In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisers and the Presidents They Served--From JFK to George W. Bush

In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisers and the Presidents They Served--From JFK to George W. Bush

by Ivo H. Daalder, I. M. Destler

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The most solemn obligation of any president is to safeguard the nation's security. But the president cannot do this alone. He needs help. In the past half century, presidents have relied on their national security advisers to provide that help.

Who are these people, the powerful officials who operate in the shadow of the Oval Office, often out of public view and

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The most solemn obligation of any president is to safeguard the nation's security. But the president cannot do this alone. He needs help. In the past half century, presidents have relied on their national security advisers to provide that help.

Who are these people, the powerful officials who operate in the shadow of the Oval Office, often out of public view and accountable only to the presidents who put them there? Some remain obscure even to this day. But quite a number have names that resonate far beyond the foreign policy elite: McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice.

Ivo Daalder and Mac Destler provide the first inside look at how presidents from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush have used their national security advisers to manage America's engagements with the outside world. They paint vivid portraits of the fourteen men and one woman who have occupied the coveted office in the West Wing, detailing their very different personalities, their relations with their presidents, and their policy successes and failures.

It all started with Kennedy and Bundy, the brilliant young Harvard dean who became the nation's first modern national security adviser. While Bundy served Kennedy well, he had difficulty with his successor. Lyndon Johnson needed reassurance more than advice, and Bundy wasn't always willing to give him that. Thus the basic lesson — the president sets the tone and his aides must respond to that reality.

The man who learned the lesson best was someone who operated mainly in the shadows. Brent Scowcroft was the only adviser to serve two presidents, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush. Learning from others' failures, he found the winning formula: gain the trust of colleagues, build a collaborative policy process, and stay close to the president. This formula became the gold standard — all four national security advisers who came after him aspired to be "like Brent."

The next president and national security adviser can learn not only from success, but also from failure. Rice stayed close to George W. Bush — closer perhaps than any adviser before or since. But her closeness did not translate into running an effective policy process, as the disastrous decision to invade Iraq without a plan underscored. It would take years, and another national security aide, to persuade Bush that his Iraq policy was failing and to engineer a policy review that produced the "surge."

The national security adviser has one tough job. There are ways to do it well and ways to do it badly. Daalder and Destler provide plenty of examples of both. This book is a fascinating look at the personalities and processes that shape policy and an indispensable guide to those who want to understand how to operate successfully in the shadow of the Oval Office.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Beginning with the Kennedy years, the role of national security adviser has grown to be one of the most powerful in government. Daalder and Destler provide a colorful, intimate, and revealing look at what it takes to do the job right. By describing the delicate balances, power plays, and personality factors involved, this book shows what really happens in the corridors of the White House." — Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein and Kissinger

"This is a wise, important, and even urgent book. Its astute judgments on the relationships between the national security advisers and the presidents they served over a half-century — the ways they made and implemented foreign policy, and the results, successful to disastrous — should be taken to heart by the next U.S. foreign policy team, and alerts the rest of us to what to watch for." — Elizabeth Drew, author of Citizen McCain

"Every national security adviser in the last fifty years had his or her strengths and weaknesses. Now, for the first time, a book focuses on each of them as individuals, succinctly and precisely. Essential reading for the new administration — and anyone interested in the history of the National Security Council system." — Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

"Given the daunting array of national-security challenges facing the Obama administration, this lucid, insightful, and authoritative book could hardly be more timely. Drawing on their deep knowledge of how the White House and the world work, Daalder and Destler have shed light on one of the most important, but least understood, posts in the U.S. government at a pivotal moment in American foreign policy." — Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state and author of The Great Experiment

"With well-drawn examples, Ivo Daalder and I. M. Destler chart U.S. foreign policy through the prism of the vital but amorphous post of National Security Adviser. Their tracing of bureaucratic intrigue from McGeorge Bundy through Kissinger and Brzezinski to Condoleezza Rice is always fascinating, if not always reassuring." — A.J. Langguth, Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975

