[...] he cautions that Presidents have had a tendency to overcompensate for the flaws of their immediate predecessor, whether it was Kennedy trying to substitute for what he viewed as Eisenhower's lassitude or Bush II at- tempting to replace the supposed incoher- ence of Bill Clinton's foreign policy team with a unified, top-down approach. [...] he voices the hope that Obama will not go blindly in the very opposite direction from Bush, thereby producing his own catastrophic errors.
winter Books In the Corridors of Power By Jacob Heilbrunn F EW DECISIONS of an incoming President are more served under Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Rea- fateful than the Cabinet he selects. George W. Bush’s gan, and both Bushes, the author was a veteran Washington Presidency was crippled from the outset by his pick- hand, as familiar with the world of think tanks as he was with ing Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, much government. Mild-mannered and affable, he was a conserv- as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson were ill- ative in the best sense of the word—the opposite, that is, of an served by Robert S. McNamara in that post. Barack Obama’s ideological zealot. He approached foreign policy in a spirit of choices, including naming Hillary Rodham Clinton secretary detached inquiry. His absorbing and informative book should of state and retaining Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon, have be required reading for both students of foreign policy and gov- evoked visions of a new “team of rivals” he will have to master ernment officials. or else witness the descent of his Administration into squab- As Rodman recounts, he first became interested in the sub- bling factions. Every President makes his selections partly on ject in the early 1960s at Harvard, where he studied with Henry the basis of perceived merit and partly to placate various con- Kissinger and imbibed the principles of realpolitik. He went on stituencies, among them big business, women’s organizations to work for Kissinger at the National Security Council (NSC) and ethnic groups. The nominees themselves are now subject- and helped draft his memoirs. One of the most valuable parts ed to unprecedented scrutiny; they are required to divulge the of Rodman’s discussion is his analysis of the NSC’s develop- most intimate details about their personal and financial lives to ment. Truman, who had approved its creation, realized some a team of vetters who try to shield the incoming President from sort of organization was necessary to coordinate the various any potentially embarrassing findings. But these intrusive in- agencies that had arisen during and immediately after World quiries have not deterred many office-seekers. The chance to War II. Rodman observes that it did not really become an inde- work in the corridors of power and influence the President pendent power center until McGeorge Bundy was appointed seems to have lost little of its allure, perhaps because the new Kennedy’s national security adviser. Kennedy was determined Obama Administration is predicated on the notion of sweeping to avoid what he perceived as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s mistake: change rather than continuity with the past. becoming a captive of the bureaucracy. To seize the initiative, Two new books, Peter W. Rodman’s Presidential Command: Rodman reports, Kennedy hired a group later dubbed “action Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy from intellectuals” to ensure that bold policies were rammed past Richard Nixon to George W. Bush (Knopf, 368 pp., $26.95), the ossified bureaucrats. and Gordon M. Goldstein’s Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Rodman also points out that under Bundy’s erstwhile pro- Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam (Times/Holt, 300 pp., tégé, Kissinger, the NSC reached the apogee of its strength. $25.00), offer a sharp picture of the extent to which advisers Like Kennedy, Kissinger and Nixon wanted to outflank
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