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Victory on the Potomac: The Goldwater-Nichols Act Unifies the Pentagon (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series) Paperback – May 14, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


“. . . a monumental Washington battle in prose that is both exciting for experts and informative for novices. . . . offers a unique historical lesson in rational decision making and civilian control of the military, and reminds us that the United States never pauses on the path to perfection.”--William S. Cohen, former Secretary of Defense
(William S. Cohen, former Secretary of Defense)

About the Author

James R. Locher III, a graduate of West Point and Harvard Business School began his career in Washington as an executive trainee in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has worked in the White House, the Pentagon, and the Senate. During the period covered by this book, he was a staff member for the Senate Committee on Armed Services. Since then, he has served as an assistant secretary of defense in the first Bush and the early Clinton administrations. Currently, he works as a consultant and lecturer on defense matters.

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Product Details

  • Series: Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series (Book 79)
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press; New edition edition (May 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585443980
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585443987
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I bought this book at the Army War College after hearing its author speak to the Army Strategy Conference on "Rebalancing the Instruments of National Power." I have posted 29 pages of notes at Earth Intelligence Network, with a page or two from Jim Locher's brilliant luncheon presentation.

Having spent the evening with this book, and with an understanding of what the Project on National Security Reform will be providing to the next President of the United States, I found the book totally inspiring, and most important for what it represents as proof that "Phase II" of national security reform is not just possible, but likely in 2009.

A few highlights:

1) The service chiefs fought this bitterly, to include lies and deceptions and fabricated studies.

2) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Jones, and later Crowe, get high praise for having the gumption to call for reform in the first case, and agree with reform in the second, but they were virtual outcasts for doing so.

3) Senator Sam Nunn will be back. As I look at the make-up of the Project, which also benefits from Newt Gingrich's brilliance and his mastery of history and House protocol, I have a very strong feeling that the follow-on to Goldwater-Nichols, a National Security Act of 2009, is not just viable, but undefeatable.

4) I've known Jim Locher as a thoughtful and courteous person for over a decade, and this book confirms my personal view that he is one of the most loyal, dedicated, intelligent, and responsible individuals we have, totally committed to public service in the purest sense of the word. The reviewer who demeans the author has no basis, in my view, for his negative judgement.
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By Jack Lechelt on November 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
Fantastic case study of Congress in action. Without tooting his own horn too much, Locher presents a great first person account of how the Goldwater-Nichols Act (GNA) became law and made the US stronger. This amazing achievement occurred despite a bitter Navy, a stone-walling Secretary of Defense (Weinberger), and a non-committal President (Reagan). Due to a strong bi-partisan relationship between Senators Nunn and Goldwater (among many others in Congress), this needed piece of legislation became law. Locher tells the story from his perspective as a staffer for the Senate Armed Services Committee. So perhaps the House side is a little less than thorough. Locher also points out the negative aspects of all those who opposed GNA. Still, Locher is fairer than most people when they are fully committed to a seriously important change in law. Most interesting to me was reading how ineffective Weinberger was as SecDef. He was so unwilling to negotiate that he became largely irrelevant and he missed out on any number of opportunities to have a serious impact on GNA. Locher would probably be the first to say that GNA did not fix all of the problems with the military regarding cooperation in taking on serious missions, but GNA has certainly helped.
Along with Showdown at Gucci Gulch and The System, this is one of three great policy process case studies. Most importantly, it shows how Congress can have a strong influence on the military, foreign policy, and America's national security - even in areas that are normally considered to be the president's prerogative.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Levesque on March 18, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My rating is in the middle because the book should be required reading for anyone who wants to know how Goldwater-Nichols came about, however, at the same time, it is extremely biased in its delivery, analysis and conclusions. The author was appointed by Senators Nunn (D) and Goldwater (R) to be the senior reorganization staffer who, "led the team that helped congress 'get smart' on this complex but critically important subject." Because of Locher's involvement from the Act's beginning through to its approval, which gives him unique insight, he has a vested interest in presenting his justifications for the Act in a positive light. This is best seen in his portrayals of the principals involved; those who supported reform are heroes who were not afraid to stand up to the establishment and the institutionalized bureaucracy. Those who opposed Goldwater-Nichols were more interested in their own power and often presented emotional rather than factual or issues based arguments.

Unfortunately, the book was published in 2002, which means the work was done before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003; it would be interesting to see his analysis of the relationship between the SECDEF and the JCS now.

Bottom line: if you're interested in how Goldwater-Nichols evolved, buy the book; I did, and I have no regrets. But read it with a (big) grain of salt.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on August 6, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an outstanding history of the four year process necessary to introduce meaningful reforms of the command structure into the U.S. Defense Establishment. The process involved courageous champions from the military services, equally courageous and bipartisan senators and congressman, and dedicated and knowledgeable legislative staffers. It is a story of persistence and dedication to the cause of reform in the U.S. Military.

In the wake of WWII the U.S. Congress passed the 1947 National Security Act. This act was meant to unify the U.S. Defense Establishment and enhance inter-service cooperation. Unfortunately, the military services, especially the U.S. Navy, pushed back hard and in the end were able to maintain their services autonomies within the newly created Defense Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). In the same way the so-called unified commands were unified in name only. And most seriously the command and control (C2) system under the Act was so convoluted that it contributed to the repeated breakdown of military C2 systems and tragically led to a lot of preventable U.S. military casualties.

Locher provides what appears to be an accurate and authentic history of the execution of a complex process to reform the command structure of the U.S. Military. He also notes that two military officers, General David Jones and Admiral William Crowe were willing to rise of above service parochialism to strongly support this process. But it is the late Senator Berry Goldwater and Senator Sam Nunn of the SASC who Locher singles out for specific praise. Both men put national security well ahead of partisan politics and joined with Representative Bill Nicholls to build a comprehensive reform bill.
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Victory on the Potomac: The Goldwater-Nichols Act Unifies the Pentagon (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series)
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