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The Danger at Hand

February 14, 2017

The near midnight resignation of Mike Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor, is a hard blow for a new White House to absorb. But, the one advantage of democracies is the fact that people can be replaced. There are several good and competent replacements in the wings and in a matter of days a new National Security Advisor will be in place.

Unfortunately, there is a deeper, systemic, problem affecting all White House operations of a Trump Presidency and that is Donald Trump’s lack of preparedness to serve. Just about everyone who has served in a Presidential Administration understands that business acumen is not good preparation for government service.

Governments are managed by professional bureaucracies that have their own agenda, their own ideas, and mixed loyalties. When pressed to choose between the bureaucracy and the interests of elected officials, most bureaucrats will choose the bureaucracy. For example, at the end of every fiscal year, unspent funds allocated to each agency by Congress constitute what is called the “end of the year bubble.”

No bureaucrat, if true to his calling, will return those unexpended funds to the U.S. Treasury. Extreme and frantic efforts will be taken to spend each and every last remaining dollar.

That is a bureaucratic imperative, and there is nothing in a businessman’s life experience to prepare him to counter the imperatives of the permanent government.  The professional ranks of government bureaucracies are populated by well educated, trained, persons whose political views are similar to the views of the ranks of college Faculty. In other words, they are Liberals or Socialists, and very few are political conservatives. You can’t rely on them to carry out policies of Republican Administrations.

The only way to enforce the policies of an elected Republican President is to install like-minded political appointees in key divisions of each agency. After Watergate, legislation was passed to require background checks, FBI field investigations and financial reports of every political appointee. That can take twelve to fifteen months to process key nominees.

In other words, even if every Trump Cabinet Secretary starts today to bring in his own people, not many will be in place until February 2018. Since President Trump is filling his Administration with business professionals, it is likely that the permanent bureaucracy will control all four years of this Administration.

That is not the worst that may happen. The worst that may happen is that President Trump will not educate himself about policy and will assume that in foreign affairs he can personally fashion policy by establishing personal relations with other national leaders. As I pointed out in this space on January 28, diplomacy requires the skills of diplomats, not the deal-making skills of entrepreneurs. Foreign policy is the one area of government where “personal” relations are not important.

That is the danger at hand, not the resignation of Mike Flynn.

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