Thursday, August 03, 2017

Does Trump Really Want a Chief of Staff?

Updates: August 4, 2017. Glenn Thrush, Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan, "John Kelly Quickly Moves to Impose Military Discipline on White House," New York Times, August 4, 2017, p. A1 ("Among Mr. Kelly's immediate challenges: brokering peace between warring factions in the West Wing; plugging leaks about internal activities; establishing a disciplined policy-making process; and walling off the Rusia investigation. . . . On Capitol Hill, Mr. Kelly is viewed with a mix of admiration for his long military service and disappointment that he has been too willing to embrace and defend Mr. Trump's more controversial policies, especially on illegal immigration."

Leon Panetta, "How John Kelly Can Fix the White House," Washington Post, August 4, 2017 ("The elements critical to improving White House operations are pretty basic: 1. Trust. . . . 2. One chief. . . . 3. A clear chain of command. . . . 4. An orderly policy-development process. . . . 5. Telling the president the truth. . . ..")

August 5, 2017. Although I almost never bring my own (now grown) children into these blog posts, reason for exception has come to my attention. My eldest son caught a line in the post below that encouraged him to involve two of the others as well. If you're curious as to what all of this is about, go down to HERE.

August 7, 2017. Jennifer Rubin, "Kelly Can't Fix Trump's Biggest Problems," Washington Post, August 7, 2017 (which concludes, "In sum, Kelly can improve White House discipline but until he is empowered to can Bannon, prompt the president to replace incompetent secretaries and senior advisers with seasoned hands, instill an atmosphere where truth and integrity are paramount and get past the scrutiny of the special counsel, his changes will be limited and wholly insufficient.")

Contents

Military
General John Kelly
Militarization
Chief of Staff
Executive Office of the President

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It has not been, as Garrison Keillor would say, "A quiet week in Lake Wobegon." Indeed, as Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker described it, "Donald Trump has had . . . his worst week since the last one." [Kathleen Parker, "President Donald Trump's Iceberg Looms," The Gazette, August 1, 2017, p. A5.]

Six months into his presidency, President Trump may have come to the realization a Chief of Staff might be a useful addition to his White House.

Time will tell whether he really wants, and can work with one -- General John Kelly.

The Military Frankly, I think the very best people in our military are among America's best and brightest. Those I'm thinking of are experienced, disciplined, thoughtful professionals, schooled in much more than military history, organization, and operations.
Such as Napoleon's command and control (C2) organization: "Napoleon had an understanding of concepts in organizational design that would not be realized until they became areas of study in the twentieth century" -- an understanding of which is often relevant to some of General Kelly's challenges. [Norman L. Durham, "The Command and Control of the Grand Armee: Napoleon as Organizational Designer," Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, June 2009.]
They have the kind of comprehension of a broad liberal arts and sciences education that would make any college dean proud.

Rather than civilian restraint on the military, it is these military officers who restrain civilian leaders who believe "whatever is the problem, war is the answer." Their "Powell Doctrine" is analogous, for war, to a banker's insistence on a rational "business plan" for startups.
Here's one expression of the Powell Doctrine's checklist: "What’s the problem, or challenge? What’s our goal? Is it sufficiently important, clearly defined, and understood? Why will military force contribute to, rather than impede, its accomplishment? What possibly more effective non-military alternatives are there? What are the benefits and costs, gains and losses, risks and rewards? What will it require in troops, materiel, lives, and treasure? How long will it take? Are the American people and their congress supportive? How about the local population where we’ll be fighting? Do we know their language, culture, history, tribal and social structure? What are the metrics for evaluating if we’re “successful”? What, then, is our exit strategy? After we leave, will things be better than now, the same, or become progressively worse?" [Six Step Program for Avoiding War," November 11, 2014.]
General John Kelly appears to be such a military officer. At 67, he's enjoyed a 47-year upward trajectory through the military. In addition to a degree from the University of Massachusetts, he has attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, School for Advanced Warfare, National War College, and Army Infantry Officer Advanced Course. [Photo credit: Department of Defense.]

A Marine, he has served as an infantry company commander, on aircraft carriers, and in two tours leading troops in Iraq.

He has held chief-of-staff-type positions for the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and Secretary of Defense. He's had more legislative experience than most on Trump's team, including a four-year stint as Liaison Officer to the U.S. House of Representatives (1995-99) and three-years as Legislative Assistant to the Commandant (2004-07).

His last military assignment was Commander, US Southern Command (see description immediately below). When appointed Trump's Chief of Staff he was serving as Secretary, Department of Homeland Security. [For detail see, John F. Kelly, Former Commander, U.S. Southern Command" U.S. Department of Defense, Biographies.]
"The Commander in Chief of SOUTHCOM is responsible for all U.S. military activities on the landmasses of Central and South America, the island nations of the Caribbean, and the surrounding waters south of Mexico. . . . Brazil is larger than the continental United States; Peru is three times the size of California. There are 32 sovereign nations in this theater [with] social and political systems appropriate to its culture and circumstances. SOUTHCOM is a joint command comprised of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine elements. Headquarters SOUTHCOM . . . includes representatives from the Department of State, DEA, DIA, NSA, the Coast Guard, and Customs." US Southern Command
For balance, two points should be noted. (1) There's nothing to prepare someone for the White House Chief of Staff job. The responsibilities of a military officer with specific place and job description in a chain of command are of some but limited value. And a position as the single administrative head of a cabinet-level department also involves a relatively limited mission (even for the Department of Homeland Security, which has one of the greatest variety of agencies), and relatively broad range of personal authority. The position as Commander, Southern Command, probably comes closest, since it requires some knowledge, and ability to deal effectively with, the history, culture and politics of 32 nations while considering the politics of the Department of Defense, Congress, and the White House.

