Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

By Karl F. Inderfurth; Loch K. Johnson | Go to book overview
Save to active project


For reasons that must be left to students of psychology, every Presi-
dent since Kennedy seems to have trusted his White House aides
more than his cabinet.

—Henry K. Kissinger
White House Years, 1979


In this section of the book, we look more closely at two controversies that have arisen over the performance of the NSC system. The first is related to the ongoing competition for the president's ear between the adviser and the secretary of state—often nothing less than a pitched bureaucratic battle over who will lead America's foreign policy. The second concerns the misappropriation of the NSC staff for questionable operational purposes, manifested in the Iran–contra affair during the Reagan Administration. In the more than a half-century history of the NSC, no other single event has been as damaging to the reputation of the Council and its staff as this scandal, which became the object of executive and legislative investigations in 1987. If the Cuban missile crisis was the NSC's finest hour, the Iran-contra affair was its worst.

NSC Versus State

First, we take up the conflict between the adviser and the secretary of state. The Iran–contra affair is more spectacular, with shredded documents, a long-haired beauty smuggling secret papers out of NSC files, former generals covertly selling arms to terrorists, and a self-promoting Marine lieutenant colonel on the NSC staff creating a supersecret organization ("The Enterprise") to carry out a private foreign policy contrary to the laws of Congress. Nevertheless, the tensions between the adviser and the Department of State have been more enduring and, in the minds of critics, have raised serious questions about the possible ill effects on coherent national security planning of having a competing "mini State Department" within the White House.

Leslie H. Gelb, at the time a New York Times editor, with broad experience in the government as well (and later president of the Council on Foreign Relations), has examined the NSC–State problem following Secretary Cyrus Vance's resignation from the Carter Administration (see "Why Not the State Department?" 1980, in For Further Reading). Looking back on the intramural conflicts between Vance and Brzezinski, Gelb is dismayed by the "disarray in American foreign policy" that their disagreements had engendered. The political infighting reflected, he writes, "… a replay of the historical struggle between the palace guard and the king's ministers, between any personal staff and the line officers." And at a deeper level, "it was a story about presidents, their wants and needs as they see them."


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council
Table of contents

Table of contents



Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 378

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?