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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Role of the National Security Advisor

FPC Briefing
Dr. I. M. Destler
Co-Author of "In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisors
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
March 16, 2009

Date: 03/16/2009 Location: Washington, DC. Description: Dr. I.M. Destler, co-author of "InThe Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisors and the Presidents They Served - from JFK to George W. Bush," Briefing at the Washington FPC on "The Role of the National Security Advisor." State Dept Photo

 2:00 P.M. EDT

Related CRS Report: "The National Security Council: An Organizational Assessment."

MODERATOR: This afternoon, we initiate what we hope will be a regular feature on our briefing schedules, the presentation of important new books on American policy, government, and society by influential American authors.

In the Shadow of the Oval Office was published just last month. Its authors are Dr. Ivo Daalder and Dr. Mac Destler. Some of you may have read that last week, Dr. Daalder was nominated by President Obama as the next U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Dr. Destler is here with us today. He’s a Stern Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and directs their School of International Studies – International Security, excuse me.

Dr. Destler, thank you.

DR. DESTLER: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here. I – he’s not absolutely up to date. As of 11:00 a.m. this morning, because I was not fast enough in running in the other direction, I was named what we call interim dean of the School of Public Policy, meaning that our current dean is going into the government and the dean we have – wonderful dean we have just recruited can’t come on until June 1st. And so somebody has to keep the seat warm. And as I say, I didn’t move – run – there was a race for the faculty for the job or race away from the job, and I didn’t run fast enough, sorry.

So anyway – but it’s a pleasure to be here. I thought I’d spend a few minutes talking about the book, but maybe not too long because if you’re like any other journalists that I know, you like to ask questions, and it’s sometimes more fun to get your questions and your perspectives than to listen to myself say what I’ve been saying a few places.

So what I’d like to do is to say a few things about this – the office about which we wrote the book, which is formally called the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs – informally called the National Security Advisor – and a little bit about how the job was created, how it – what the key elements of the power of this person consists of, a few – a couple of stories about the history of it, a little bit about the Obama Administration and maybe questions we should ask, what we should be thinking about as we watch the Obama Administration sort out its way of handling foreign policy, and then answer questions. I hope that doesn’t take too long.

The job called Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs was actually created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower back in 1953. And what Ike wanted was somebody who was a senior official in the White House who would help him plan foreign policy. And by planning, this meant developing broad policy guidelines both for policy as a whole, policy for a particular region in countries, et cetera. And so he developed – had his administration develop the most elaborate policy planning process the United States had ever seen up to that time, and certainly the most elaborate we ever had. And the National Security Assistant was the person who was supposed to run this process.

Now, when – toward the end of the Eisenhower Administration, he was being criticized for numerous things, as is often the case as presidents prepare to leave office, and including supporters of a young man named John F. Kennedy, who was going to succeed him. And one of the criticisms in particular was that this policy planning process was sterile, that it was formal, that it led to such conclusions as it is important to the U.S. position in the Cold War and relations with South Asia that the United States maintain solid relations with Pakistan, or some sweeping conclusion like that that didn’t mean an awful lot in terms of actual policy choices. And so critics thought that it wasn’t – so when Kennedy came in, he was determined he was not going to continue this policy planning system.

But there was this job for – and he filled his cabinet positions. He finally found a Secretary of State in Dean Rusk, after sweating it out for quite a bit. And then in late December, he picked up the telephone and he said to a man who was – the name, McGeorge Bundy – Mac Bundy he became known as, who was dean of the faculty at Harvard University. And he said, “Mac, there’s this job in the White House called Assistant to the President for National Security. How would you like to have that job?” And Bundy said, “Yeah, sounds great.” So he was appointed.

Now neither Kennedy nor Bundy, I think, had a very detailed idea of exactly what the person holding this job was going to do. So they said they knew he wasn’t going to do. He wasn’t go to run an elaborate policy process. He was going to support the President in his day-to-day foreign policymaking. But again, they weren’t quite sure exactly how much – what this meant.

