Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power


Never before in the history of mankind have so few people had so much power over so many. The people at the top of the American national security establishment, the President and his principal advisors, the core team at the helm of the National Security Council, are without question the most powerful committee in the history of the world.Yet, in many respects, they are among the least understood.

A former senior official in the Clinton Administration himself, David Rothkopf ...

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Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power

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Never before in the history of mankind have so few people had so much power over so many. The people at the top of the American national security establishment, the President and his principal advisors, the core team at the helm of the National Security Council, are without question the most powerful committee in the history of the world.Yet, in many respects, they are among the least understood.

A former senior official in the Clinton Administration himself, David Rothkopf served with and knows personally many of the NSC's key players of the past twenty-five years. In Running the World he pulls back the curtain on this shadowy world to explore its inner workings, its people, their relationships, their contributions and the occasions when they have gone wrong. He traces the group's evolution from the final days of the Second World War to the post-Cold War realities of global terror—exploring its triumphs, its human dramas and most recently, what many consider to be its breakdown at a time when we needed it most.

Drawing on an extraordinary series of insider interviews with policy makers including Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, senior officials of the Bush Administration, and over 130 others, the book offers unprecedented insights into what must change if America is to maintain its unprecedented worldwide leadership in the decades ahead.

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Editorial Reviews

Evan Thomas
David J. Rothkopf has written an enlightening insider's history of what he calls ''the committee in charge of running the world.'' Formally, the N.S.C. comprises the president, the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense and other cabinet secretaries as designated by the president; but as a practical matter, it consists of the president's inner circle of foreign policy advisers, served by up to 200 staff members writing papers and proposals. The N.S.C. tends to work well when the president uses it to think through problems, and to fall apart when it becomes either too much like a debating society or too ''operational'' (think of Lt. Col. Oliver North's escapades during the Reagan administration).
— The New York Times
Warren Bass
… Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Commerce Department official, does give free and chatty rein to some of the most memorable personalities in the foreign policy world. The national security adviser gang is all here: the icy, imperious McGeorge Bundy; Brent Scowcroft, perhaps the most successful holder of the job, the low-key embodiment of Republican realpolitik and competence who was at the helm as the Soviet Union imploded; the pallid Anthony Lake, weighed down by principle and feckless in practice as Bosnia and Rwanda burned; the garrulous, indefatigable, disorganized and powerful Sandy Berger, a fine foreign policy amanuensis for the freewheeling President Bill Clinton; and above all, Henry Kissinger, the shrewd accumulator of power and ruthless bureaucratic infighter who forever transformed the job of national security adviser. With relish, Rothkopf recounts old feuds among the foreign policy principals: the Buddha-like Dean Rusk watching his State Department lose ground to an NSC staff that New Frontier wags started calling "Bundy's State Department"; Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance brawling during the Iran hostage crisis; the legendary Reagan-era combat and contempt between Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger; the sharp-elbowed, bullying, wheedling Kissinger against all comers.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The NSC is a semi-defined group-the president, vice president, secretaries of defense and state, national security adviser and staff, and other officials as needed-with the open-ended mission of helping the president decide and coordinate military and foreign policy. Its institutional vagueness makes it an ill-chosen framework for this engaging but unfocused study of postwar American policy making. Working from interviews with NSC members, Rothkopf, an academic and Clinton administration commerce official, examines the NSC's history from its 1947 inception onward, reviewing its performance in major foreign policy crises and tracing the rising influence of the NSA post. He delves into bureaucratic minutiae, but focuses on such "Shakespearean" human factors as the character and managerial style of the president and the personal "chemistry" and patronage networks among his cabinet and advisers. Rothkopf prefers a centrist, internationalist security policy, with experienced hands restraining ideologues; he therefore gives high marks to the NSC under Nixon, Carter and Bush 41, while castigating the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations. He presents a wealth of information, but the NSC's ad hoc purview, unstable structure and personality-driven dynamics make it hard to discern a coherent outline of American policy among its wranglings. Agent, Esmond Harmsworth. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
The birth of the National Security Council did not exactly make the headlines. When the National Security Act established the NSC in 1947, The New York Times gave top billing to the creation of a new post of secretary of defense. Only on page 2 did the story get around to mentioning that "the legislation also provides for a National Security Council," composed of the most senior national security officials, whose "meetings will be presided over by the President."

