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Foreign Policy magazine has an interesting but flawed article on national-security decision-making inside the Bush administration that you should check out.

The most interesting aspect of the piece by David J. Rothkopf, which is drawn from his book Running the World:The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American power, is the illustration of the personal dynamic of the principals, particularly how Rice relates to Cheney and Rumsfeld. Rothkopf leans heavily on disbgruntled realist-stabilitarian veterans of the Bush ’41 administration, particularly Brent Scowcroft. One can only wonder if Bush pere was a deep background source as well.

Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Hadley all go back to the Nixon-Ford era together while Rice was a Bush ’41 NSC protege of Brent Scowcroft and Robert Blackwill and a close ally of Robert Gates. Cheney himself had been a protege of Donald Rumsfeld which led him to become the youngest White House Chief of staff in history during the Ford administration.

Rothkopf – and in fairness his book very well be different than this summary FP article – oversimplifies the role of the NSC by preenting it as a dichotomy between an ” Honest Broker-Coordinator” on the Scowcroft model or the personal adviser ” Staffing the President” Rice model. This reduces the NSC experience to a universe of Bush I and Bush II. In reality the NSC since its inception has had a variety of roles, all with strengths and weaknesses:

Coordinator: The Scowcroft model of an evenhanded facilitator of options for the POTUS who
keeps the Oval Office open to all the key players. Usually this type of NSC adviser draws their staff heavily from State, the DoD and CIA personnel. Upside, exerience and balance. The downside here is that the president does not get possible alternatives that are outside the policy preferences of the power bureaucracies

Enforcer: The Tom Clark – H.R. Haldeman model. Here the NSC adviser is dedicated to ramming through the president’s policy and NSC decisions over the bureaucratic resistance of State and/or Defense, which sometimes have their own ideas about where American foreign policy should go and prove to be less than loyal subordinates. Most useful when the cabinet secretaries have ” gone native” and become ” captives” of their bureaucracies or are poor managers. H.R. Haldeman, was a WH Chief of Staff and not APNSA, but he fulfilled this role of Nixon’s ” Lord High Executioner” because Kissinger was an Activist, being too busy and frankly, too distrusted by Nixon to perform in this capacity. Upside, the President obtains compliance and bureaucratic saboteurs are punished. Downside, climate of fear stifles initiative and ideas.

Activist: The Kissinger-Brzezinski model where the NSC builds a staff of ” academic superstars” to provide imaginative policy options for the POTUS alongside those of the power bureaucracies. Upside, out-of-the-box thinking and policy execution that can end-run a hostile bureaucracy. The China opening and some key aspects of Detente were implemented this way and probably would never have come off had they gone through standard government departments. The downside,s here are as great as the advantages unfortunately. This model makes the NSC adviser a self-interested player and creates enormous tension, savage bureaucratic infighting and angry resignations. Secondly, an incompetent NSC adviser who tries to fulfill this role creates problems like Iran-Contra by going ” operational” as with McFarlane and Poindexter.

Irrelevant: The Richard Allen-Anthony Lake model. Here neither the NSC adviser nor his staff has control of the policy process or much real influence with the president. Each power bureaucracy goes its own way seeking its own preferred solutions. Disloyalty to the president’s stated policy objectives goes unpunished, thus encouraging further free-lancing. The Pentagon and State feel free to contradict each other in the press and will even leak against the president himself. Problems are admired and policy decisions go unmade for months, even years. There are no upsides to this model except that overall American foreign policy gets so stuck in neutral that no grand mistakes are committed because no one has enough power to steer the ship to change course.

Rice, a Bush loyalist, was really more of an enforcer during her tenure as APNSA but one who allowed the DoD – Vice-Presidential staff to become the dominant voice. Presumably, of course, that reflects the preferences of her boss, President Bush but Rothkopf raises questions of whether Rice was so close to Bush in terms of perspective that she lost the ability to discern how moves were being made by the players.

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