Trump’s NSC Shakes up World Regional Map to Reflect New Orientations
A shakeup of the National Security Council was one of the first changes wrought by President Donald Trump in his first 10 days in the White House.
Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn leads the NSC, but other appointments ordered in the executive directive drew heavy fire in Washington, especially the makeup of the NSC Principals Committee.
Trump attached his top adviser and strategist Steve Bannon to this powerful body, while downgrading the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence from “regular” members to attending meetings “when issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”
The uproar in Washington over the NSC’s reorganization missed the equally profound reshuffle of NSC’s departmental functions, presided over by Flynn, which switched countries between sections, in keeping with the new orientations and strategic guidelines taking shape in the Trump administration.
DEBKA Weekly’s Washington and intelligence sources reveal some of the cardinal changes.
1. North Africa
Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Western Sahara have all been lifted out of the NSC’s African Section and reclassified in a section of their own under the heading: The War on Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.
This jihadist group is estimated to have targeted Algeria for takeover as it next major mission, seeing their chance in the failing health of its veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The 79-year old leader was last seen in public two years ago, voting from a wheelchair in a ballot in which he won a fourth term. Since then, he has been seen in brief state TV videos greeting dignitaries, although some speculate that they saw his double. No one has seen him close up for more than a year. After two recent strokes, even his close loyalists demand to see him in person to ascertain that he is still making the decisions.
The fear in Western intelligence circles is that his would-be successor may strike a bargain with AQIM to buy support for his presidential bid with a promise of a power-sharing role for Al Qaeda in the government of North Africa’s largest country of 44 million inhabitants.
Algeria is a glittering prize. It has the 17th largest oil reserves in the world, the second largest in Africa and the 9th largest reserves of natural gas. Energy exports form the backbone of its economy, with large natural gas sales to Europe.
Algeria has built one of the largest armies in Africa, which is supported by a sizeable defense budget and armed mainly with weapons imported from Russia.
If AQIM manages to seize Algeria, or even parts of that country, it will have achieved Al Qaeda’s most impressive triumph in its history, outshining even the Islamic State’s conquest of parts of Iraq and Syria.
Turkey has been knocked out of the European Section and transferred to the Middle East, a step with major connotations.
a) The Trump administration values Turkey as an important operational link in the evolving ties between Washington and Moscow, especially in Syria. The US president has decided to leave in place the Turkish military force that occupied 4,000sq.km of northern Syrian territory.
To this end, the Syrian Kurds and their aspirations for a form of independence or autonomy go by the board, because the plan under practical consideration in Washington today is to divide Syria into three spheres of influence based on the safe zones already on the table: This would place the US in the south, the Russians in the central and western regions and the Turks in the north.
Iran’s coveted land bridge via Syria to the Mediterranean and Hizballah in Lebanon is off the table.
b) Relegated to the past too is the Obama administration’s support for Turkey’s membership of the European Union, in line with President Trump’s policy of downgrading the EU as a world power.
Saturday, Jan, 28, he asked British Prime Minister Theresa May, after their White House talks, to fly straight to Ankara to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This was meant to show to the EU leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, that the Trump presidency will stand squarely behind any nations that quit the EU and the euro zone.
Britain was committed by a popular referendum to exit the group, while Turkey’s admission application has dragged on for years.
Iran is removed from the Indian Subcontinent Section to the Middle East. The Obama administration chose to lump the Islamic Republic with Afghanistan, India and Pakistan – an anachronism, especially after Barack Obama elevated Iran to the role of top Middle East power. His successor has resolved to substantially downgrade Iran’s international standing and so Tehran is relegated to the diminished Middle East Section.