David Ignatius
…[an] excellent new history of the national security adviser's position…The authors, Ivo Daalder and I.M. Destler, combine an insider's focus on process with a scholar's distance and perspective
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The position of national security adviser is by far the most powerful unelected (and unconfirmed by Congress) post in the federal government, with tremendous influence over American foreign policy (for good and for ill). Daalder (coauthor, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy) and Destler (coauthor, American Trade Politics), foreign policy experts at, respectively, the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland, do an excellent job of examining the different philosophies and styles of all who have filled the role, from McGeorge Bundy to Condoleezza Rice, as well as how different presidents have deployed the skills of their national security advisers. Unlike Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser maintains an office in the White House and operates free of the politics and bureaucratic demands of running federal departments. There is no one-size-fits-all mold, and no standard résumé for this vital job. Some advisers have been college professors, others diplomats, still others veterans of the military. Each, as the authors astutely show, has brought unique talents and prejudices to the assignment, and each has left an indelible mark on history. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Scholars Daalder (senior fellow, Brookings Institution; America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy) and Destler (Sch. of Public Policy, Univ. of Maryland: American Trade Politics) have produced a timely survey of national security advisers, members of the President's staff who often wield substantial power despite not going through a public confirmation process. Drawing upon research conducted as part of an oral history project at the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institution, the authors undoubtedly bring the right combination of insight and experience to the story. Starting with the relationship between John F. Kennedy and his adviser, McGeorge Bundy, in 1961, they devote a chapter to each administration up through George W. Bush, describing how these advisers interacted with the President, secretaries of state and defense, and others to shape national security policy. Because it covers such a broad time period, the book introduces a dizzying number of players; a reader without a basic grounding in modern U.S. history could become confused. However, the authors have a readable style and fill a niche in political history with their specific focus. Recommended for undergraduate libraries serving political science students and larger public libraries where there is interest. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/15/08.]
—Elizabeth Goldman

Kirkus Reviews
The history of recent presidents' influential top advisers, heavy on political maneuvering but never dull. According to the Constitution, counseling the president is the Cabinet's job. But as the government grew larger in the 20th century, write the authors, presidents often found Cabinet secretaries too partisan on behalf of their various departments. For disinterested advice, they increasingly relied on trusted intimates: Colonel House, "neither elected nor appointed to any office," served as Woodrow Wilson's de facto secretary of state at the 1919 Paris Peace conference, while Harry Hopkins was FDR's primary diplomat during World War II despite holding no foreign-policy position. Unhappy with this ad hoc arrangement, Congress passed the National Security Act in 1947 to create a distinct executive organization, the National Security Council. It remained a minor department until 1961, when Kennedy gave broad, day-to-day responsibility for coordinating foreign policy (and a large office in the West Wing) to a man he had chosen personally, the dean of faculty at Harvard. Like many of his successors, McGeorge Bundy was an academic who had never held a top government position; his overriding qualification was that the president knew him and wanted him. He took advantage of this intimacy to become a major source of foreign-policy advice, overshadowing Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Former NSC staffer Daalder and co-author Destler (Public Policy/Univ. of Maryland), who have both published technical works on foreign policy, deliver a surprisingly lively account of Bundy and his 14 successors, their complex relationship with the president and often-stormy interactions with the cabinet and media.Some advisors (Bundy, Brent Scowcroft, Steven Hadley) ran an efficient department that emphasized delivering policy advice. Others (Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Condoleezza Rice) became powerful figures, opposing and even feuding with the secretaries of state. A revealing, unsettling look at how our presidents receive advice on foreign policy. Agent: Andrew Stuart/The Stuart Agency

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Ivo Daalder served on the national security council staff in the Clinton administration and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (with James M. Lindsay), won the 2003 Lionel Gelber Prize.

I. M. Destler is a professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. His previous books include the awardwinning American Trade Politics and (with Leslie Gelb and Anthony Lake) Our Own Worst Enemy: The Unmaking of American Foreign Policy.

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