WASHINGTON – Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Carter, and Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush, said President Obama’s national security team should be reduced in size.
“Kennedy’s national security adviser had a staff probably just a little larger than the number of deputies to the national security adviser in the present administration,” said Brzezinski during a discussion moderated by David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP Group at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The event was named after his new book titled National Insecurity: Making U.S. Foreign Policy in an Age of Fear.
Brzezinski said his staff, Scowcroft’s staff and Henry Kissinger’s staff were much smaller than the national security team in the Obama administration.
“We had staffs roughly in terms of 40, 50 – take a few as senior officers who were responsible for different issues in parts of the world. Today, the NSC staff writ large is well over 300 people – that creates a bureaucracy, which the national security adviser finds difficult to run directly,” Brzezinski said.
“I used to make sure that my 40 people would be in touch with me every day either in person or in writing so when I would go home while in the limo, I would read the daily report, which I required every one of them to write, indicating what they did, who they talked to, what problems they confronted,” he added.
Brzezinski said he would write notes on the reports, which the staff would receive the next morning.
“This is impossible today, absolutely impossible, so responses tend to be much more ad hoc, much more sudden,” he said.
Scowcroft, president of the Scowcroft Group, shared the same view as Brzezinski.
“The first thing you need to do fundamentally is reduce somewhat the size because when you’ve got 350 people, you’ve got a management issue. The NSC should not be managing. It’s a thought-processing system and you can’t have 350 people sitting down and making the policy,” said Scowcroft.
Joshua Bolten, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, also agreed with Scowcroft and Brzezinski about cutting the size of the White House national security staff.
“Shed the stuff that isn’t absolutely critical to the presidency and to the country and just trust the Defense Department and the State Department, they’ll mess up but they probably won’t do a whole lot better with the White House’s 10 percent intervention,” he said.
Bolten also said the Obama administration has defined itself “far too much” as not being like the previous administration.
“It can’t be a strategic priority to be not like the other guy, and I think that’s led us into a lot of difficulty and problems,” he said.
Bolten also recommended the Obama administration “turn down the politics a bit.” He said Bush would never allow political advisers to come to national security meetings, let alone speak at them.
“This intelligence community, of which I’m only an adjunct member, is actually very nonpartisan, folks. Folks are really trying to hard to support each other,” Bolten said. “The White House sends the wrong signal when it gives the impression, sometimes even the misimpression, that important national security decisions are being made with a heavy political calculus.”
Rothkoptf told the audience the intelligence community worked best in the last few years of the Bush administration.
Rothkoptf also said management experience is missing in Washington at this time.
“We don’t value management experience in Washington. The common misconception in Washington is if you can articulate an idea, you can get something done, that’s just not true,” he said.
“You need a president who knows where to go. You need a president who knows how to manage,” he added.