Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

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

6
EFFECTIVE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISING
Recovering the Eisenhower Legacy

Fred I. Greenstein
Richard H. Immerman

President Eisenhower "institutionalized" the National
Security Council by formalizing
and expanding the structure and procedures of the NSC and, in effect, creating an NSC
system. Critics have said the NSC was overinstitutionalized during this period, with neg-
ative consequences for the national security advisory process. This article takes issue with
that view.

As the new president and his national security team ready themselves to address the global demands of a new century, they have two broad options. They can follow the precedent of the Clinton administration and take it for granted that the post-cold war international environment does not lend itself to overall planning, responding to international contingencies as they arise. Or they can conclude that precisely because international affairs are no longer defined by the extended confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, it is crucial to establish priorities and minimize the danger of being caught flat-footed by emerging developments.

To the extent that it opts for the latter, the new administration would be advised to take note of a national security advisory system that was devised and operated by a chief executive who had devoted much of his adult life to the organization of collective endeavors—Dwight D. Eisenhower, the architect of the Normandy invasion and the Allied campaign in Europe in World War II. During his time in the White House, Eisenhower was beloved by the American people, but widely perceived by political cognoscenti to have been a mere presidential figurehead. We now know, however, that the former supreme commander was an astute and informed political leader who advanced his purposes by playing down the political side of his leadership and playing up his role as a head of state whose public appeal transcended partisan divisions.1

This article is an exercise in the recovery of institutional memory. By outlining the features of the highly systematic Eisenhower national security policy process and analyzing its performance, we seek to enhance the ability of the new administration to structure its operations in a productive manner. The procedures that lead to the selection of American presidents place no premium on choosing candidates with organization competence, particularly in the period since winning the presidential nomination has been a function of a candidate's ability to vie successfully in a marathon of state primary elections. For this reason it is vital that new presidents and their advisers make themselves aware of the rich array of positive and negative models available in the record of the modern presidency. The Eisenhower system has distinctly positive implications for the future of national security policy advising.

Fred I. Greenstein is professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University. Richard H. Immerman is professor and chair of history at
Temple University.

-46-

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