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17 February 2009

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Strengthening the NSC and diluting its mission making it deal with everything does not solve the central problem(and sometimes benefit) of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus: that many different agencies have legitimate claim to decision making and there is little to nothing in the way of legal clarity for exactly who should do exactly what. This results in the ad-hoc and personality driven nature of foreign policy in Washington. For example, Zbig and Kissinger were able to wield significant influence from the NSA position, but Condi, first as NSA and then at State, was unable to use the same (already significant) institutional power at her disposal because of her weak personality and lack of bureaucratic panache. Cheney, on the other hand, had no institutional power to do anything other than attend state funerals, but because of his overbearing personality and his close connection with the president, he wielded significant power.

American history shows that it really doesn't matter how much you rearrange the various org charts, it will always be personalities and relationships that get things done in Washington, not statutory authority. Thus, while I find the NSC a compelling structure, I'm indifferent to giving it more power. How strong is Jones vis a vis the others bureaucratic players? How close is he to Obama?

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