"Any chief of staff must find the tricky balance between serving the president and managing the building, between being an adviser and being a boss -- tasks all the more challenging in President Trump's faction-filled White House. . . . [The task most daunting is] imposing discipline on a president who evidently wants no part of it. . . . 'Whether it's General Kelly or Reince Priebus . . . the reason the White House is failing is not because of staff. It's because of the president himself. This is like rearranging deck chairs on a Titanic.' [Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif, on CNN.] [General Kelly's experience] 'in national security [is] a very different matter than someone who has to navigate all the crosscurrents of dealing with [domestic politics, Capitol Hill, and] dealing with a president who just can't throw his phone away and stop tweeting,' [John D. Podesta, former Pres. Clinton chief of staff, on ABC's "This Week].") [Peter Baker, "Sage Advice From the 'Gold Standard' of White House Chiefs of Staff," New York Times, July 31, 2017, p. A12.]

(2) There has been some concern about his handling of immigrants while Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. "On Capitol Hill, Mr. Kelly is viewed with a mix of admiration for his long military service and disappointment that he has been too willing to embrace and defend Mr. Trump's more controversial policies, especially on illegal immigration." [Glenn Thrush, Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan, "John Kelly Quickly Moves to Impose Military Discipline on White House," New York Times, August 4, 2017, p. A1.] Thomas E. Ricks, "Are U.S. Immigration Centers the Next Abu Ghraib?", New York Times, 28 23 February 28, 2017, p. A23 -- made a little more chilling by the fact he was General Mattis' Deputy Commander in Iraq at the time of Abu Ghraib. See, "Getting Away With Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees," Human Rights Watch Report, April 23, 2005.

Militarization Having praised General Kelly, there's an issue deserving of mention: the militarization of a civilian government. The founders of our nation were well versed in history, and the risks of giving too much power to the military. They placed the power to declare war in the Congress, not the president. [U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8.11 (The Congress shall have power . . . To declare War . . ..).] They forbid the creation of a standing army, by granting Congress the power, "To raise and support Armies," while limiting Congress' ability to fund them "for a longer Term than two Years." [Article I, Section 8.12.] They provided that the president, not a general, "shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States . . .." [U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 2.1.]

As Democracy Now! has reported, "Trump Has Appointed More Generals in His Cabinet Than Any President Since World War II," Democracy Now, December 16, 2016. Notwithstanding the special concern about maintaining "civilian control of the military," President Trump even selected General James "Mad Dog" Mattis as his Secretary of the Defense Department. General H.R. McMaster, Trump's National Security Advisor, replaced another General, Michael Flynn. And now his Chief of Staff is General John Kelly.

That's not to say any of these appointments were illegal (so far as I know), but they are made more problematical by President Trump's seeming total delegation to the military the formulation and execution of military policy and missions. "President Trump has let the military know that the buck stops with them, not him. . . . [W]ith the new freedoms come new dangers for the military, including the potential of increased civilian casualties, and the possibility that Mr. Trump will shunt blame for things that go wrong to the Pentagon." [Helene Cooper, "Trump Gives Military New Freedom. But With That Comes Danger," New York Times, April 5, 2017.]

"Chief of Staff" is one of many titles sometimes assigned to an aide many executives find essential. There are more details and tasks than one person can manage. Hiring a team of assistants simply multiplies the number of persons to deal with -- and can create additional conflicts (either deliberate or unintended). A chief of staff can function as a communications funnel, and impose a management by exception reporting -- bringing to the executive only what is going exceptionally well or badly, and decisions they've agreed the executive must make.

The closest to a presidential "chief of staff," though without that title, began with President George Washington's "Private Secretary." Originally paid by the presidents, in 1857 Congress created a paid position for "Private Secretary at the White House." During the first half of the Twentieth Century there were titles like "Secretary to the President," "Appointments Secretary," "Press Secretary," and "Personal Secretary to the President."

President Dwight Eisenhower's principal secretary was designated "Chief of Staff" in 1961, and the position became a permanent fixture during the Nixon Administration.

How President Trump and Chief of Staff Kelly work together involves an apparent agreement regarding, among other things, controlling others' access to the Oval Office, and perhaps a more disciplined process for policy development than Trump's troublesome early morning tweets. The rest will evolve over time and occasionally come to our attention from media reports.

