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Presidential Command: Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 6, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The late Rodman held high-level national security posts in every Republican administration since Nixon’s, and this posthumous work is his analysis of a president’s foreign-policy apparatus. Nominally, the CIA and the Departments of State and Defense are executive instruments, but in reality, they have institutional outlooks and agendas that can conflict with a president’s policies. Control of these bureaucracies, then, is Rodman’s topic, in which the statutory steering wheel—the National Security Council and its staff—looms large. Taking each president since Nixon in turn, Rodman appraises the personal interactions of foreign-policy chieftains with each other and with their chief executive, underlining whether comity or confusion reigned at the top. Rodman argues that a president’s fortunes in foreign policy depend on his clarity and decisiveness and on his inclination to work through the bureaucracies or to bypass them. Given the author’s judgment that a president’s national-security appointments presage whether he becomes their leader or their captive, observers of the new Obama administration and its inaugural moves in foreign affairs should find lessons in Rodman’s experienced outlook. --Gilbert Taylor


"Presidential Command  should be on the short list of readings for members of the Barack Obama administration--as much for its pointing out the mistakes to avoid as for illustrating the procedures to emulate."
–Gary Hart, The New York Times Book Review
"A brilliant tutorial on the way presidents, regardless of party or ideology, have struggled to control the vast national security bureaucracy they inherit after taking the oath of office . . . Presidential Command should be required reading for President-elect Barack Obama's national-security team, and . . . for Mr. Obama himself."
–Jonathan Karl, Wall Street Journal

“Provocative . . . Highly insightful . . . Fascinating . . . Fair-minded.”
–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Rodman’s rankings of presidential performance pack interest.”
–Harry Levins, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Insightful . . . [Rodman’s] grasp of the inherent conflict between State and National Security will probably make this book required reading in many parts of the Obama administration.”
Sacramento Book Review

“Observers of the new Obama administration and its inaugural moves in foreign affairs should find lessons in Rodman’s experienced outlook.”

“Peter Rodman was incisive, wise, and fair and these qualities are reflected in his revealing, timely, and truly important account of how our recent presidents both succeeded and failed in exercising strategic ‘command’ over U.S. foreign policy.”
–Zbigniew Brzezinski

“This masterful series of studies, by one of America's most gifted and sensitive national security analysts, merges a scrupulous taste for clarity with a broad and humane vision of the American national interest. It is enlightening, penetrating and always fascinating.”
–Philip Bobbitt, author of Terror and Consent

 “In an age of sensational leaks and headline-grabbing exposés that illuminate very little, it is bracing to read Peter Rodman’s calm and reasoned dissection of foreign policy over the course of several recent administrations, which illuminates very much. His is the quiet voice of wisdom.”
–Robert D. Kaplan, author of Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos 

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307269795
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269799
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,585,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a must read for anybody interested in United States foreign policy. It is gracefully written, and exudes a forthright integrity that can only come from deep, hands-on experience.

Peter Rodman served in senior posts in every Republican administration since Nixon, working at State, DoD, and the White House. He participated directly in many of the events that he analyzes. Despite this close personal association with the subject matter, throughout the book Rodman maintains a cold and penetrating objectivity.

Rodman does reveal his personal loyalties and policy preferences, but this book is utterly devoid of special pleading. Contrary to what some of the other reviewers have suggested, it does not attempt to sell this or that policy position or to glorify this or that personality. Its subject is the set of challenges that ALL presidents, Republican and Democratic, face when they try to set up an effective process for making national security policy.

I served in government with Rodman in the last administration. Having come from academia with no previous policy experience, his book has helped me enormously to make some sense out of what I learned on the inside. On the outside, policy analysis and debate is a purely intellectual activity. On the inside, the intellectual component is overshadowed by the interplay between personalities and bureaucracies that this book so deftly describes.

Peter Rodman passed away last August. He was a very gentle and intelligent man. While I am thankful that he managed to leave us this book (as well as his other work, MORE PRECIOUS THAN PEACE), its unique quality makes one sadly aware of how much more he had to offer as a scholar.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The late national security expert, Peter W. Rodman, wrote a book just before he died that should be essential reading for every serious U.S. Presidential candidate.

Rodman, who was a protégé of Henry Kissinger, offers useful insights into the conduct of American foreign policy from 1968 through 2007. He covers the national security history of the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. A lot of mistakes were made during those administrations, and Rodman provides an acute sense of analysis to what went right and what went wrong in each of those administrations. In an author's note, Rodman writes:

"The book conveys a few simple points - lessons if you will - about how presidents can best maintain their personal control and policy direction. They are summed up in the last chapter, but the themes are threads that run throughout the book. They have to do with the inescapable necessity for presidents to be personally and systematically engaged, lest feuds between cabinet agencies fester or bureaucracies remain unresponsive to presidential preferences. These may seem obvious points, yet the account of seven presidencies that follows includes a perhaps surprising number of negative examples that demonstrate the price that is paid when their importance is not understood."

Rodman then proceeds to critique the American foreign policy from 1969 through 2008, the year the author died.

The author was a statesman with a conservative outlook, to be sure, but his observations generally rise above politics. He critiques both Republican and Democratic administrations with perceptive analysis.

Richard Nixon, according to Rodman, lost control the American foreign policy apparatus. "...
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Format: Hardcover
It is commonplace among Democrats to think that they are smarter than Republicans and so can ignore the experience of Republican Presidents and the advice of Republican intellectuals. This just lays the foundation for the impotence and incompetence of Democratic Administrations. Presidential Command should be on the top of President Obama's reading list, but because it was written by someone who served in a number of Republican Administrations, it will be ignored.

And that is unfortunate to all Americans (but especially Democrats who want their agenda to succeed), because the late Mr. Rodman's message is that all politicians, left or right (and, therefore, the people who elect them), have to control the bureaucracy - the "Permanent Government" - if they want to accomplish what they set out to do.

A good example of this is the recent series of protocol blunders in President Obama's meetings with the U.K.'s Queen and Prime Minister. This were embarrassing gaffs, made worse by the Daily Telegraph's interview with a State Department spokesman, all of which merely succeeded in alienating an old ally at a time when the new Administration needed to get its support on a variety of issues. What caused this? The State Department, after all, has an Office of Protocol designed specifically to prevent these unneccessary blunders from occurring. Is the President too arrogant to listen to advisors? Did Secretary Clinton deliberately undermine him? Perhaps, but it is more likely that the State Department aparatchiks just sat on their hands to put the new President in his place.

Mr. Rodman examines the foreign policy of every President between Nixon and Bush 2 - and more importantly, the way each Administration structures its advisors to implement its foreign policy.
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