The Corner

Implementation Problems — Did Steve Bannon Trump Trump’s Generals?

For those of us who were concerned that Steve Bannon is among the president’s closest and most powerful advisers, the selections of Generals Mattis and Kelly to key national security positions helped ease concerns. They are men of unimpeachable integrity and courage, and if Trump was wise enough to select them to run the departments of defense and homeland security, then we could hope that our nation’s most vital national security decisions would be made with sobriety and competence. 

Then, last week happened, and the Trump administration’s reasonable and defensible executive order blindsided allies, touched off confusion in the government, and led to bizarre and indefensible application to green card holders and those who’ve sacrificed for American soldiers overseas. 

Here’s item one:

It wasn’t until Friday — the day Trump signed the order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending all refugee admission for 120 days — that career homeland security staff were allowed to see the final details of the order, a person familiar with the matter said.

That doesn’t seem wise. And what about the application of the order green card holders? Here’s item two:

Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Their decision held that, on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US.

What about Trump’s generals? Here’s item three:

As President Trump signed a sweeping executive order on Friday, shutting the borders to refugees and others from seven largely Muslim countries, the secretary of homeland security was on a White House conference call getting his first full briefing on the global shift in policy.

Gen. John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, had dialed in from a Coast Guard plane as he headed back to Washington from Miami. Along with other top officials, he needed guidance from the White House, which had not asked his department for a legal review of the order.

Halfway into the briefing, someone on the call looked up at a television in his office. “The president is signing the executive order that we’re discussing,” the official said, stunned.

And, finally, item four:

Jim Mattis, the new secretary of defense, did not see a final version of the order until Friday morning, only hours before Mr. Trump arrived to sign it at the Pentagon.

Mr. Mattis, according to administration officials familiar with the deliberations, was not consulted by the White House during the preparation of the order and was not given an opportunity to provide input while the order was being drafted.

Let’s put this as plainly as possible. The hope that Trump’s best cabinet picks would have more influence than Steve Bannon just took a severe blow. His elevation to the principals committee of the National Security Council is also deeply troubling. The man who proudly announced that Breitbart was the “platform of the alt-right” shouldn’t even be working at the White House, much less potentially having a greater say on key homeland security and defense issues than Mattis or Kelly. 

Moreover, given the incompetence of the rollout was inexcusable. The chaos of the weekend was mostly avoidable, and the indignities visited on green card holders and others who should be gaining admission to the U.S. even under Trump’s order were entirely unnecessary. Even people who found most of the order reasonable were shocked at the obvious confusion. Governing isn’t just about ideas. Implementation matters, and nothing about the last 72 hours has given anyone any assurance that the truly hard work will be done well. 

During the campaign, Trump said he’d surround himself “only with the best and most serious people.” Show us, don’t tell us. If Steve Bannon is that close to the inner circle on decisions this crucial, then Trump is failing on a key promise. 

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