My Washington Post colleague Karen DeYoung has an excellent, extremely well-reported story about the National Security Council’s role in policymaking that I have read at least a few times before.

To elaborate, here’s a key section of DeYoung’s story:

[I]t may be too late to change impressions of an NSC bureaucracy whose size has come to symbolize an overbearing and paranoid White House that insists on controlling even the smallest policy details, often at the expense of timely and effective decisions … .
In addressing challenges where there is internal disagreement or there are no good options — civil war in Syria, Russians in Ukraine and military dictatorship in Egypt, for example — policymaking has been “sclerotic at best, constipated at worse,” a senior Defense Department official said.
“Time seems to be all this process produces. More time, more meetings, more discussions,” the official said.
Others fume that the NSC has taken over things that could and should be handled elsewhere in the government. Former CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta, who left the administration in February 2013, has spoken of the “increasing centralization of power at the White House” and a “penchant for control” that in his case included submission of speeches and interview requests for White House approval.

Now these are not new complaints about the Obama administration’s foreign policy process. Indeed, whenever the White House tries to control foreign policymaking, press stories with backbiting about an overgrown National Security Council are sure to follow.

DeYoung, to her credit, acknowledges this:

Grumbling about how the White House operates is far from unique to the Obama administration, and the NSC staff has grown substantially under virtually every successive president since Jimmy Carter. But the size and intrusiveness of Obama’s NSC has made it a prominent target.

Reading through DeYoung’s story, there’s not a whole lot that’s different in these complaints from past ones, except that the Obama White House has probably been more successful at centralizing foreign policymaking authority than the prior two administrations. It’s somewhat unusual for an NSC staffer to chair staff and deputies committees, for example.

But reading through her story, there are two things that stand out — one that’s old and one that’s new. The old complaint is that agencies and staffers who don’t get their policy preferences enacted are, shockingly, not thrilled with the policy process. And everything I have heard from White House staffers about President Obama suggests that in recent years the NSC process has produced policy options that are far more hawkish than his own policy preferences. So he swats them down, and underlings get grumpy.

The new complaint is the reason behind the NSC’s micro-management of foreign policy: fear of political fallout.

“Benghazi is a good example,” the former official said, “and . . . Ebola. That can’t just be left to CDC and State and others to manage. No. You have to have a czar and a whole team of people. And why is that? Because the politics on this issue have become so much more corrosive and challenging that it’s a natural instinct for the White House to say, ‘We’ve got to have an eye on this. On everything.’ ”

This is a problem that will not go away with this administration. If future White Houses react to any foreign policy setback by centralizing control in the White House even further, then this administration’s policy process will look Balkanized by comparison.

Every student of American foreign policy should read DeYoung’s story. But the depressing fact is that, in all likelihood, the following narrative will play out in 2017:

  1. The next president will pledge to cut NSC staff and do so by some marginal amount;
  2. A foreign policy crisis ensues that will catch the White House off guard and cause the opposition party to howl in protest
  3. The next president will expand the NSC staff and centralize decision-making authority within the White House.