HOW THE NSC IS LIKE SPINAL TAP: A basic journalistic rule in Washington is to pay attention to news released late on Friday, the special time of the week that press secretaries across the city reserve for dumping news they want buried. A couple of Friday afternoons ago, the White House quietly announced that an NSC staffer named Frances Fragos Townsend was leaving her post as the Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism, the job also known as the White House counterterrorism czar. She is leaving to replace General John A. Gordon as Assistant to the President and Homeland Security Advisor, the White House job that Tom Ridge had before the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Why would this staff change qualify for a late Friday dump? Two reasons. One is that Gordon, a retired Air Force general and 36-year public servant, was apparently none too pleased with the Bush approach to homeland security. He hasn't spoken publicly, but that's what the national security grapevine in Washington is buzzing about.
Secondly, Townsend's move was a reminder that the White House counterterrorism job is the bureaucratic equivalent of the drummer in Spinal Tap. Bush has now gone through five of them since 9/11. (Clinton had one.) Like Spinal Tap's drummers, who often choked on their own vomit or spontaneously combusted, Bush's counterterrorism aides all seem to disappear under unusual circumstances.
First there was Richard Clarke. We all know what happened to him. He left his post in disgust and wrote a book arguing that Bush paid no attention to terrorism before 9/11 and that the war in Iraq was a monumental diversion from the fight against al Qaeda and a gift to jihadist recruiters across the Muslim world. Clarke was replaced by General Wayne Downing, a pro-Iraq war hawk. Nonetheless, he had a similar experience, lasting a total of 10 months before abruptly resigning in frustration at how the White House bureaucracy was responding to the terrorist threat. Downing was replaced by two men, General Gordon, who lasted ten months before moving on to his homeland security job, and Rand Beers, who resigned in disgust over the Iraq war after seven months in his post. His experience was searing enough that he immediately joined the Kerry campaign. Beers was replaced by Townsend, who has now been tapped to replace Gordon, who is apparently resigning under circumstances similar to Clarke and Beers. (Got all that?)
Meanwhile, the White House hasn't announced a replacement for Townsend. Until it does, she will continue to moonlight as counterterrorism czar while starting her new gig as homeland security adviser.
It seems an odd time for the country to be without a fulltime terrorism adviser at the NSC. Bush will be attending three international summits over the next two months, and the summer will bring both political parties' conventions as well as the Olympics. In short, we are approaching the peak season for splashy terrorist opportunities, and the White House can't seem to stabilize its anti-terror team.
Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 - 10:53pm ET
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