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Only the Most Able: Moving Beyond Politics in the Selection of National Security Leaders 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1442220225
ISBN-10: 1442220228
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Stephen M. Duncan focuses much needed attention on the badly dysfunctional process that is used by Presidents to select the political leadership of our government. The problem is particularly egregious for our national security institutions, which otherwise do such an impressive job of developing leaders in the uniform services. Our country's future depends on getting this right. (Max Stier, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Partnership for Public Service)

President Reagan said that "To control and successfully implement policy, you need to control appointments." Stephen Duncan gives insight and illustrations of mistakes officials in various Administrations have made in not heeding this advice. A must read for all serving in higher levels of government and for all Americans who desire a government that works. (Hon. E. Pendleton James, Former Special Assistant to the President and Director, White House Office of Presidential Personnel)

This is a timely book about a critically important subject. Stephen Duncan argues what increasing numbers of leaders believe, that the security environment which the United States currently faces has drastically reduced the margin for error in the appointment of senior officials in those agencies that are responsible for the security and safety of American citizens. He contends that the emphasis in both the nomination and confirmation processes must be on the particular qualities of the individual under consideration and he suggests ways to accomplish this goal. (Dr. Macubin T. Owens, Professor, National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval War College)

The thesis of this book is that the current process of selecting national security leaders is inadequate. The military is capable of selecting and disciplining its leaders, but the presidents and senators who appoint political leaders to various national security agencies have not developed a successful system. Hence, key national security officials are haphazardly selected, often ineffective, and seldom disciplined when they fail. This book is distinctive because Duncan (formerly, assistant secretary of defense) has not only the courage but also the knowledge to cite examples of political appointees who should never have been appointed and whose mistakes jeopardized the safety of the American people. Too often, neither presidents nor senators understand what qualities an individual must have to be effective. Hence, they use misguided political criteria rather than substantial qualifications to make selections. The problem has become more acute in recent decades because of the decline in the number of presidents or senators who have security-related experience. The solution: those who do the selecting must understand that appointing a leader to a national security agency for political reasons is just as bad as selecting a military leader for political reasons. Summing Up: Recommended. (CHOICE)

[Stephen Duncan's] arguments surely will touch a nerve, but he is well balanced — he skewers everyone: current and former Republican and Democratic administrations, cabinets, and Congresses. (Military Officer)

The contribution of Duncan’s book is to shine the light of analysis on an area that for too long has been exempt from rigorous scrutiny. Whereas military leaders know that they are subject to rigorous performance standards, their Constitutional bosses remain exempt — free to pursue whatever ideological agenda they please. Under present arrangements, no systematic scrutiny and evaluation of civilian leadership exists. Only until the magnitude of civilian failure is sufficiently great are ad hoc evaluation processes hastily thrown into place. Duncan is correct. There must be a better way. (InterAgency Journal, Arthur D. Simons Center for Interagency Cooperation)

About the Author

Stephen M. Duncan served as assistant secretary of defense in two presidential administrations and as the Pentagon's senior Drug War official. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran with more than forty years of active and reserve naval service and the recipient of two awards of the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. He has been a senior executive in two defense industry technology companies, a federal criminal prosecutor, a partner in major law firms, and the Director of the Institute for Homeland Security Studies at the National Defense University. Duncan is the author of Citizen Warriors and A War of a Different Kind.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 1 edition (October 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442220228
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442220225
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,541,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This is Steve Duncan's best book. Written in the style Winston Churchill would have admired, he makes his points in a manner impossible to ignore. His comments on the shortcomings which exist and will continue to exist in choosing civilian appointees to the federal givernment, most particularly in those parts of the government which manage national security, are on the mark. His examples from current and recent appointments are fairly described. They spare neither political party. His admiration for George Marshall in the recent history of American government comes through again and again. Unfortunately for all of us there are not that many persons of Marshall's caliber found in any government. Nevertheless, Duncan reminds us we should look to him as the best kind of measuring stick. On that point I was also taken with his unqualified appreciation for Attorney General Richardson and his conduct during the discharge of the Special Prosecutor during the Watergate events.

Duncan does not speak well of President Obama's handling of certain military matters, some of which go beyond appointment issues. His views are clearly explained. Almost ineveitably these unfavorable comments include the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, and the author's view of his shortcomings.

This is a book for a serious reader who wants exposure to serious opinions. Whether you agree with all the opinions or not, you know where the author stands. I find he stands front and center on most of his views, especially the more important ones. His suggestions for improving the appointment process deserve attention and implementation.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the most urgent duties confronting any U.S. President-elect is to appoint the people he or she intends to entrust with senior leadership or management positions in the incoming government. Over the last half century this important executive responsibility has become increasingly more complex and demanding. As the author emphasizes,this is partly due to a more extensive and time consuming vetting process and partly because of the larger number of nomination that are now required. In 1961 for example, President Kennedy had 286 positions to fill requiring Senate confirmation; in 2008, President Obama had over 4000 political appointments to make including more than 1400 that required Senate confirmation.

In the authors'view, the manner in which the new President selects his or hers immediate team of leaders and advisers, will likely provide the first clue as to the future performance of that new administration. Because of the nature of the current threats to our national security, Duncan argues, we may no longer have the luxury to fully recover from missteps made by an incompetent civilian policy maker, especially one in the Defense, Homeland Security, or the State Departments. In my opinion, "Only the Most Able" is a carefully researched first-class primer on presidential appointments and the serious consequences that may result when the highest possible selection standards are not rigorously applied. I give it five stars. O.K. Steele Major General, (Ret) USMC
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stephen Duncan's Only the Most Able offers a well-researched review of the selection of senior federal officials. Its compelling case for reading is its concise, footnoted argument that all too often senior national leaders are selected and "vetted" for political expediency. Their records of prior service or study - not results - seem all too often to be the reason for selection. The result is at least wasted time but frequently, it includes lost opportunity, squandered budget investments and failed programs. Reading it now as President Obama selects his team for the second term, provides a classic practical exercise to demonstrate its truth. Only the Most Able should be on the Must Read list of every thinking man and woman!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This author has his finger on the pulse of the problem Washington, political cronyism! Placing political appointees in high level positions
That can have long lasting negative effects on agencies. Good read. Highly recommend!
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading "Only the Most Able" written by Stephen Duncan. It is one of the most informative books on politics, the military and national security. I wish every political and national security leader in our country would read this important book. I give it a 5 star rating.
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