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Report: Obama to inherit broken national security system

Five-plus years after the invasion of Iraq, here's some shock and awe for you: The 751-page report released today by the congressionally funded Project on National Security Reform. The product of two years of work, their conclusions are grim... albeit with a silver lining.

First, the bad news. The United States' national security system is antiquated, "grossly imbalanced," incapable of cooperating agency-to-agency, and unable to "help American leaders to formulate coherent national strategy," according to the report. National security agencies compete rather than working together, so decisions are delayed and watered down. Since budgets get doled out by agency, departmental goals often outweigh the big picture.

No U.S. president -- no matter how wise and sleep-deprived -- could possibly get a handle on that system. 

Here's the good news: Barack Obama can fix it. Maybe.

The report offers some dramatic and common-sense reforms to get the system back in check -- starting with interagency cooperation. It calls for a central security budget based on projects, not agencies. It would merge the personnel and security clearance schemes across the government. Top officials from each agency would work on meta-teams for security issues. And the report recommends creating a new, central council so that the president can make sense of it all -- replacing the National Security and Homeland Security councils.

With any luck, the report's authors hope, the new administration will get to fixing this mess sooner rather than later. The Project on National Security Reform's executive director, James R. Locher III, tells FP in Seven Questions this week that now might be the time. It so happens that retired Gen. James L. Jones, tapped Monday to be the Obama's national security advisor, is a former member of the report's "guiding coalition" (basically, a steering committee). Two other big names who served on the coalition, former Clinton deputy James B. Steinberg and retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair, might also make it onto Team Obama. Check it out.

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Some humble suggestions for David Gregory

I don't go to church on Sundays, but I do watch Meet the Press. So I am pleased to see that the venerable NBC talk show is finally going to get a permanent host to replace the late Tim Russert.

Herewith, some unsolicited advice for the new guy, former White House reporter David Gregory:

  1. Bring on subject-matter experts more often. Chuck Todd and Paul Begala are great political commentators, but they should not be your go-to guys on, say, what to do about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai or the wisdom of airstrikes on Iran. There are plenty of smart wonks out there who know how to make a splash on television, so don't just go to the usual suspects. Having more genuine experts on TV before the Iraq war might have brought some inconvienent truths to light and saved us all a lot of trouble.
  2. Stop using boring senators such as Claire McCaskill as proxies for Barack Obama. You are only going to get bland talking points because they will be too afraid of making a mistake. Powerful committee chairs, on the other hand, can often make news on the program.
  3. Score more exclusives. Meet the Press would be a great venue to launch things like Bob Graham's terrifying WMD report.
  4. Be yourself, but don't be a jerk. Bring the same love of politics and spirit of bonhomie that Russert brought to the game, but avoid overly cosy relationships with some guests. Save the how's-your-marriage banter with James Carville and Mary Matalin for the green room.
  5. Ask tough follow-up questions. Don't let your interview subjects wriggle away as Tom Brokaw does, but don't rely as heavily on trying to nail them with predictable "flip-flop" gambits like Tim Russert did. If the damning quotes are recent and relevant, go for it. But remember that a foolish consistency in the face of shifting evidence is no virtue.
  6. Make Joe Biden a weekly panelist.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet The Press