And so the early days of the Kennedy Administration were rather disorganized, and Bundy was very smart and he did a lot for Kennedy. But lots of other people did things for Kennedy. Kennedy was very interested in getting a variety of viewpoints. He didn’t want to be captured by any one advisor. Kennedy was less concerned about sort of order and consistency in terms of his Administration, at least early on. And he didn’t fully realize that if they didn’t tightly manage the process, somebody else might manipulate it.

And what happened was a group of people who very much thought the United States should overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba – because last I looked, Castro is still there, but this was in 1961, that he should overthrow Fidel Castro, and they had a plan to support Cuban exiles that was carried over from the Eisenhower Administration. The Kennedy Administration never subjected this to a thorough going review or effective critique. They let it go forward. It was a terrible plan, a hopeless plan. Whether or not you think it was the right thing to do, it was badly executed and it was a big mess and Kennedy suffered very much.

And so then the word came out somebody has to be – help coordinate foreign policy, not run it for the president. The president was going to run it. But somebody has to be – keep track of all the strings, all the different things that are going on in this act for this activist, rather informal president. And so Bundy was the person.

Bundy had been – you know, across the parking lot from the White House there is something now called, I think, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and that was where Bundy was before the Bay of Pigs. Then Bundy determined that he had to be closer to the president if he was going to really coordinate, so he essentially found some space in the basement of the White House that was being used to store files. He decided I’m probably more important – I probably need to be near the president more than those files need to be near the president, so they – he moved in. And he therefore, as he said to me once, decades later when I interviewed him, he said, “I had to be one minute away from the president, not five minutes away if I was to do this job.” So we established this pattern, which every successive president has had of a special – of an Assistant for National Security inside the White House to handle the president’s day-to-day foreign relations.

Now, there were two other things that made this important. A second thing was that Bundy recruited his own staff, and they were people who were not Civil Service people, not people who would continue from administration to administration, but people who were brought in specifically out of loyalty to Kennedy, loyalty to his program and, therefore, were – could be expected to be responsive to what he wanted. And it was not a large staff at the time, but it was very much a presidential staff, not a career bureaucracy.

And the third thing they did was they decided the president needed to have real immediate information about what was going on in foreign policy, I mean, what was being communicated between the State Department and foreign governments, and so they arranged to a system which was in fairly primitive technology of the day, but they could monitor communications, say, from the State Department to foreign embassies and back again, and also some CIA communications, some Pentagon communications. And so they would be sort of printed up and run in the basement of the White House that would – and then could be brought to Bundy or to his staff and brought to the president if they were particularly important. So they could keep – they could see what was going on. They could see what the rest of the government was doing.

Now, to create a person – but of course the most important part of the power was proximity, closeness to the president, the fact that this person was – could speak for the president, that he was a minute away, probably spoke to him more than anybody else in the foreign policy side of the government, and this was enormous, potential power.

Now, Bundy used this power in a moderate sort of way. He was very happy to be the smartest kid on the block, which he probably was. He also was – you know, didn’t mind exercising power, but he used it to sort of make connections. He tried – he connected very well with aggressive Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He connected well with people in the State Department, but not always with the Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who had a very different style of operation than Bundy. He was – Rusk was much more cautious, much more hierarchical. And so sometimes Bundy and his staff would go around Rusk and work with other people in the State Department, creating real problems for the Secretary of State. And this has been a consistent theme of this job since then.

When Henry Kissinger held the job under Richard Nixon, he used it, with Nixon’s encouragement, essentially to shut the Secretary of State out of the most important issues. When Kissinger was making his secret trips to China to open up U.S. relations with China in the summer of 1971, the Secretary of State didn’t know that that was about to happen. That was – that’s how extreme – there were certain negotiations that Kissinger conducted on arms control the Secretary of State was not told about until they reached a conclusion.

So this was the greatest extreme in terms of using the office, both to dominate foreign policy and to shut out the Secretary of State, to shut out the bureaucracy. It demonstrated that power created real problems, huge bitterness in the State Department during this period, lots of pushback.

