Ousted, but Bannon remains influential

White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon's removal from the National Security Council (NSC) on Wednesday (April 5) is part of a staff reshuffling that elevated military, intelligence and Cabinet officials to greater roles on the council.
White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon's removal from the National Security Council (NSC) on Wednesday (April 5) is part of a staff reshuffling that elevated military, intelligence and Cabinet officials to greater roles on the council.PHOTO: REUTERS

Dropping chief strategist a 'natural evolution', says Pence

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES, REUTERS) - White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon's removal from the National Security Council (NSC) on Wednesday is part of a sweeping staff reshuffling that elevated military, intelligence and Cabinet officials to greater roles on the council.

But it has also left Mr Bannon less directly involved in shaping the administration's day-to-day national security policy.

The restructuring reflects the growing influence of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, an army three-star general who took over the post after retired general Michael Flynn was ousted in February and who is increasingly asserting himself over the flow of national security information in the White House.

Mr McMaster has become a blunt force within the administration who has made clear to several top officials and the President that he does not want the NSC to have any political elements.

Mr Bannon resisted the move, even threatening at one point to quit if it went forward, according to a White House official who, like others, insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mr Bannon's camp denied that he had threatened to resign and said the shift was a natural evolution, not a signal of any diminution of his outsize influence. Vice-President Mike Pence said the right-wing media mogul would continue to play an important role in policy and played down the shake-up as routine.

"This is just a natural evolution to ensure the National Security Council is organised in a way that best serves the President in resolving and making those difficult decisions," he said on Fox News.

Mr Bannon said in a statement that he had succeeded in returning the NSC back to its traditional role of coordinating foreign policy rather than running it. He cited Mr Barack Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice for why he advocated a change.

"Susan Rice operationalised the NSC during the last administration so I was put on NSC to ensure it was 'de-operationalised'. (Lieutenant) General McMaster has NSC back to its proper function," he said.

Mr Donald Trump's White House team has grappled with infighting and intrigue that have hobbled his young presidency.

Critics of Mr Bannon's role on the NSC said it gave too much weight in decision-making to someone who lacked foreign policy expertise.

US Representative Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, called the shift in the NSC a positive step that will help Mr McMaster "gain control over a body that was being politicised by Bannon's involvement".

"As the administration's policy over North Korea, China, Russia and Syria continues to drift, we can only hope this shake-up brings some level of strategic vision to the body," he said.

But despite his removal from the NSC, Mr Bannon remained as influential as ever.

"He is still involved in everything and still has the full confidence of the President but to be fair he can only do so much stuff," a Trump confidant said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mr Bannon's seat on the NSC's "principals' committee", a group that includes the secretaries of state, defence and other ranking aides, was taken by Mr Rick Perry who, as energy secretary, is charged with overseeing the US nuclear weapons arsenal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2017, with the headline 'Ousted, but Bannon remains influential'. Print Edition | Subscribe