Its winter wonderland blogging from DC! It looks like we’ve got about 6 inches of snow on the ground so far, and its still falling. The University is on a delayed opening, so my morning class is canceled, leaving some time for NSC blogging.
Late last week, the Obama NSC released NSPD-1, the traditional presidential order structuring the National Security Council membership, committees, and operating procedures. As was promised, Obama has significantly expanded the NSC membership, inviting the Attorney General, secretaries of Energy and Homeland Security, and Ambassador to the UN as standing members. The directive also reformulates the inter-agency committees / working groups that serve to formulate and coordinate policy at the working level, leaving the NSC in charge of these. The net effect is further centralization of the policy process through the White House, continuing a longstanding trend in the management of US foreign policy. Presidents since Kennedy have used the NSC to try to tame the bureaucracy, with varying results. The NSC, however, has always ended up accruing power at the expense of the agencies.
You can read the full NSPD-1 as a PDF here.
The big winners? Jim Jones is now in the catbird seat, poised to become one of the most consequential National Security Advisers in a generation. The White House policy coordinating apparatus is strengthened. The WH Counselor can attend any meeting. The US Ambassador to the UN gets a significantly increased profile—from sub-cabinet to full cabinet—and the Energy Department has a new-found seat at the table. The NEC, as if he didn’t have enough to deal with already, also gets a prominent seat at the table.
The losers? State, which had been the default chair department for working-level groups loses that privilege to the NSC. The Homeland Security apparatus also loses, as many of its responsibilities are folded into the NSC.
Again, as I argued earlier, this matters significantly in that all our decision-making theories of foreign policy clearly show that the decision-making process a president uses significantly shapes policy. As SecDef Gates said over the weekend, Obama already has a markedly different style from Bush, he’s much more “analytical,” and calls on people to make sure all views are heard in a meeting. Obama’s emerging style might prevent the breakdown of the inter-agency process under Bush, where one agency could end-run another, and dissenting views vanished into the ether. Obviously its unwise to make concrete predictions based on one document (as events have a way of overtaking the best-laid plans), but this key document does give a powerful glimpse into the inner-workings of the Obama Administration.