64 of 74 people found the following review helpful
The arrogance and naiveté of the National Security Council and its principal protagonists is ably reflected in the title. The pretentiousness and unreality of "Running the World" is fittingly complemented by a cover photo of a Cabinet meeting, not an NSC meeting-the latter take place in crummy little rooms with poor ventilation, not at all the kind of image one wants as an Emperor, naked or not.
There are three consistent and very useful themes throughout the book that make it extraordinarily valuable to any student of the pathologies of the national security "decision" process (I use that term *very* loosely).
First, that each Administration allows personal ambitions and an almost pathological desire for "differentiation" from the previous Administration to first destroy and then slowly rebuilt the NSC. Hence, it is dysfunctional much of the time, regardless of the ideology prevailing at the time.
The second prevailing theme, one that Amy Zegart captured so well in her seminal scholarly work, "Flawed by Design," is the perpetual dysfunctionality, a constant dysfunctionality, between the Departments of State and Defense, and between Defense and the loosely managed U.S. Intelligence Community. The bottom line is that personalities and politics, not intelligence nor wisdom, are the prevailing drivers of U.S. national security.
Lastly, the irrelevance of secret intelligence to the White House decision process, regardless of what Administration is in power, is documented. Page 361 is an especially good indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in particular, and with specific reference to its complete incompetence at economic intelligence needed by the Department of the Treasury. In general, intelligence in this book is portrayed, accurately, as either irrelevant or a pawn to the politically-driven preferences of the White House.
This is not a scholarly work, but merits great credit for the many interviews. Over-all the author has leveraged close access to a large variety of U.S.players over time, while not engaging the other players, including foreign players, private sector players, and non-governmental players. The book, even with its focus only on US players would have benefited from an annex charting and comparing the approaches of various NSC iterations to various issues and topics, to include number of action officers, number of meetings, and number of decision papers, but that kind of hard work does not appear to have been part of the plan. There is also little mention of the role lobbying and blatant corruption play in making foreign and security policy--for example, there is no mention of how the White House and the U.S. Senate, from 1974-1979, knew full well that Peak Oil (the end of cheap oil) had arrived, but in what may well be the most treasonous and retrospectively impeachable offence against the public interest, both the White House and the Senators decided to "live the dream" and waste 25 years during which we could have achieved energy independence and sanity.
The book, by virtue of its focus on primary research, does not address the substantive literature on global issues, nor the scholarly and practical literature on the NSC. Morton Halperin's seminal work on "Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy" and other works on the NSC such as those edited by Dr. Loch Johnson, the foremost academic observer of secrecy and policy, are essential complements to this author's offering.
The book whitewashes Tony Lake, whose incapacity as an advisor merits note. Most of what the author puts forward about Lake is contradicted by other accounts including those of Dick Clarke, who says he could not get Lake's support until the time came for the latter to leave government and write a book. Naturally there are different points of view.
The book is a hatchet job on the Reagan era, even catty in its tone, but the author avoids appearing to be a sycophant to Bush II in that he very properly documents the grotesque dysfunctionality of the Bush II team (and the extraordinary competence of Vice President Cheney in getting his way as co-President). The author has done a good job of leading up to a severe indictment of the Bush II national security decision process, and excels at showing how Condi Rice was "run over" and side-lined by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neo-conservatives. His documentation on Cheney as a de facto prime minister is quite good, and these few pages are alone worth the price of the book. Pages 428-429 are "hot" and make it clear that the Bush II Administration, where Cheney was given the terrorism mandate in passing (something not widely known to the public), chose to emphasize invading Iraq, national missile defense, and energy sweetheart deals over counter-terrorism during the critical three months leading to 9-11.
There are a few disconcerting errors or failures in the book. In lambasting Reagan for invading Grenada, he says that 8,612 medals were handed out. Had he troubled to check with the military, he might have learned the difference between medals and campaign ribbons. He seriously over-sells both Burger and Lake while ignoring the blatant manner in which the Clinton Administration, and Madeline Albright in particular, sought to down-play terrorism to the point of suppressing alarmist reporting and ignoring or side-lining Dick Clarke. He claims, on page 387, that the Clinton Administration "foiled plots against trans-Pacific jumbo jet traffic." Not so fast. The terrorist blew himself up in the Philippines prior to executing the plot, which was completely undetected by U.S. intelligence, and it was that error that revealed the plot when Philippine authorities responded to the resulting fire. On page 457 he makes the observation that the Congress has less turnover than the Soviet politburo. This should have been credited to Peggy Noonan and Ronald Reagan, who used it in an address to a joint session of Congress. He ends the book wisely, saying, "The ultimate check is an educated American public," which thought tallies nicely with Thomas Jefferson, who said "A Nation's best defense is an educated citizenry."
This is a book that needed to be written. It documents the pathetic manner in which U.S. national security is in the hands of a small group of people that place loyalty to one another above intelligence, wisdom, and strategic thinking. We all suffer. It is a primary reference for all who would wish to understand why the greatest Nation on the planet has such a pathetic lack of strategic culture, vision, process, and outcome.
