Who’s in Charge in the West Wing?

Alan Zendell, February 28, 2018

Among all the difficult jobs in the world, I’d have thought being the Marine General in charge of the U. S. Southern Command after two command combat roles in Iraq would rank pretty high. Who’d have imagined they were a piece of cake compared to managing the staff in the West Wing of the White House? When you consider that the staff contains both the president’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, the idea doesn’t seem so far fetched.

In Kelly’s former jobs the word “command” had a clear definition. People either did their jobs properly and followed the general’s rules and protocols or they were removed. Everyone working for him understood that clearly. What senior military officer would accept a critical command assignment without that virtually absolute authority?

Remember when Kelly accepted the position of Chief of the White House staff? That was back in the days when Steve Bannon had constant access to the president and people like Sebastian Gorka, a right-wing extremist with questionable credentials and an outstanding arrest warrant in Hungary was advising him on terrorism and Islam. Kelly cleaned that mess up quickly, but that was easy compared to keeping a lid on the president’s erratic behavior and temper tantrums.

It was also a lot easier than managing Ivanka and Jared, who knew that daddy would always be there for them no matter what. The reports of Kelly’s disdain for both are too numerous and from too many different sources to be discounted. He has mocked Ivanka as a girl playing government, and his long-simmering mini-war with Kushner came to a head last week when Trump publicly stated that he was delegating all decisions on security clearance to Kelly, and that he was “sure he’d do the right thing.”

That’s exactly what Kelly did. He stripped Kushner’s Top Secret clearance, reportedly along with the clearances of 130 other staffers who had been handling sensitive information on interim clearances for more than a year. All this on the heels of credible reports that four foreign nations, all of which appear in Kushner’s portfolio of responsibilities, have been discussing how to use his inexperience and financial vulnerabilities to leverage policy with the president. And two of those countries, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, are pivotal to Kushner’s efforts to reach Middle East peace accords.

Rumors continue to fly about Kelly’s tenure in the White House. Trump really can’t fire him any more than he can fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or Special Counsel Robert Mueller without bringing down a firestorm of criticism on an administration whose credibility has already been stretched as far as it can be. So Kelly’s future in the West Wing is in his own hands. How long will he be willing to put up with the Trump Family White House?

Kelly’s present lack of command authority isn’t unique to him. When NSA Director, Admiral Mike Rogers was interviewed yesterday by the Senate Intelligence Committee, he revealed that while cyber threats from Russia and elsewhere continue to expand, and his people have the ability to counter them at their sources, he has not been given the authority to act by the president. His frustration as he revealed than on national TV, was evident.

And then there’s the situation surrounding National Security Advisor H.  R. McMaster. He publicly agreed with the findings of every law enforcement and security agency that confirmed Russian cyber attacks and interference in our elections, only to be contradicted by the president the next day because of his baseless refusal to accept reality. That makes three senior military advisers of unquestioned stature and ability who were appointed by this president, who’ve been emasculated by that same president who is totally out of his depth on matters of security.

It seems that our president still has not figured out that the White House is not his own private company. In the past when his shoot-from-the-hip approach to business got him in trouble he simply filed for bankruptcy, fired everyone he could, and took off leaving a pile of debris in his wake. Have you been to Atlantic City, New Jersey recently?

Governing the United States of America doesn’t work that way. The level of chaos that exists in this administration is unprecedented, and there’s a lot more at stake than Trump’s real estate empire. Physical objects that do not have a strong center of gravity can be toppled by a stiff breeze. The Trump administration is the political analog of such an object, a collection of people all traveling in different orbits with no apparent cohesion, the classic definition of a house of cards.

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