Why Steve Bannon is on the NSC

When Stephen Bannon, assistant and chief strategist to Pres. Trump, was named a “regular attendee” of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, co-equal to members of the NSC who must be Senate confirmed, the defenses from Trump-friendly pundits tended to fall within two categories.

First, defenders noted that Bannon’s status as as an “invitee” of the NSC and a a “regular attendee” of the Principals Committee does not legally require Senate confirmation.  This is correct, although this will not change Bannon’s influence over the NSC’s process and outcomes.

Second, Bannon was compared to Obama political advisor David Axelrod, though the Axe claims he merely observed the Principals Committee debate over U.S. strategy in the war with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  According to Axelrod, he and other political types did not attend regular meetings of the Principals Committee or their deputies and were not invited to weekly meetings on terrorist threats.

Trump aides have suggested Bannon is qualified for these roles based on his former Naval service or his experience at Breitbart, but I don’t think anyone else is taking those claims seriously.

So why have Bannon on the NSC?  The answer may rest in inverting the second concern regarding people like Axelrod.

Trump ran and won on a nationalistic “America First” worldview that elevates certain domestic political interests over supposedly more “globalist” concerns (and other domestic concerns that go unmentioned).  This was apparent not only regarding issues like immigration and trade, but also in a foreign policy motivated by a less interventionist impulse than other recent administrations.

Given the degree to which the administration’s skepticism of internationalism represents a break with the status quo, perhaps we should not be surprised that Trump wants Bannon representing this perspective during the NSC’s deliberations.

NSC decisions may be life-or-death for our troops.  Past administrations always sought to signal that those decisions would not be tainted by politics.  The administration has not argued that the politicization of the NSC is a feature, not a bug.  That’s probably because it sounds bad.  But it seems to be the real argument for having Bannon on the NSC.

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