Games Advisors Play: Foreign Policy in the Nixon and Carter Administrations

Games Advisors Play: Foreign Policy in the Nixon and Carter Administrations

Games Advisors Play: Foreign Policy in the Nixon and Carter Administrations

Games Advisors Play: Foreign Policy in the Nixon and Carter Administrations


What happens when presidential advisors, in Machiavellian terms, think more of themselves than of the prince and seek their own profit more than the goals of the president or the "good of the realm"? In Games Advisors Play, Jean A. Garrison examines case studies of foreign policy in the Nixon and Carter administrations and addresses how and why advisors manipulate the group process, under what conditions advisors engage in power games, and in what situations they are most effective in influencing presidential policy choices.

Given the high stakes, policy advocates employ various tactics to manipulate the advisory process and decision outcome. Three types of tactics are used: structural maneuvers, procedural maneuvers, and interpersonal maneuvers. Although these tools are important to the success of an advisor, the advisory process is a dynamic group process, and advisors must recognize that others have potential influence as well. The effectiveness of advisors therefore also depends on their power and authority, their manipulative skills, their interpersonal communication skills, and the relationships among members of the inner circle.

Using the internal policy debate over arms control to trace the influence advisors have on specific decisions, Garrison compares the power games in Nixon's hierarchical system to Carter's more open advisory system. The disparate advisory systems provided advisors with different opportunities to influence the president and overall policy making.

As a contribution to the decision-making literature in foreign policy, Games Advisors Play challenges static conceptions of the advisory process. Foreign-policy scholars, presidential scholars, and politicalpsychologists will find this an exciting and thought-provoking study.


The 1970s, the decade of détente, began with hope for arms control, but ended with unfortunate failure. Besides the Vietnam War, no question consistently polarized presidential advisors (and American society) more than how to manage the U.S.-Soviet competition while maintaining U.S. security interests. Despite leading to the signing of two agreements in seven years, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) only slowed growth in nuclear arms rather than ending their production. By the end of the decade relations between the superpowers had chilled considerably.

The substance of this book explains the more personal and bureaucratic war inside the Nixon and Carter administrations that mirrored the Cold War competition. Foreign policy advisors with different goals and beliefs battled to dominate the president's foreign policy agenda. This book argues that policy making on SALT (or any issue) cannot be separated from the players of the power game. Here foreign policy advisors prove to be policy advocates who are able to manipulate, bargain, and persuade in their own right.

Underlying the gamesmanship approach to foreign policy decision making is my curiosity about what makes people tick. Seminars in U.S. foreign policy introduced me to classics in decision-making theory such as Graham Allison's Essence of Decision and Irving Janis's Groupthink that address this question. What began as a seminar paper focusing on the competition among President Jimmy Carter's foreign policy advisors during the 1979 discovery of a Soviet brigade in Cuba became a comparative study of advisory systems in two administrations. Because the decision-making literature, however, did not explain satisfactorily what would motivate advisors to engage in power games, I searched for a more thorough explanation. The Summer Institute in Political Psychology at Ohio State University provided some new ways to think about how and why individuals influence foreign policy decision making. From these roots Games Advisors Play grew.

This work was written with the student of U.S. foreign policy, comparative foreign policy, the presidency, and political psychology in mind. This interdisciplinary study provides some new tools to better explain political phenomenon in general, and the foreign policy advisory process specifically.

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