There was – when the White House decided to support the Government of Pakistan in a bitter conflict in South Asia later in 1971, which led to the independence of Bangladesh. And the State Department almost overwhelmingly thought the United States should be essentially supporting Bangladeshi independence. The State Department people were quite willing to see Nixon and Kissinger’s policy fail, to leak information to reporters blaming Kissinger for the problems, et cetera, and to make thing – and to essentially get back at him to some degree. Nevertheless, Kissinger and Nixon were quite successful in the sense that they achieved – had some notable policy achievements, of which the opening to China was by far the most important and durable.

Since then, there have been a number of famous people holding the position. One of the most famous was – speaking of Brzezinski, still an important player in – among commentators and observers and writers about U.S. foreign policy, and Zbig, as he was called, was much more open than Kissinger. He didn’t try to shut out the bureaucracy, but he did compete with it, and he argued for policy. He competed very strongly with the Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, and their viewpoint was so different on some major issues that this became part of the staple in the press, and the Carter Administration became known for its disarray and its confusion in foreign policy.

Other members, people who have held the job, have been less famous. In particular, there was a man maybe known to most of you named Brent Scowcroft, a retired lieutenant general, a military intellectual. Brent held the job briefly under President Gerald Ford in the early 1970s and then he held it for the entire four years of George H.W. Bush, Bush the father’s presidency.

And during that latter period, Scowcroft showed, I think – gave a demonstration of how this job can be managed not only to the great benefit of the President, but also to help the key – other key cabinet people – the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense – to sort of keep everybody together as part of a policy team and to make the – and to multiply the effectiveness of the administration.

And the George H.W. Bush Administration was very successful in its foreign policy managing the collapse of the Eastern – of the Warsaw Pact ties between Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, responding effectively to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and (inaudible), dealing with the unification of Germany and managing it on terms to keep the – to have it acceptable not just to the British and French who were scared about the implications of a much larger Germany, but also acceptable to the Russians who had been very, very worried about it indeed.

And so – and Scowcroft had basically three principles that he used in order to play this role of Assistant to the President for National Security effectively. The first role was: establish trust. He said, essentially, when you come into this job, everybody knows that you’re going to be the closest person to the President. If you’re any good at it at all, you’ll probably see him first thing in the morning and maybe last thing before he goes to dinner at night, maybe after dinner too if it’s a busy time. They know that you can report what they say with reviews or that you can distort them, that you can twist things, and you have great leeway. And – but if they think you won’t report their views accurately, if they think you can’t be trusted to communicate for them with the President cause you’re there much more than they are – this means “they” being the Secretary of State, “they” being the Secretary of Defense – they’ll go around you. They’ll find somebody else to communicate through and they’ll undercut you with the President so you have a big fight on your hands and the administration will be a mess.

So he said the very first thing you have to do as National Security Assistant is be a reliable broker, be an honest broker, be trusted, run a policy process where people get a chance to speak to the President on paper, on – verbally, through you, directly, whatever. And he said – and you have to – it takes at least a year, he said, to get it so you got that in shape so that they trust you.

Now once you get that, then you can maybe move out a little bit on policy. Then you can start pushing your own line a little bit because you now have the trust of everybody and they don’t think you’re going to go faster (inaudible). And sure enough, Scowcroft did this and then in the summer of 1990 when Saddam did invade Kuwait to most people’s surprise, Brent Scowcroft was the strongest advocate within the administration for a forceful response, for the United States leading a coalition to push Saddam out militarily if he would not go out peacefully. And he was able to do this and he still retained the trust of everybody because he had established that trust. So the first principle for Scowcroft was build trust, particularly among the senior people.

