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.