From the White House website, February 10, 2014:
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CHANGING THE NAME OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY STAFF
TO THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFF
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to reflect my decision to change the name of the National Security Staff to the National Security Council staff, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Name Change. All references to the National Security Staff or Homeland Security Council Staff in any Executive Order or Presidential directive shall be understood to refer to the staff of the National Security Council…
And it continues briefly bureaucratic. See it all here if you wish.
Monday’s Executive Order undoes the never-really-accepted early administration decision to call the newly combined NSC staff and HSC (Homeland Security Council) staff the National Security Staff.
This NSS fig leaf was mostly an awkward reminder of a brief dalliance with a sort of security separate from the defense-foreign policy-intelligence community condominium. Rather as if someone from the Upper East Side had married into a family with a double-wide.
Finally we can put that foolishness aside. Rather than silly fig-leafs, the virility and fertility of the National Security state can be proudly displayed. The executive order merely confirming continuing practice and the strong preference of staffers.
As someone who abides in that homeland security double-wide all I can really say is that the national security types are smart, capable, and know how to play the policy and power game better than me. They are tougher than I am and much better networked. They won this battle — well, for them barely a skirmish — hands-down. If they had the time or inclination to notice, I would offer my hand in congratulation.
This may strike some as passive-aggressive. I hope instead it reflects a balance of realism and pride that persists even in losing an important contest.
I still believe what I told the House Homeland Security Committee back in April 2009. Here’s an excerpt of my testimony:
For more than fifty years, the National Security Council has ably served the Commander-in-Chief. Every element of the NSC’s organizational DNA reflects the responsibilities and power of the Commander-in-Chief. In foreign and defense policy –and the intelligence agencies supporting foreign and defense policy – the President’s authority is preeminent. The NSC has been a creature of that preeminence. Even with the legal, budgetary, and direct command-and-control authority of the President, the NSC can have difficulty doing what is needed to coordinate defense, foreign affairs, and intelligence policy. But after fifty years there is an authoritative NSC institutional ethos that well serves the President and the nation.
This same ethos will often be counter-productive in solving Homeland Security problems… For the purposes of domestic counter-terrorism and prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery the authority of the Commander-in-Chief is not what matters. Most of the Governors will not respond positively to a command and control approach. Neither will the Adjutants General, nor County Sheriffs, nor most Mayors, nor police chiefs, nor emergency managers, and then there is the private sector that actually owns most of our critical infrastructure. These are partners who must be cultivated.
Some have argued that more of a command-and-control culture is needed to motivate sufficient attention to domestic counterterrorism. It is true that many local jurisdictions across the United States do not give sufficient priority to counterterrorism. But we cannot command them to do otherwise. We cannot even pay them enough to do otherwise. If we are serious about preventing latter day Beslans or Mumbais – or worse, we must do the hard work of communicating, cooperating, building relationships, developing trust, and engaging together in meaningful local and regional risk analysis. Only when state and local authorities are ready – of their own volition – to invest time, energy, and their own dollars into consistent counterterrorism work will we be closer to real defense-in-depth regarding the terrorist threat.
Local authorities are – not unreasonably – actively engaged with disasters that threaten with some regularity: floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes… each place and each region is different. They are not inclined to give sufficient attention to threats that are outside the pattern. They tend to undervalue a whole continuum of catastrophic possibilities: intentional, accidental, and natural. Given limited financial and human resources this tendency is understandable. Given recent financial extremities the tendency has been exacerbated.
The Federal government can and should play a role in helping ensure reasonable local attention to catastrophic possibilities – including terrorism. The federal government can play this role through consulting, educating, training, making grants, and through a variety of other mechanisms. When the federal government engages state and local authorities –and private sector — as peers and fellow professionals, the response will usually be productive. Ordering or even paying state and local professionals to do something they don’t believe in tends to produce very creative avoidance behavior.
These practical issues reflect in a wonderful way our constitutional system. We are dramatically reminded that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, not the nation. We are forced to recall that we are – even now – a federal union of sovereign states… and a robust society of free peoples who do not salute any master.
Re-reading this testimony five years later I am a bit embarrassed by the prose, but the experience of these years have further reinforced my judgment regarding the substance.
The contentious issue at hand is not a matter of intention or capability, but culture. I love the Upper East Side. I spend all the time I can at the Met, Guggenheim, elsewhere near-by. And at my home in the mountains our nearest neighbor does, indeed, live in a double-wide. Each of these worlds is real. Each is vitally important to our common future. Each tends to disdain each and in the process our shared strength is diminished.