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The NSC is What the POTUS Makes of It

 For national security buffs, this is definitely worth a look:

Congressional Research Service – Richard Best :The National Security Council: An Organizational Assessment (PDF)

The NSC has a few fundamental tasks, not all of which are mutually compatible:

1. Honest broker on policy options and steward of the inter-agency coordination process.

2. Enforcement of bureaucratic accountability for PDD/NSDD orders from the President.

3. Analysis of bureaucracy-generated “options” ( usually artificially restricted to suit departmental interests) and proposing policy alternatives for the President.

Historically, most NSCs can do at least one of these tasks well, though sometimes not even that. Eisenhower’s NSC, in sync with the rest of his administration, was much more effective than most. However, this case was due not only to Ike’s oorganizational preferences as a former holder of supreme military command, but the close working relationships of his SECSTATE, John Foster Dulles, DCI Allen Dulles and Chief of Staff Sherman Adams.

Eisenhower ran a very tight ship. Most presidents come into office not knowing what they do not know and their NSC is seldom structured to compensate, being redesigned in the first national security directives to suit the preconceptions of the incoming POTUS and his political advisers. Presidents get what they ask for in an NSC, not what they will actually need.

Interestingly, “operational control” sometimes is covertly lodged in the NSC when a POTUS attempts to outflank a hostile bureaucracy rather than confront blatant insubordination from five levels below an ineffectual or indifferent Cabinet member. This usually has had very mixed results, permitting both brilliant tactical moves and ill-considered cowboyism from policy types attempting to “wing” directing delicate intelligence, diplomatic or military actions.

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