The second principle was build an orderly, multilevel policy process, not – Scowcroft, of course, supported meetings with the President and his chief advisors, which were fairly frequent in the Bush Administration. He also ran something called the Principles Committee, which has existed since then, which is the – chaired by the National Security Advisor and includes the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, typically the Chief Intelligence Officer, perhaps the Chief Military Officer, others as useful, but basically, the senior group that meets maybe without the President to resolve those issues they need to resolve, to figure out where they differ, what issues should go to the President and so forth.

Next there’s the deputies level, right below them, the next level, which is very, very important because the senior people often have huge public responsibilities, they have lots of conflict in terms of how they can use their time, how much they can get into issues. And so the deputies often are needed to deal with the details and work together. And so you had to go trust a group of deputies, et cetera. So the second thing was build this effective multilevel policy process. The third was to stay close – get close to the President and stay close, because unless you’re close to the President, you’re not going to be able to run this process. You’re not going to be able to influence it.

Now one illustration of how close Scowcroft became: When Bush was elected, his best friend was not Brent Scowcroft. It was James Baker, who he named Secretary of State one day after his election. Baker had run his campaign, Baker had been a senior official in the Reagan Administration, Baker was perhaps – you know, was one of the most impressive public officials of the post-war period in the United States. And he became a very effective Secretary of State.

Nevertheless, who was it that George W. Bush chose to co-author his memoirs? Unprecedented; not James Baker, his friend Scowcroft. They wrote a wonderful, very illuminating joint memoir about their experience particularly with the end of the Cold War and so forth. So close had Scowcroft become that they were able to collaborate – they were able to essentially collaborate in their depiction of history.

The position of Assistant to the President continued thereafter and the structure of the process, the Principles Committee, the Deputies Committee pretty much continued to the present day. There were wide variations in how effective the office was. The early Clinton Administration was not very orderly, an important part because President Clinton didn’t want to emphasize foreign policy and there was no one below him who had the – either the mandate or the (inaudible) kind of capacity to lead it across the board. Later on, Clinton became more assertive and his National Security Assistant Tony Lake became more assertive and things went better, and it also worked better for Clinton during his second term as Sandy Berger was his National Security Advisor. He and Clinton got along very well, had a very similar sort of substantive and political approach to issues.

The first Bush Administration Assistant did not work very well, although Condoleezza Rice, the only woman to hold this position, had a very close, substantive and personal relationship with George W. Bush. She was overshadowed by the Secretary of Defense, who refused to speak to her often and refused to recognize that she had a serious role in the administration, and by the Vice President, who used his privileged access to President Bush to essentially go around the system and make it very hard to operate.

It is one of the great shames, I think, of the United States in the first decade of the 20th century that we went to war in Iraq without a single White House meeting been held – having been held in the presence of the President where the question on the agenda was: What are the pluses and minuses of the United States invading Iraq? The President was determined to do it, so the decision was sort of made implicitly and not challenged. I know Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, had grave reservations and – and on, and partly, that’s Condi Rice’s fault, but partly it’s Cheney, it’s the fact that the senior people made it very hard for her to run the process.

The process run – ran better in the second Bush Administration, particularly when the Iraq policy was visibly failing and Steve Hadley, who was then National Security Advisor, decided that the President needed to be persuaded that things could not continue as they were, and so he organized some meetings. He brought in people who had supported the invasion of Iraq who would tell the President, “Mr. President, we’re losing, it’s a disaster, you’ve got to find a new way,” and then they developed this policy called the surge, which – we don’t take a position in our book about whether the surge was a good idea substantively, because our book isn’t about what the best substantive foreign policy is.

But we say it was a good process. It’s a good process because the Assistant to the President alerted the President to there being a serious problem. He brought alternatives to him. He engaged the whole government. And he helped the President make a decision to change policy, which turned out to be – what does seem to be a historically successful decision. But the point was that he was able to.

Now, what about the current Administration? The – as Barack Obama was preparing to become President, there were lots of references to Abraham Lincoln as, perhaps, a model. People talked about the Team of Rivals – there was a book about Lincoln written by Doris Kearns Goodwin – and that Obama, when he appointed Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State, he was replicating Lincoln’s appointment of one of his main rivals as Secretary of State.

