on 1 November 2007
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?
on 5 June 2005
For this new book by David J. Rothkopf, one can ignore the cover and title as sales hype for the book for this is a solid history and analysis of the NSC from around 1945 to the present day; it is a 550 page book in small font so it is fairly detailed and lengthy, generally an impressive book in terms of volume of information, detail, and scope; the book is mainly text and notes but it has a few pictures. It gives an up close look at the workings of the NSC for various administrations going back to approximately 1945 - 46, and The National Security Act of July 26, 1947, which was used to create the National Security Council under Truman. The early role of the NSC was to coordinate other departments and act mostly in an advisory role to the preseident.
The NSC was started under Truman but became much more important under Eisenhower, who as a former general, appreciated good preparation, research, and security planning of foreign policy. The NSC included the President who was the chairman, the Vice President, Secretaries of State and Defense, and Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization. Also, other cabinet members participated including the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the JCS, and the Director of Central Intelligence. This form of the NSC, refined by Ike, has continued through to the present day, with the formality and impact of the NSC rising and falling, from one administration to the next, depending on the president and how he viewed and utilized his advisers. Kennedy did water down Eisenhower's NSC a bit and changed the NSC to permit the Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to in effect run the committe, but the overall impotance of the NSC was restored somewhat by Kissinger working for Nixon.
I guess what I found interesting about the book was the idea that the author belives that Kissinger, especially in the time just before the Nixon resignation, changed the importance of the NSC as a body. It is generally well know Kissinger was involved in both policy-making and implementation. In the early days of the Nixon administration, Kissinger kept a low public profile at the NSC - before the Nixon visit to China - but he emerged after that trip as a media star - and continued that during his famous Middle East shuttle diplomacy. In a very interesting section of the book, we learn how Kissinger convened a meeting of the NSC while Nixon slept prior to his resignation and Kissinger on his own, but chairing the NSC as an assistant to the president or in effect acting as the president, put the US armed forces on a high DEFCON alert status - something that normally only the president would do. Similarly, after Nixon's resignation, Gerald Ford was not comfortable with Kissinger but opted to keep him on for the sake of continuity. In addition, and as an example, the author gives us some insight into the Kissinger - Arthur Schlesinger rivavlry, that was won out by Kissinger, but Kissiger was sometimes outmanoeuvered by Rumsfeld in the Ford administration.
The book goes on to outline the long Kissinger legacity at the NSC where many subsequent advisers and members had direct and indirect ties to Kissinger. It chronicles the changes under Carter and the use of the NSC by Clinton, but Kissinger dominates a large central section of the book. The importance of the NSC rose and fell with subsequent administrations including the Reagan and Bush Republican administrations, but the ghost of Kissiger lingered on through people such as Cheney and Rumsfeld, and other advisers, who have direct and indirect links back to the Kissinger era.
This is an impressive and a detailed look into the workings, the history, the people, the internal politics, the accomplishments, and the mistakes made by the National Security Council. Most readers of American history and politics will enjoy and appreciate the book. Incidentally, the author himself has ties to Kissinger through Kissinger Associates. Also, he is a well known author of five other books, and has lectured at Columbia.