Tuesday 16 January 2018

Controversial White House strategist Bannon dropped from US security council

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Photo: REUTERS
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Photo: REUTERS

Steve Holland

US President Donald Trump removed his chief strategist Steve Bannon from the National Security Council yesterday, reversing his controversial decision early this year to give a political adviser an unprecedented role in security discussions.

Mr Trump's overhaul of the NSC, which was confirmed by a White House official, also saw the elevation of General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence who heads all 17 US intelligence agencies.

The official said the change moves the NSC "back to its core function of what it's supposed to do".

It also appears to mark a victory by national security adviser Herbert McMaster, who had told some national security experts that he felt he was in a battle to the death with Mr Bannon and others on the White House staff.

Mr Trump's White House team has grappled with infighting and palace intrigue.

In recent days, several other senior US foreign policy and national security officials have said that the mechanisms for shaping the Trump administration's response to pressing challenges such as Syria, North Korea and Iran were still not in place.

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.

Before joining the Trump administration, Mr Bannon headed 'Breitbart News', a right-wing website.

The White House official said Mr Bannon was no longer needed on the NSC after the departure of Mr Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Mr Flynn was forced to resign in February over his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, prior to Mr Trump taking office on January 20.

The official said Mr Bannon had been placed on the NSC originally as a check on Mr Flynn and had only ever attended one of the NSC's regular meetings.

The White House official dismissed questions about a power struggle between Mr Bannon and Lt Gen McMaster, and said that they shared the same world view.

However, two current national security officials rejected the White House explanation, noting that two months have passed since Mr Flynn's departure.

Lt Gen McMaster, they said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, has also duelled with Mr Bannon and others over direct access to Mr Trump; the future of deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, a former Fox News commentator; intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Mr Flynn appointee; and other staffing decisions.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, is preparing for his first face-to-face meeting today and tomorrow with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The threat of North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes will be a key component of their talks.

Irish Independent

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