.
With the president's approval, we will reduce the NSC staff, making it more effective by reaffirming its mission to coordinate policy and ensure policy implementation. The NSC staff should not, as it has in the past, duplicate the work of military officers, diplomats or intelligence officers. With that in mind, we will be able to reduce 174 policy positions to under 120 by early 2020.
We will further combine some functional directorates that duplicate other White House offices, while refocusing our emphasis on the directorates that cover geographic regions, which have traditionally been the heart of the NSC. The international economics team, for example, will now rightly be managed by Larry Kudlow, director of the president's National Economic Council.
To achieve these policy staffing goals, we will eliminate existing vacancies and consolidate duplicative positions. The great majority of the men and women who serve on the NSC staff, most of whom are detailed from other departments and agencies, will complete their standard tour of duty.
Rightsizing the NSC staff reflects the president's vision for a lean, efficient government that is focused on the core national interests of the United States.
De Oppresso Liber,
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Personal Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.
If you do not read anything else in the 2017 National Security Strategy read this on page 14:
"A democracy is only as resilient as its people. An informed and engaged citizenry is the fundamental requirement for a free and resilient nation. For generations, our society has protected free press, free speech, and free thought. Today, actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies. Adversaries target media, political processes, financial networks, and personal data. The American public and private sectors must recognize this and work together to defend our way of life. No external threat can be allowed to shake our shared commitment to our values, undermine our system of government, or divide our Nation."