The Exective, and the Congress, and Broken. Here are some other books, with my reviews:
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11
State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Institutions of American Democracy)
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 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.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2005
We certainly ain't in Kansas anymore. We've gone international in a big way in the last 60 years. Decision making on this level has changed. Whether you realize it or not could be based soley on whether you've read this book, or not."Running The World" by David Rothkopf. It's a great (sometimes funny, sometimes scary)look into the function of the NSC, probably the most important branch of the government...that no one knows about. As far as a ruling body, the National Security Council are the CEOs of our government. Rothkopf is a great storyteller and as the former Managing Director of Kissinger Associates and Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce (Clinton), he's been involved with domestic and international policy from the inside. He has the ability to captivate and inspire thought and ideas. Rothkopf himself coined the now-so-popular phrase "Emerging Markets" that has been spoken by Presidents Clinton and Bush. This was a great first read for me for the summer, it'll be a tough act to follow.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 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?
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
David Rothkopf, CEO of both Intellibridge and the consulting firm the Rothkopf Group, has written an excellent historical narrative of the National Security Council, the committee "Running the World."
Rothkopf combines both solid scholarship and his own personal recollections as being a senior member of the Clinton administration to paint a compelling picture of the highest echelons of the national security apparatus of the United States. Rothkopf's main thesis is that the people who make sometimes world and history altering decisions are not extraordinary; they are not superhuman. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, not unlike most of humanity. But for whatever reason they have made it into positions of incredible power.
It is the importance of individuals that is the driving force of Rothkopf's story. The NSC has had its ups and downs. It played a strictly advisory role in its early years; while in the late 1960s to mid `70s was dominated by one man: Henry Kissinger. Mismanagement of the NSC nearly brought down President Reagan. However, just a few years later perhaps the most efficient and well run NSC in history was guided by Brent Scowcroft and George H.W. Bush through the first Persian Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is the role of individuals, especially the official chair of the NSC, the president, to shepherd U.S. national security policy through good and bad times. Rothkopf's biggest contribution is to paint a vivid picture of the role of individuals. For that, I highly recommend this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2008
This book takes the reader from the beginning of the National Security Council (NSC) up through the Clinton administration.
It describes how the NSC has evolved over time and the nature of its functioning and how different Presidents utilized its advice.
As the NSC is instrumental in providing U.S. national security advice to the President, this book is an important one in the study of Presidential power, decisionmaking and the national security policymaking.
It describes the policymaking process and the inter-agency and bureaucratic formulation of policy and how different Presidents structured the functioning of the NSC differently to suit their needs or what they and their top advisors deemed to be the optimal national security policymaking structure.
I found the book to be excellent, engaging, and thorough study. I particularly was interested in learning about how Henry Kissinger and his numerous proteges that worked with him and eventually held their own top positions in government had a significant and substantive impact on U.S. national security policy for the last 30+ years.
This book is required reading for the student of U.S. national security policy formulation.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2005
I read this book just after finishing Gerhard Weinberg's excellent book A World at Arms which spent a lot of time on Churchill and Roosevelt basically running World War II. Roosevelt would send a trusted aid out on a mission once in a while, but he esentially ran the War by himself. Truman wasn't even aware of the Atomic Bomb project until after Roosevelt's death. Stalin and Churchill were aware, but not Truman.
It makes good sense that Truman then created the National Security Council, and it's no surprise that he included the vice president as a member. It's also not much of a surprise that also created by the same legislation the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Central Intelligence Agency. After all the interservice rivalries Army vs. Navy and FBI vs. OSS during World War II were pathetic.
In this exhaustive history of the NSC Mr. Rothkopf discusses the working relationship between the President and the NSC since its birth. As you would expect, the organization has waxed and waned depending on the individuals involved. A major influence on the NSC from the late sixties through about 1990 has been Henry Kissinger whose influence has extended far beyond his actual time in office.
The conclusion I reach after reading this book is that the NSC isn't perfect, what is, but it's a hell of a lot better than the way Roosevelt did it. This book is a good introduction to how one rather obscure part of our Government works.
on January 2, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Very interesting view into recent history (quite recent, actually). Very interesting perspectives into decision making and the way in which political necessities get in the way of enlightened policy design. Fascinating insights into the acceleration of history and how it forces decisions with less thoughtfulness than one would hope.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2008
David Rothkopf's book does a good job of demonstrating that personality and proximity have more to do with the national security decisionmaking process than any specific procedures or players. Meaning it does not matter if the Secretary of State is a respected, intelligent person who is the titular head of US foreign policy. What matters is who has access to the president and a good relationship with him (some day her).
Unfortunately, I did not pick up the book to learn that as any biography of Kissinger, and numerous books about the current Bush Administration have demonstrated that reality clearly. What I was hoping for, and barely found, was a book much more focused on the structure, budget, staffing, and so on of the NSC. The book sometimes found its way to those points, but spent more time on other, better known topics. Of course, reading about Iran-Contra or the war in Kosovo are interesting, but they can also be found in plenty of other books without an NSC focus. I did not feel the book really leveraged its topic well in its discussion of the major foreign policy and national security events since World War II.
The funniest error in the book is that at one point, the author refers to Jimmy Carter's press secretary as Jody Foster, not Jody Powell. How could no one catch that? The problem that creates, as other reviewers have noted, is that it calls into question everything else in the book.
on February 20, 2015
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is an outstanding history and analysis of the National Security Council and a must read for anyone interested in the topic, including professions and members of a wider public audience. Rothkopf knows the people and the institutions he writes about. His analysis is incisive and revealing.