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Presidential Command: Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 6, 2009
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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.”
“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
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Top customer reviews
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. "...the uproar over Watergate (and Vietnam) spawned a generational of institutional changes that weakened the presidency and strengthened the checks on it. Since then we have lived in an age of legally protected whistle-blowers, a vast expansion of what some would call congressional micromanagement of policy in every field, a web of legislative restrictions on presidential discretion, a strengthened Freedom of Information Act, war power legislation and the virtual institutional of leaking, including of classified documents. This is Richard Nixon's ironic legacy."
Rodman is most critical of Jimmy Carter. Carter was overwhelmed by the bureaucracy of the U.S State Department, according to Rodman, and watched his presidency decline into the morass of revolutionary Iran (the decline of the Shah and the rise of the Muslim extremists) who held American diplomats hostage until the end of the Carter Administration.
Ronald Reagan received mixed grades from Rodman:
"The paradox of Ronald Reagan is that he was one of the most important presidents of the modern era, who left his bold imprint on his administration and on history, yet on issues on which he was less engaged, his management of government has to be rate among the weakest...but both sides of this paradox deserve their proper respect."
Reagan was an idealist who had "a moral mission to be the `shining city on a hill,'" writes Rodman. But Reagan was also a poor manager, who was perhaps to aloof from his duties. Thus we see Al Haig trying to hijack American policy, and the rise of the Iran-Contra scandal where Reagan's staff tried to sell Iran weapons to fund the defense of Nicaragua from a communist takeover.
Bill Clinton demonstrated a lack of real interest in national security and foreign policy issues (focusing on domestic and economic issues), and his lack of interest was buttressed by his first Secretary of State, the cautious Warren Christopher. But Clinton did redeem himself when he finally took decisive action in the Balkan states as they crumbled and then, with America's help, restored equilibrium between Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.
Finally, Rodman takes on the administration of George W. Bush. Rodman admired Bush 43's decisiveness and confidence, but he questioned some of the advice that he received, including the intelligence on Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). In particular, Rodman is critical of what he alls "the politicization of our intelligence professions (which) is a serious matter for the longer term."
"Politicization can come from either of two directions - form the leadership of an administration, or from an impulse to oppose the leadership of an administration. The latter is no more desirable than the former. Future presidents of whatever party will come to regret the bureaucratic indiscipline, even if it has been indulged lately in some quarters because partisan temptations were too hard to resist. When it happens, it is not only the political leadership of an administration that suffers. It is decidedly unhealthy for the intelligence professional to expose themselves to such political pressures; they risk losing credibility if they let themselves in drawn into positions of political advocacy."
Rodman's final chapter, "Lessons Learned," is a short summary of the leadership issues that the author raises. It provides invaluable advice to anyone who aspires to a leadership position in Washington.
This is an excellent book. Well written, it is born from first-hand experience during the last 40 years - a period which did not especially distinguish the conduct of American foreign policy.
The book make me think who is the most influential person in foreign policy in President Obama's Administration. The Secretary of State? The Secretary of Defense? The head of the Pentagon? The National Security Advisor?
I hope we do not have a headless chicken operation in foreign policy. As we learned from Peter Rodman's book, each president has a particular management style in foreign policy. Traditionaly,the key person who advice the president has a well rounded intelectual education in geopolitics; good management skills; without a personal agenda to advance his or her own interest, and above all, that person has the full trust of the president.
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.