Andrea Mitchell, NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent, sat down with Brian Williams last night and reflected on the White House team responding to the crisis in the Middle East. She characterized Donald Trump's existing operation as "least experienced, the least effective, and the smallest" in recent memory.
Mitchell, a veteran journalist who's covered a variety of Democratic and Republican administrations, concluded that the current president has "the worst national security team that I've ever seen."
I think that's unambiguously true, and to appreciate its accuracy, there are two broad angles to consider. The first is that Trump's team, to the extent that it can even be called a "team," is woefully incomplete. As Garrett Graff noted yesterday, the Trump administration does not currently have, for example, a Senate-confirmed director of National Intelligence or a deputy director of National Intelligence.
There's also no Senate-confirmed Homeland Security secretary or deputy secretary. There's no Senate-confirmed undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs or assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance.
At the Pentagon, meanwhile, there's been a scramble of top officials resigning, including six notable departures in the last five weeks.
For several of the aforementioned positions, the White House hasn't even nominated anyone to fill the posts. As Trump's presidency enters its fourth year, and as circumstances require a competent and experienced national security team, it stands to reason that the administration wouldn't still be struggling with vacancies and acting officials.
And yet, here we are.
Making matters slightly worse, the second angle of note is the fact that some of the officials who make up Trump's current national security team fail to inspire confidence.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who effectively appears to be running the show, is a far-right hawk who's set his credibility on fire. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is still fairly new to the job, and he arrived at the Pentagon following a stint as a lobbyist.
They're answering to a former reality-show personality who tends not to listen to intelligence briefings, who's never demonstrated any familiarity with the basics of international affairs, and routinely struggles to understand current events.
The question isn't whether this is "the worst national security team" we've ever seen; the question is how anyone could possibly disagree.