People also talk about Franklin D. Roosevelt as a model for Obama because, of course, of the Great Depression and the current day. But I think if you think about how he operates and you think about style, I think Kennedy is the best model to look at in the sense that I think both of these people – first of all, they were both kind of self-chosen presidents. By that, I mean, obviously, American people choose the presidents. But I mean, they – they essentially decided on their own against the advice of people more senior to them that they were going to – that this was the year they were going to run for president. They both ran innovative, for their time, revolutionary campaigns, but had never run anything else really, at least never run anything, managed anything larger than a Senate office. They’re both very substantive, quite cool in terms of personality, not very flappable, interested in listening to a range of people, interested in listening to a range of viewpoints, not too concerned about hierarchy, not too concerned about structure, but interested in a very open process.

Now, and of course, as we know, Obama has brought in not just – not just appointed a new National Security Advisor General James Jones, but he has a new environment and energy advisor, Carol Browner, a very visible and strong national economic advisor, Larry Summers; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, a whole range of strong presidential aides. And as journalists, I trust one of the things you’re watching here in Washington is how do these guys get along, or how is it possible for the President to have so many strong aides within the White House and what is left for the people outside the government. Do these aides become a way to engage and make the overall government effective, or do they become a way of shutting out the cabinet members and keeping them from playing an effective role?

Well, Obama seems to want to have an open process. He seems to want everybody to be engaged. He seems to think he can manage it himself, and I don’t know that that’s possible in the long term. So we’ll have to watch. We’re going to have to wait. And one question I would leave you with regarding General Jones – he is a very highly respected retired Marine general. I think he is trusted, so he probably meets the first Scowcroft criteria: establish trust. However, his whole entire experience is with military organizations that have been – that are much more hierarchical, much more orderly than any White House is. And this White House, it seems to me, is very – is not hierarchical at all. It’s very, you know, participatory, very broad, very loose.

And it’s clear that Obama turns to lots of people besides General Jones, not just for substantive advice, but also to bring issues to him, et cetera. And so the question becomes: Will this relationship work? Will Jones be able to adapt his style to Obama’s? Because it is, of course, the assistant who needs to adapt, not the President, by and large, or will he – will there be – have to be some sort of shakedown of the process, or will there be some real problem, hopefully, not on the order of Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs, but sufficiently serious, so as to – need to change?

Now I said I’d talk for 10 or 15 minutes. I lied. But I will stop now and take questions.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to questions. And two points: If you could first wait for the microphone, and when you do have it, identify yourself and the organization that you represent.

QUESTION: Yes. Nickolay Zimin, Russia, Itogi. Professor, I have two questions. First one, could you please comment on the enlargement of the National Security Council under President Obama? And second short question is: How you can characterize the (inaudible) when Condi Rice was the national security advisor? I mean, was she weak as a security advisor or she had – she was unsuccessful security advisor? Thank you.

DR. DESTLER: Well, let me try the second one first. Just – the first one requires a longer answer. I guess ultimately, Condi Rice was – well, she was not strong as a national security advisor, or at least relative to other players in the government. She was overmatched. So far as I know, she never really tried, for example, to insist that the President have a serious internal debate about what to do in Iraq. But maybe she couldn’t have. Maybe – or maybe she did try privately in ways we don’t know about and Bush just said, no, I’ve made up my mind. Maybe she tried to hint to him, hey, you know, maybe we ought to do this. Maybe he just said, come on, Condi, I got that, we’re going, you know.

And so but – so – but any case, it wasn’t until very late in her first term that she was able in her – in the White House to get some control over Iraq policymaking and coordinate – with the State Department and the Defense Department and her to coordinate. The Defense Department tried very hard not to speak to the State Department during that period, which is usually disastrous. And then, as Secretary of State, she was a stronger figure, I think. Partly because she had the trust of the President and she had greater freedom, greater capacity to lead from that position than she had from the national security.

