SECDEF: The Nearly Impossible Job of Secretary of Defense

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SECDEF offers an expert’s insights into one of the most difficult jobs in Washington. Of the twenty-one men who have held the post of secretary of defense since it was created in 1947, only half served more than eighteen months. The first, James Forrestal, committed suicide soon after leaving the Pentagon. Seven of his successors were fired or allowed to resign gracefully after losing the confidence of the president. Many left frustrated and disappointed, while few retained the celebrity and esteem they held while in office. One observer has called the job “the graveyard of political ambitions.”

Charles A. Stevenson, who as a national security adviser to four U.S. senators has seen several defense secretaries in action, examines the unique challenges of this office to learn why the failure rate has been so high. SECDEF focuses on how the secretary performs in the broader world of national security policymaking, how he handles civil-military relations in planning strategy and wars, how he functions on the National Security Council and deals with the president and secretary of state, and how well he performs as a politician, especially in dealing with Congress. In office, Charles Stevenson finds, these men have tended to fall into one of the three general roles for executing such responsibilities: revolutionaries, firefighters, or, the most common role, team players. Stevenson analyzes each type for its defining characteristics and evaluates individual secretaries. This book will appeal to defense professionals and students alike and to readers interested in American defense and foreign policy who want to learn more about the important role often played by the person informally labeled the SECDEF.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It's a very sharp examination of their management styles and a great picture into their lives, and most importantly, this book offers those persons serious about working in the high ranks of OSD several examples of management that they can either emulate or avoid, depending on the situations. I'm very much looking forward to starting Stevenson's next book."

"A clear, concise, and readable history of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD)…nicely fills a gap in the literature…perfectly suited primer for officers and civilian professionals who need or desire to understand the OSD, including those pursuing professional military education or a degree in security studies…This first-rate book should find its way onto syllabi in professional military education and security studies courses, the shelves of officers and Department of Defense civilians aspiring to develop themselves professionally, and the desks of congressional staff members who oversee this powerful institution."

"I learned a tremendous amount from SECDEF and enjoyed the process of learning. Charles Stevenson has combined encyclopedic knowledge of Pentagon history, a graceful and entertaining writing style, and provocative insights to produce an original and very valuable book. It is particularly useful in connecting debates about Secretary Rumsfeld’s leadership during the current Iraq war with the decades-long evolution of the SECDEF’s role."

"Charles Stevenson has written a fascinating and insightful work that masterfully captures the character and performance of some of America’s secretaries of defense. It is a rare look and brilliantly written analysis of the men who have held this powerful position."

"This insightful book fills a surprising gap in literature about national security. Drawing on long experience inside the Washington Beltway and sharp analytical skills, Stevenson brings into focus the varied operating styles, successes, and failures of twenty secretaries of defense--a job often second in importance only to the president’s. No other book surveys this complex of strategic, managerial, political, and personal issues as thoroughly, sensibly, and readably as this one."

"This engaging book gives the office and the men who have held it the attention they deserve. While not a complete history, it is an excellent overview . . . the best place to start in order to understand an important and often-neglected subject. Highly recommended."

"SECDEF is a fascinating book which provides the reader with an excellent introduction to the working of the Defense Department and insights into the personalities of the men who shaped U.S. defense policy for the past fifty years."

"Students of this period of American political, diplomatic, or military history can profit from this book and instructors of national security and defense policy courses will find it most useful."

"Stevenson's book is an excellent primer for those with orders to [Office of the Secretary of Defense]. . . .Delving into Stevenson's book on this rarely addressed subject will give the reader a deeper understanding of this important office."

"Students of this period of American political, diplomatic, or military history can profit from this book and instructors of national security and defense policy courses will find it most useful."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781574887952
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/30/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,456,804
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Charles A. Stevenson teaches at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. A former professor at the National War College, he also draws upon his two decades as a Senate staffer on national security matters to illustrate the political motivations that influence decisions on war and peace.
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Table of Contents

I Background and evolution of the office
1 The nearly impossible job 3
2 The cemetery for dead cats 7
II Politics and personalities
The revolutionaries 21
3 McNamara : the numbers of power 23
4 Schlesinger : the independence of ideas 45
5 Weinberger : the power of tenacity 59
The firefighters 75
6 Laird : the power of politics 77
7 Aspin : the politics of failure 91
8 Cohen : the politics of defense 105
The team players 119
9 Brown : the technology of power 121
10 Cheney : the power of decisiveness 135
11 Perry : the power of decency 147
12 The Rumsfeld transformation 159
III Roles and performances
13 Manager of the Pentagon 181
14 War planner 189
15 Diplomat 199
16 NSC adviser 207
17 Successes and failures 213
App. A Secretaries of defense 216
App. B Foregin travel by secretaries of defense 217
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