H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, has opted to reverse the decision of predecessor Gen. Michael Flynn who, during his brief tenure as NSA, decided to exclude senior National Security Council (NSC) officials from the president’s phone calls with foreign leaders.
According to reports from POLITICO, senior officials were allowed back into the Situation Room on Monday and Tuesday alongside deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland for phone calls with leaders from Israel, Japan, Kenya, and South Korea.
McMaster reportedly asked NSC staff for their feedback in regards to current procedures, and the response included an overwhelming number who felt their absence in the Oval Office during state calls “was a pretty consistent issue,” according to NSC spokesman Michael Anton.
Under past administrations, a senior director for the region and the country director would be in the room alongside the national security adviser and the president.
Brian McKeon, former executive secretary and chief of staff for the National Security Council under President Obama, told POLITICO:
‘If there’s an issue that the president wasn’t prepared for, he would look around the room for guidance.’
Sandy Vershbow, senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, echoed similar sentiments:
‘In previous administrations, the senior director almost always would be in the Oval Office and brief the president for a few minutes prior to the call, assessing what the foreign leader would likely say and explaining U.S. objectives. He or she would then listen in and scribble a note if something unexpected came up.’
Although the president is briefed prior to phone calls with foreign leaders, it’s still important he have aid available should he need it. Brett Bruen, the former NSC director of global engagement under President Obama, said professional staff’s involvement is extremely important in regards to diplomacy:
‘Their involvement shouldn’t be optional or occasional. Heads of state calls are the highest-stakes form of diplomacy. Without the participation of those who know the issues, they can easily and quickly enter minefields. If the president can’t immediately turn to a regional expert for clarifications or questions when he’s talking with foreign leaders we may find ourselves in a very difficult or dangerous place.’
The removal of NSC officials from the Situation Room was thought to be a way for President Trump to differentiate his style of governing from former President Barack Obama.
After all, chief strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus, and adviser Jared Kushner have all have been present for most of Trump’s calls with foreign leaders.
Following Flynn’s resignation last month, McMaster assumed the position of national security adviser to the president. McMaster seems to take a different approach to the job, and has already rolled back several efforts put in place by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, including the elimination of two positions on the National Security Council (NSC). McMaster removed both the deputy assistant position supervising the regional desks of the NSC as well as one responsible for overseeing transnational affairs.
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