Now I suppose I should have talked about the stated expanded mandate of the Obama national security council because that is where, of course, James Jones has declared – he said it would be – wasn’t radically different, but very different – I forget the exact word – very different from previous NSCs, that it would have a larger jurisdiction. And this executive order, which is publicly available – though, to the best of my knowledge, not formally released by the White House – does involve a large number of officials and a very broad statement of authority – of substantive authority for the National Security Council.

However, if you compare it with the also publicly available executive order by George W. Bush exactly eight years before, both on February 13th, 2001 and 2009 respectively, it’s only an incremental change. It’s only slightly broader. In terms of the stated scope of the National Security Council, both of them talk about a very broad responsibility. Now, one thing this Administration may do, though it’s still being studied, is merge the Homeland Security Council that the Bush Administration created after 9/11, and merge that staff within the National Security Council. And if so, that will be an extension of the orbit of the NSC of some consequence.

But some of the other issues that Jones has talked about, like climate change for example, like the economic disaster, these – Obama has other aides handling these issues. He has Larry Summers, of course, for the economic issues. He has Carol Browner for climate change, energy, environment and so forth. It’s not clear that these people are within the NSC orbit in any meaningful sense.

So I think one should just take with some caution the declaration that this NSC has broader scope and remember that in the end, for the NSC and its staff to be effective and influential, the national security assistant, the head of that staff, has to have a strong relationship with the President such that much – most of the foreign policy business flows through him or at least he is engaged in – deeply in engaged in that business. It’s too early to tell yet, but I think there are reasons to – not to assume that it’s going to turn out this way.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. I am Haykaram Nahapetyan with Public Television.

DR. DESTLER: What section?

QUESTION: From Armenia. Armenian Public Television.

DR. DESTLER: Armenia. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah, you mentioned that –

DR. DESTLER: We have a colleague who is a Fulbright fellow Armenia this year.

QUESTION: Oh, very good. Very nice. So you mentioned that there was no discussion in White House regarding going to Iraq during George W. Bush. And a decision was made, like implicitly. What about coming out from Iraq? Was there any discussion regarding this (inaudible) during Obama Administration, it was a position of National Security Council about that?

And second short question, please. And introducing Samantha Power, interested in what sort of position now in the National Security Council and is there any specific direction she is coordinating now in council? Thank you very much.

DR. DESTLER: Okay. I’m not sure I can answer your second question. Let me try the first one, and then I’ll talk with Power a little bit.

The – yes, I mean, the Obama Administration did have a serious policy process about the question of probably not whether to bring troops back from Iraq, but at least how fast to bring them back. The President was apparently presented with three different options. And these were – dealt directly with the military, also direct – also with the NSC and apparently chose the middle option, which involved something of an extension of the time period that he had talked about during the campaign.

Now, if you say, well, maybe they should have considered – you know, should they have considered staying in or should they have considered, you know, moving everybody all at once, maybe you could say the options were to narrow a range, there’s – you can argue that. But I think it was a – I would say in the context of the situation, there was a serious review, albeit rather quick, because the decision was made quite quickly of the rate at which to withdraw troops and what the target date would be for the end of all U.S. combat operations in Iraq.

I would note, though, that this is, in a lot of ways, not as serious a decision as going to war, and it’s also a changeable decision. If you decide you’re going to – on the rate at which you’re going to withdraw troops, and things get a lot better and you can do it faster, things get a lot worse, you can slow it down. And so in principle, it’s not the same issue, but it’s also probably bad news.

The – Samantha Power is a remarkable woman who became famous by writing a remarkable book about genocide and the policy process in the United States that led to not getting effectively engaged often in the problem, particularly and most notably in Rwanda. And what I think was striking about her writing about Rwanda is how much she understands (inaudible) an understanding of the situation within government of the pressures that individual officials were under, so she made it quite – she made it chillingly understandable why people didn’t bring the question of Rwanda to President Clinton with a serious proposal to intervene, but instead it never really got – it hardly got to Tony Lake, the national security advisor, even though he’s a national security advisor who’s more interested in Africa by several multiples than any other national security advisor who we’ve ever had before or since.