In the half century since, the NSC has become a central institution — in important ways, the central institution — of U.S. foreign policymaking. And over this period, its basic character has changed: from a council of senior cabinet members deliberating with the president to a group of White House staff members headed by the assistant to the president for national security affairs, known as the national security adviser. Over the years, the NSC has increased the power of the NSA and the president but weakened those cabinet members without strong ties to the man in the Oval Office. All told, the advent of the NSC represents one of the most important organizational innovations of the U.S. government since 1945.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586484231
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 7/28/2006
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 670,719
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

David J. Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, served as deputy under secretary of commerce during the Clinton Administration, as Chairman and CEO of Intellibridge Corporation, a provider of international analysis to the national security community, and as managing director of Kissinger Associates. A well-known commentator for leading newspapers and magazines, he has taught international relations at Columbia University; written, co-authored or edited five other books on international and information age themes; and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the President's Advisory Council of the U.S. Institute of Peace. He lives in Washington DC.
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 6, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Incredible inside view of American foreign policy

    This book is an essential read for anyone interested in American foreign policy, or the inner workings of the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State. David Rothkopf starts with the history of the NSC during the Truman Administration, and shows its various changes throughout succeeding Presidential administrations. How an Iran-Contra could occur, or the battles bewteen Henry Kissinger and the State Department, are just two of the compelling stories presented.<BR/> A dedicated staff, which seems to increase during each Presidential term, is discussed in detail by Rothkopf. Some of this reporting is from his first hand knowledge. Yet, with all of his background and education, he elucidates the mission and operation of this known, but virtually undiscussed, Presidential asset. Scholars are quoted as saying this book is also beneficial to them. I cannot comment on that point; I can only say that for a book with so much history, policy, and politics, it was difficult to put this book down. If I had a regret with this book, it is not taking it with me for a good weekend retreat where I could read it straight through instead of a little at a time.<BR/> The history I have knowingly lived from Presidents Eisnhower on became even more compelling as I realized some of the background, and inside, work that was done by the NSC on events that I remember. How the Bay of Pigs could occur; why President Johnson became even more involved with the quagmire of Vietnam; Kissinger's extra-Presidential decision to take the country to Defcon 3 in October, 1973; Carter's efforts with Iranian nationalist; the death of Marines in Lebanon; and, so many other events are presented against a balanced background which allows the reader access and insight to help determine a true response to these historical events.<BR/> One drawback on the book, however, is the poor editing. There are misspelled words, incomplete sentences, or repeated words side by side. Perhaps the editors were so engrossed they were unable to do their jobs.<BR/> Political science students, Presidential studies, history buffs, and others, would greatly appreciate this work. I suspect that at some point, I will read it again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2007

    Useful, if over-enthusiastic, study of the USA's ruling class

    David J. Rothkopf was a junior member of the Clinton administration. In this fascinating book, he studies the post-1947 record of the American foreign policy élite, the National Security Council and its staff, about 200 people. This exclusive establishment, which he actually calls an `aristocracy¿, is the part of the US ruling class that runs national policy across Republican and Democrat administrations. He contrasts 1947 with post-2001, finding `a stunningly different set of conclusions about what to do with American power and prestige¿. He supports the multilateralism of NATO, the Marshall Plan, the IMF, the World Bank and the UN, under the slogan of globalisation, and argues against Bush¿s unilateralism, which puts the USA `above and beyond the influence of global institutions or the rule of law¿. He agrees with Carter¿s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, that terrorism is a tactic not an enemy. He notes `the debacle in Iraq¿, yet misunderstands the region completely when he writes, ¿it is the decay of Middle Eastern civilisation that is the threat to us.¿ Not the US state¿s unpopular alliances with the Saudi and Israeli states then! He describes the USA¿s whole political system as suffering ¿an irresponsible separation between the will of the majority of America and the will of the representatives of the American people.¿ But if the people¿s supposed representatives do not represent them, how can this be a democracy? Finally, Rothkopf warns, ¿The real strategic threats come from those who would offer an alternative to our leadership.¿ These ¿will argue that our system has exacerbated rather than resolved basic problems of inequity in the world.¿ With some justice, since, as he admits, ¿the majority of the world¿s population are today effectively disenfranchised from reaping the benefit of the world we have been leading.¿ If this US leadership, exercised through the institutions which he so admires, has not benefited the majority of the world¿s people, what good is it?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2009

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