One of the most important functions I assigned my own "chief of staff" was what we called the "Dutch Uncle" role.
"A Dutch uncle is an informal term for a person who issues frank, harsh, or severe comments and criticism to educate, encourage, or admonish someone." ["Dutch Uncle," Wikipedia, which see for 16th Century history.]
I made it expressly clear that, not only would I tolerate criticism from my chief of staff, I demanded it. Anyone can occasionally drift into self-inflicted wounds, ill-considered ideas, insensitive behavior, or ineffective actions. Unless an executive makes clear a desire for independent judgment and criticism, the default, the presumption by staff members, will be that adoration and enthusiastic praise and agreement is what's desired.

President Trump would have been so much better off six months into his presidency had he been able to encourage someone to play that Dutch Uncle role for him. Whether he will accept it from General Kelly remains to be seen.

Trump's agreement, on Kelly's first day at work, to permit Kelly's firing of Anthony Scaramucci, is a positive sign.

One of the toughest challenges will be the children's currently unlimited access to the Oval Office. Ivanka Trump's tweet is troublesome: "Looking forward to serving alongside John Kelly as we work for the American people. General Kelly is a true American hero." Ivanka Trump Tweet, 31 July 2017, 12:00 PM. "Serving alongside"?

When I was in a position to do so, it never occurred to me to designate my own children as "advisers," have them apply for top secret clearances, and let them wander in and out of my office. But then, were I there now, it wouldn't occur to me to announce new policy through 140-character bursts in a Twitter account either. That Ivanka thinks her position in the organization chart is "alongside" the Chief of Staff may not end well.

There is much more that could (and has) been written about the potential tasks of a White House Chief of Staff.
"The duties of the White House chief of staff vary, yet traditionally encompass the following, such as: select and supervise key White House staff, control access to the Oval Office and the president, manage communications and information flow, and negotiate with Congress, executive branch agencies, and external political groups to implement the president’s agenda." [Rick Mathews, "White House Chief of Staff Isn't the Position You Think It Is," Mic Network Inc., January 24, 2013.]

Leon Panetta, "How John Kelly Can Fix the White House," Washington Post, August 4, 2017 ("The elements critical to improving White House operations are pretty basic: 1. Trust. . . . 2. One chief. . . . 3. A clear chain of command. . . . 4. An orderly policy-development process. . . . 5. Telling the president the truth. . . ..")

"In sum, Kelly can improve White House discipline but until he is empowered to can Bannon, prompt the president to replace incompetent secretaries and senior advisers with seasoned hands, instill an atmosphere where truth and integrity are paramount and get past the scrutiny of the special counsel, his changes will be limited and wholly insufficient."Jennifer Rubin, "Kelly Can't Fix Trump's Biggest Problems," Washington Post, August 7, 2017.
The White House, and its adjoining Executive Office of the President building staff, amount to a government within the government. Some of the most significant and powerful Executive Branch units are located here. The EOB has a budget of about $700 million, with a total payroll that usually runs between 2000 and 5000 personnel. (At 5000, that is larger than the population of 90% of Iowa's communities.) ["Size of the Executive Office of the President," The American Presidency Project.] This includes some 26 major units variously called "Office of," "Council of," and other titles (e.g., e.g., "Office of Management and Budget" and "Council of Economic Advisers"). [List at, "What Is the Role of the White House Chief of Staff," Education, Politics & Government, Dummies.com.]

For now, "Bow our heads and let us pray."

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Having Fun With Dad: A Family Challenge to My Memory

My eldest son, Sherman, whom I can usually count on to ensure that at least one person besides the author reads my blog, discovered the following line in this blog post (questioning the wisdom of President Trump's using family members as advisers):
"When I was in a position to do so, it never occurred to me to designate my own children as 'advisers,' have them apply for top secret clearances, and let them wander in and out of my office."
He fired off the following email to two of his siblings:
Did you catch this quote?:

"When I was in a position to do so, it never occurred to me to designate my own children as "advisers," have them apply for top secret clearances, and let them wander in and out of my office."

It 'never even occurred to him'.

Petty cold, huh?

I for one, think we would have made fine advisors. For example, on policy:

1) Staff can stay up as late as they want.
2) Ice cream for breakfast!
3) Boring meetings must be limited to 20 minutes, followed by cartoons!
4) Field trips, and lots of 'em.
5) Stuffed animals in every office.
6) Bowls of candy
7) Everyone gets a new bike!
To which Gregory replied:
In the 1970s, when Dad was at the FCC, I was an advisor to him. I'd go to the office with him every day — or maybe it was just one visit, I don’t recall clearly — and anyway, he’d ask me for all kinds of advice.

“Gregory, what television frequency would you recommend?”

“Frequency? Ummm. How about daily?”

Sometimes he’d leave me working at his desk, usually on important matters, but mostly just scribbling with a coloring book.

People would come to the door saying, “I’m looking for the Commissioner.”

“That’s me!” I’d say gleefully.

“Good. Can you please sign this…” they’d reply and give me some kind of papers.

I’m not even sure what I signed into law.

One time I tipped over the water cooler.

I don’t remember going back after that…
Julie, the eldest, who was working for the National Resources Defense Council at the time, closed out the exchange with:
Those are just great. Of course I was too old and experienced at the time to be an assistant. I was already hard at work for a national environmental law firm in DC. 😁"

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