Now, Samantha Power made a serious mistake when she was quoted in what she may have thought was an off-the-record statement saying some very negative things about the woman who is now Secretary of State, and was then Barack Obama’s chief opponent in the campaign, and this was such that she had to resign as – from the Obama campaign. She’s no less a woman of talent. And I cannot – I do not really know exactly what she is doing or will be doing on the NSC staff, but I suspect she will be a person of influence because she’s a very smart, committed, effective individual.

MODERATOR: Yes, here, right here.

QUESTION: Reymer Kluever from the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. Professor, you mentioned the three Scowcroft criteria for being an effective national security advisor, and you mentioned the first one that obviously the new security advisor is about to establish trust. And you mentioned the third one that he’s obviously having trouble – at least as I – if I understand you correctly, to get close to the president. What about the second criteria? As a general, he should be able to build an orderly multi-layer --


QUESTION: -- multilayer policy process. Is he about doing this? And perhaps the second coming out of this, to my mind, he seems to have a very low profile compared to other advisors we have seen. Thank you.

DR. DESTLER: Okay. The low profile may be a good thing. Scowcroft is famous for saying that the national security advisor should be seldom heard and should be seen even less. It is, I think, best – the job is best performed as an inside job. And if the national security advisor is seen as competing for the public limelight with other members of the administration, particularly the Secretary of State, this usually creates serious problems.

Now, interestingly, Condoleezza Rice in the first Bush Administration was a very prominent spokeswoman for Bush, and she was a very good one, if what you mean by good meaning she was very articulate, she was credible, people realized she spoke for the president, and she was very good at arguing the case on Sunday talk shows in which she appeared about almost as often as all of the national security advisors combined. In her case, it didn’t cause as much disruption as it might have in other cases because she was known to be speaking for the presiden,t not pushing her own mind. Whereas under Carter, when speaking of Brzezinski, spoke out less frequently, but quite forcefully, people thought, well, he’s speaking for Zbig. We don’t know if that’s what Carter thinks. We don’t know if that’s what the Secretary of State thinks. And so it created a lot of discord.

But I think it’s probably a good thing that Jones hasn’t spoke out, and when he has spoken out it’s been mainly about the process. It’s been mainly about what – how the National Security Council is going to operate.

Now, the – how is the process working? I’m not sure. I have some information, but not sufficient to be fully confident. My sense is that the deputy’s process, under his Deputy Donilon is working pretty well, and that is sometimes – and that relations are good at the principals’ level. But I think, you know, the deputies do seem to be getting together regularly, managing issues in a way that – under the lead of the principal deputy Donilon, and I think this is good.

MODERATOR: In the back row.

QUESTION: Hi. This is Krishna from the Hindustani Times. How is the process working on Afghanistan and Pakistan? There seem to be more people who own the process, in this case, than with Iraq.

DR. DESTLER: Don’t tell Dick Holbrooke that. He thinks he owns the process.

Again, it’s inevitable that you have a lot of important people in that process, because it’s obviously – I mean, people have said that Afghanistan is Obama’s war. Maybe that’s an extreme statement, but it’s certainly true that in the campaign he said this is the war we should be emphasizing, not Iraq. He’s increased troops. So he has clearly made it a major focus of his own presidency in terms of the security side, and so therefore – so if Obama is obviously centrally involved, naturally the Secretary of Defense Gates has to be centrally involved; Petraeus, who is now the area commander, has to be involved; the Secretary of State has to be involved. And we have a first-rate, rugged negotiator, Dick Holbrooke, who tends to, you know, maybe break a little china when he goes around, is apparently assembling a large – has assembled a large staff to support him, is kind of, I guess, pushing other people who might be in the State Department hierarchy out of the way a little bit.

