Book Cover

A former chief speechwriter at the Pentagon expands his doctoral
dissertation to demonstrate how the National Security Council has become one of
the dominant forces in shaping American foreign policy.

Relying on a combination of academic research and less formal
anecdotes, Gans, who runs the Global Order Program at the University of
Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, shifts back and forth between admiration for
the NSC and warnings that the mostly publicity-shy staff members have
accumulated too much influence without being overseen by anybody outside the
White House. The agency was originally created in 1947 to coordinate sensitive,
divergent foreign policy recommendations emanating from the armed services, the
Defense Department, the State Department, the CIA, and other elements, and its
staffers—not subject to confirmation by the Senate or any other body
independent of the president—have become a “band of warriors” for the White
House. Gans identifies high-profile national security advisers to every president,
beginning with Harry Truman’s group of advisers and moving through Henry
Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, Henry McMaster, and others. A chief value of the
book, though, is the author’s focus on case studies about how less-visible
staff have exerted influence. These include Alexander Vershbow and Nelson Drew,
who shaped Bosnian genocide intervention during the Bill Clinton presidency. To
establish his theme early, Gans opens the book with scenes suggesting the
influence of NSC staff member Meghan O’Sullivan on the controversial decision
of George W. Bush to invade Iraq. Perhaps the most dramatic, revealing section
occurs during the Ronald Reagan presidency, as the NSC gained the influence to
implement foreign policy, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal and the loss of
American lives to terrorists in Lebanon. The author also offers up-to-date
research about the role of the presidency of Barack Obama, and he squeezes in a
few pages of impressions about the chaos of the NSC during the Trump era.

A useful historical study that will especially interest those seeking
a look at government from the inside.


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