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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?


I guess you can call me naive, but I thought the NSC was meant to be America's approach for oversight of civil-military affairs in our approach to international affairs.
There probably are more things the NSC should do in the area of strategy in general, but it seems that the main issue as I saw things during the "W" era was that the NSC appears to have been sidestepped and the civil in civil-military and perhaps even a better balance in the military representation was essentially ignored - in other words, the NSC mechanism was simply not taken seriously.


Many of the comments re:concentration of power, especially in the White House, especially on the heels of the past administration are understandable and well taken.

Pat, as you know from having worked the interagency, we military guys seek the order and discipline of a hierarchical organization. The IA is chaotic and unfocused. Jim Locher's project to reform the national security apparatus needs to move forward. Ironically, as I recall, Gen Jones was a member of that project and may be part of the long term solution.

Patrick Lang


Perhaps the IA SHOULD be somewhat unfocused and chaotic.

Do we really want to consolidate power in this way?

The fact that military people are contented with neat hierarchical systems does not make the creation of such systems at the highest levels of government necessarily a good idea. There was a reason why the Framers chose to create a system of decision that was not the most efficient. pl


Various presidents have built NSC staffs to suit their own personalities and needs. The question should bve whether or not we want to consolidate power there BY LAW.

DoD did not seize power during the Bush era. They were given so much power because Bush and Cheney, two civilians if ever there such, wanted to run a system that depended heavily on coercion and armed force. pl


PLEASE not a 'CheneyAddington part II'. I don't think our nation can take another 'omnipotent unitary executive' wannabe, especially with all the other problems our nation has on its plate. Our nation was founded on a division of the power, not a consolidation of it.


I agree 100%, Pat... The NSC is and should remain an operational extension and amplifier of the Presidency, nothing more and nothing less. The person sitting as its head is and should be the President's alter ego and this should not need any additional legal grounding: either the President's wishes will be transmitted accurately and with effect or they will not: when cabinet secretaries leave the room after a decision has been reached with which they agree or disagree, they will not - in my opinion - abide by the words coming directly from the President any more or less directly than if transmitted with clarity by the head of the NSC (and just to be clear, this is not a political nor an administrative appointment...).

The real question, of course, is whether the President is inherently as intelligent, clear-headed, and concise - as well as responsible - as his subordinates at this highest level. If the "center" does not hold, then the parts will stray and diverge from whatever might have been called coherent decisions and action.

PS: I can't help but wonder whether "fevery" was a Freudian slip, Pat:

"By making nearly fevery function of government subject to the policy formulation and coordination of the National Security Adviser we would be making that person effectively head of the government."

I presume the NSC deals with more than just crises, but wouldn't making it the official center of coordination also tend to transform 'ordinary' problems into crises?

I doubt General Jones and his team are involved in selecting the FIrst-Poochie...

William R. Cumming

PL asks whether the NSC function should be strengthened? What function? This is exactly why extensive and detailed oversight of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended should have occurred long ago. Still the march of a 1000 miles begins with a single step. Senator Fritz Hollings came within one vote in the Senate of passage of his bill adding the Attorney General to the statutory NSC membership. Why, he was tired of NSC lawlessness to be blunt. Okay what is the NSC function under the statute, to integrate foreign, military, and domestic policy to protect the National Security of the United States. Integration of policy does not mean going operational. Does it mean develop policy and override all others including the President? Doubtful. It is a corrdinative org not designed to be an Executive Agent except perhaps in unusual circumstances. It is not in the military chain of command nor is the role for it in domestic crisis management at this time. Of course again there is no domestic crisis management system or chain of command resulting in early reliance on the military for domestic crisis response. Worrying!

Clifford Kiracofe


Cabinet Secretaries and other Executive Department jobs are subject to confirmation by the Legislative branch of government. The director and positions at the NSC are not.

Another issue is POLICY. Organizational schemes present lots of smoke and mirrors; heat and no light. Pretty little neat diagrams of hierarchical structures and boxes ("of ticky-tacky which all look just the same"...and think the same) and squares and whatever else you can cram into Powerpoint and Visio etc.

What about POLICY rather than the musical chairs and the organization charts?

Are we better off today with the vast Homeland Security bureaucraZy? What about Katrina? etc.

Making the head of the NSC a supercabinet job would seem to obviate the need for Secretaries except as window dressing. (No offense intended to interior decorators and window dressers.)

In the interest of economy and efficiency (of course) we could just dispense with the various Departments of government and have one single Department of National Security. Cabinet meetings would be between the President/Leader and this Secretary/Advisor.

Wiki on NSC



wouldn't it be better to create much improved presentation and information delivery system so a president can capture better information nuance beyond the filter? (minimal reports and personal dynamics of NSC groups)

There is no way a president can get nuance and ask questions beyond the obvious for subjects that is not on his immediate interest. (that is assuming he even cares about asking.)

Adding more people won't improve NSC clarity. You just gonna get more political appointees and increased noise.


Maybe we should instead invest energies into the creation of a Corps of Imperial Eunuchs. They could be tasked to serve as gatekeepers for information with which the Son of Heaven needs to be familiarized in order that he be properly "assisted" toward implementing those policies that guarantee congruence with the Mandate of Heaven (or the needs of the Imperium, whichever comes first). I mean, it's only logical once you abandon those "quaint" pretensions to a republican form of governance.


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