The Contemporary Presidency: Condoleezza Rice as NSC Advisor: A Case Study of the Honest Broker Role

By Burke, John P. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2005 | Go to article overview

The Contemporary Presidency: Condoleezza Rice as NSC Advisor: A Case Study of the Honest Broker Role


Burke, John P., Presidential Studies Quarterly


"We need to plan as if things won't go well."

--George W. Bush, September 25, 2001 (Woodward 2002, 136)

"I want to know what the options are. A president cannot decide and make rational decisions unless I understand the feasibility of that which may have to happen."

--George W. Bush, circa late November 2001 (Woodward 2004, 30)

"If we don't have a case to make, I won't send in the troops."

--George W. Bush, January 6, 2003 Woodward 2004, 256)

Analysis of the broker role in the Bush presidency is important for a number of reasons. (1) First, the rhetoric, if not at times the practice, of serving as an honest broker was embraced by National Security Council Advisor Condoleezza Rice; many early media accounts emphasized her allegiance to the role. This proved no surprise. Rice's mentor while serving on the NSC staff of Bush Sr. had been Brent Scowcroft, whose conception of the NSC advisor's job comes closest to incorporating elements of the broker role among all those who have held the position in the post-Eisenhower era. Moreover, the broker role was in George W. Bush's mind when he picked Rice for the post in December 2000; she was, in his words, "both a good manager and an honest broker of ideas" (Sciolino 2000). Yet as we shall see, Rice's activities as a broker varied enormously.

Second, Rice's role as NSC advisor went considerably beyond simple brokerage. Like most of her recent predecessors, Rice took on additional duties, especially in serving as a private counselor to the president and as public spokesperson. These additional tasks are often seen as weakening brokerage (see Burke 2003, 241-49). Analysis of Rice's activities thus offers an important test of how brokerage squares with other parts of the NSC advisor's role.

Third, brokerage seems especially to have been needed in the deliberations of this presidency. George W. Bush, unlike his father, had little foreign-policy expertise or experience. Plus, as a decision maker prone to delegate, he was highly "process dependent." Much would depend on the advice given him and the quality of the deliberative process that produced it. The principal players in that process, moreover, were skilled bureaucratic and political operatives, often holding strong views, and thus perhaps especially in need of a heavy dose of brokerage. Rice was serving in an administration in which she was surrounded by a number of foreign- and national security-policy heavyweights: former Defense Secretary and now Vice President Richard Cheney, past and present Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and former NSC advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Finally, this administration faced a string of difficult and at times unique national security issues following September 11. Decisions made were highly consequential but, as we shall see, sometimes fraught with error.

Brokerage after September 11: War in Afghanistan

Developing a response to terrorism, especially military operations against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, preoccupied the president and his advisors after September 11. Over days, then weeks, and eventually months, a continual cycle of NSC and other meetings of the principals were held. Most accounts portray a process of vigorous give and take. Most also depict a more engaged president (see Moens 2004, 133-40). According to one aide, "From the very beginning the president decided he wanted to chair the NSC meetings ... because I think he didn't want a process ... where we had to say 'A thinks this, B thinks this, the consensus should be this'.... In the earliest phases, he chaired and we had our intellectual discussions about strategy--everybody, with the president there. It was great" (McManus and Gerstenzang 2001).

As for Rice, she continued to preside over the meetings of the principals in the president's absence. Some of her activities carried over from before September 11. …

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