Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947 in response to the rise of Communism and the Soviet Union’s growing global threat. In general, the postwar legislation is credited with having created our modern national security apparatus. The Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council all came to exist to ameliorate the problems that the United States experienced in the early days of fighting World War II, when a lack of coordination and disjointed efforts sometimes hampered our war plans.
In order to prevent that kind of problem from recurring during the Cold War (and to better manage the complex requirements of national defense in the nuclear age), the National Security Act put the National Security Council at the heart of this new national defense system. It was designed to be the mechanism through which all of the various agencies involved in national security met and disseminated their institution’s views on a given problem the country was facing.
The national security adviser would then iron out the problems they faced—and analyze the various opinions proffered by the intelligence, military, and diplomatic communities—so that he might then advise the president. This was known in bureaucratese as the “interagency process.” And, when the interagency process works well, the country is made safer while the president can manage global problems that threaten Americans more easily.
Over the years, the interagency process has become increasingly mismanaged and far too complex. Plus, in the post-Cold War era, organizations not traditionally involved in the national security policy-making realm—such as the Department of Commerce—have become critical players in this arena. Given the changing nature of our threats, sometimes this involvement is legitimate. In other instances, however, it is as dubious as the Environmental Protection Agency’s involvement in national security discussions because of “anthropogenic climate change,” and its alleged threat to national security.
Of course, the more one dilutes true foreign and national security policy, the more unmanageable that process becomes—and the more likely it is that mistakes will be made.
Take for example, the Iraq War of 2003. That was as much a failure of the interagency process as it was anything else. While Condoleezza Rice is certainly a bright and patriotic woman, she was ill-suited for the role of national security adviser—especially when having to contend with the titans of the first term George W. Bush Administration foreign policy team—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and even CIA Director George Tenet.
Each one of these men had their own agendas, alliances, and ability to access the president. Further, all of them worked simultaneously to mollify the national security adviser, in order to push their cherry-picked version of the facts in Iraq. Had a more seasoned, skilled, and respected person managed the national security process (Rumsfeld is rumored to have once famously referred to Rice as a “glorified Russian Studies graduate student”), things might have turned out differently for the George W. Bush administration in Iraq.
Fact is, since the original National Security Act of 1947 was passed, the world—and the requirements for national security—have changed immeasurably. Meanwhile, our most important institutions for national defense have only gotten larger (but not necessarily better at defending the country). They’ve become pigs—led by bureaucratic sheep—in a world of wolves. And pigs get slaughtered.
A new National Security Act is needed. With the new National Security Act:
- redundant government functions could be eliminated,
- legacy agencies, such as the CIA, would be forced to return to their original purview of being the world’s premier analytical agency (as opposed to a major paramilitary organization),
- entire departments, such as Commerce and State could be fused together (since diplomacy and trade go hand-in-hand these days),
- a new branch of the military dealing exclusively with space could be formed,
- Congress could be given a real seat at the national security policy table,
- and all of our agencies could be pared down, making them more efficient.
After all, we live in a paradoxical era of massive integration through increasingly decentralized systems. The old order of centralization through massive bureaucracy is dead. Large, bloated bureaucracies have been perpetuated not because of their importance to national security, but because of their popularity as a source for highly prized federal jobs. In our increasingly multipolar, complex, and decentralized world, the United States needs to learn the lessons of the last 30 years and recognize that terrorism, small, rogue states, and economic competitors are real threats. We need to fashion a national security infrastructure as prepared to handle these new threats today as the one we fashioned to handle the Soviet threat yesterday.
It’s time for fundamental reform in America’s national security structure. Only an innovative, unorthodox leader like President Donald Trump can get Congress to do this. If he doesn’t, we will continue to have massive intelligence and strategic failures, like we did in Iraq.