Donald Trump’s chaotic management style and decision to only listen to crony loyalists has left a skeleton crew in charge of national security. An expert who served on 9/11 and under three presidents says we are in extremely bad shape.
Donald Trump claims that he was left a mess by his predecessor and is in control of a “fine-tuned machine” remaking the government in his own image. But the reality is a deadly proposition for American citizens.
There was already a huge gap between open federal positions and the amount of nominations Trump has made, but his poor management in the first month of his presidency has made the situation even worse. Of the 549 key positions in the government requiring appointees to be nominated by Trump for Senate confirmation, so far only 34 people have been nominated, with only 14 of those confirmed.
There currently is no deputy Secretary of State, and the same vacancy exists at the Treasury and Education departments. Trump has only nominated 3 of the 15 nominees needed at that level.
Trump recently fired an official at Housing and Urban Development, along with a top official dealing with Latin American issues on the National Security Council for the sins of saying critical things about him. So instead of the amount of vacancies going down, as with his predecessors in their first year, with Trump it has gone up.
Perceived loyalty to Trump appears to be the top requirement for a position in his government, not competency or loyalty to the United States. Elliott Abrams, a controversial figure who served in foreign policy positions under previous Republican presidents, told the New York Times that the Trump team repeatedly rejected nominees who failed to meet the Trump loyalty standard. Abrams himself was also rejected because he had gone on the record with his criticisms of Trump.
But even when Trump has put his loyalists in place, it has also at times backfired. Despite multiple warning signs regarding his embrace of conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim arguments, and ties to the Russian government, Trump installed Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. Weeks later, Flynn was removed from power over those same Russian ties — he lied about his contacts with the government there — and the position remained open until Trump announced that Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster would take over.
Richard Clarke, who served on the National Security Council under George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, told The Atlantic that the chaos has made America vulnerable: "In terms of a major terrorist attack in the United States or on U.S. facilities, I think we’re significantly less ready than we were on January 19."
Clarke also pointed out that Trump has kept in place Flynn's deputy, K.T. McFarland, who has not served in government in over 30 years and most recently was a hawkish analyst on Fox News, of which Trump is infamously an avid watcher. She has no experience managing national security issues at a senior level, but at Fox she was a huge booster of Vladimir Putin, which seems to have put her in Trump’s good graces.
The chaos in this administration, and Trump's utter dearth of management skills, is damaging to all aspects of society — perhaps none more so than our very security. Trump has already proven to be a recruiting tool for terrorist groups, and now his lack of presidential professionalism may be making it even easier.