And so – now Holbrooke was actually quite close to Clinton. He was a supporter of Clinton, not Obama, during the presidential campaign, and that’s perhaps the reason why he didn’t get a more senior position. But the fact – but I think that he has good relations with her, he presumably also reports to Obama, so the question becomes now how is this – you know, is the job in Pakistan and in Afghanistan fundamentally a negotiating job, is it a military job, is it a political construction job? I suppose all of those. But how much – you know, it’s not – it’s very different, and no less daunting, than negotiating the Dayton Accords over Bosnia, which is what Dick Holbrooke did in an exemplary fashion in the Clinton Administration.

So I think there are a lot of people in the game. So far, there’s been some bumping around, but I think maybe not as much yet in terms of his public as you might think. The President seems to have made it clear that he doesn’t want a lot of public infighting, and that sometimes helps. Some presidents either don’t say that or even like them fighting, visible fighting among their advisors. Obama doesn’t seem to want that, so that may help.

But there clearly are – there clearly are overlaps among these roles, and I think it will be something to watch. If it works, the President has a lot of – you know, the President has a lot of people who can be strong. I mean, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense don’t have to spend all their time in these areas because they’ve got an agent like Holbrooke who can handle – who can carry a lot of the load. But the problem is, obviously, everybody has to be –

Yeah, you want to follow up?

QUESTION: You left out the person who is supposed to chair this review, Bruce Reidel.


QUESTION: I said you left out the person who’s chairing the review, Bruce Reidel.

DR. DESTLER: Okay. Okay, thank you. I guess I don’t have anything more to say, other than accepting your addition. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Back here in the corner.

QUESTION: Thank you. Petr Cheremushkin with Interfax News Agency, Russia. I have a question about the role that the director for Russia is playing, you know, within the National Security Council. This position, as far as you know, was created – as far as I know, was created under Bush Administration, and at that time it was Tom Graham –


QUESTION: -- who is a famous Russia specialist, and currently this position was taken by Mike McFaul. Do you have any words to characterize the role of such an advisor, such an individual that he is playing within the National Security Council? Thank you.

DR. DESTLER: Well, I know McFaul a little bit, not well. I mean, I know him as a capable --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

DR. DESTLER: I know. I mean, well, I’ll give the role. The problem – I mean, it’s very hard to generalize about this role. I mean, the Obama National Security Council has at least four deputy national security advisors and a significant number of people who are called senior director and special assistant to the president. And there may be something like ten of those individuals.

Now, most of them don’t see the President very often, notwithstanding their title, and so the question then becomes how do they build their influence? Who do they have to establish trust with? And that is, again, I guess, really too early – you know, too early to tell. I think obviously Obama is important. Obviously, you know, the State Department. I can’t really – I just can’t – I don’t know enough about the network that may be emerging, if it is emerging, for handling relations with Russia to be able to talk – to lead rather than mislead you on that. I’m sorry.

MODERATOR: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Sorry. Nickolay Zimin again.


QUESTION: A short question. You mentioned several times with great respect Brent Scowcroft. And does it mean that this figure is the role model as national security advisor or you have somebody else on your mind? Thank you.

DR. DESTLER: That’s a good question. In fact, we – in the concluding chapter of our book, we do say the question okay, people keep asking us as we were writing this book, “Who was the best national security advisor?” And then, of course, our immediate question, well, the best at what? (Laughter.) If you ask best at influencing policy, best at dominating policy, the question is clearly Henry – the answer is clearly Henry Kissinger, who had more policy impact and who dominated the major issues personally to a greater degree than anybody else in the job before or since.

If, however, your criteria are different, as ours are, if your criteria is not only, say, serving the president and advancing his policies, but also mobilizing, helping the whole government, particularly the senior leaders outside the White House to work together to pursue the common policy, then we say that Scowcroft is the model. We talk about those three Scowcroft principles I mentioned. And one small piece of evidence that we use is that everybody who’s been national security advisor since Ben Scowcroft has said they want to be like Scowcroft.

MODERATOR: Doctor, thank you very much.

DR. DESTLER: You’re very welcome. Good questions.

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