Donald Trump has elevated his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to a top national security post while downgrading the roles of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
The move adds Bannon to the “principals committee” of the National Security Council (NSC), a role usually filled by the defence and state secretaries and senior intelligence officials.
The White House also announced that meetings would only be attended by the director of national intelligence and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff if the “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed”.
The decision has caused uproar in the US political establishment, with Susan Rice, national security adviser under the Obama administration, calling it “stone cold crazy”.
The former chairman of ultra-Conservative media group Breitbart News has gradually manoeuvred himself to become Trump’s most trusted adviser.
“Bannon is a deft operator within the White House, and he has been praised by Republicans who view him sceptically as the most knowledgeable on policy around the President,” says the New York Times. He was the main instigator of Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations.
However, he has been accused of “running a cabal, almost like a shadow national security council”, by one intelligence official, who told the Foreign Policy website that Bannon was ensuring there was no paper trail or documentation of what was being discussed at prominent meetings in the White House.
Why the furore?
With this latest executive order, Bannon is “positioning himself not merely as a Svengali but as the de facto president”, said the New York Times in an editorial this week.
It added that “in giving Bannon an official role in national security policy making, Trump has not simply broken with tradition but has embraced the risk of politicising national security”.
David Rothkopf, who has written two histories of the NSC, told The Guardian that the decision would cause reverberations within the global security community.
Placing Bannon on the NSC, with his lack of national security experience, was a “radical” step, he said, adding: “It is not an overstatement to say we have a brewing crisis.”