Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

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

PART IV
THE MODERN NSC

At a time when the world's increasing inter-dependence challenges
us all to new patterns of thought and action, the NSC's role is more
important than ever.

—Message of President Bill Clinton on the 50th Anniversary
of the National Security Council
September 18, 1997


EDITORS' INTRODUCTION

George H. W. Bush

The four-year tenure of the first President Bush could appropriately be labeled a "foreign policy presidency." Monumental events took place during his watch, including the collapse of the Soviet empire, the unification of Germany, Tiananmen Square and its impact on U.S.–China relations, and the Persian Gulf War. The Bush NSC—specifically the president, the principal members of his national security team, and the Council's staff—was the key institution for responding to each of these crises.

Upon taking office, President Bush was intent on establishing a coherent and sound approach to national security policy making. He selected people he had confidence in and who he believed could work together. James Baker, Bush's secretary of state and longtime friend and adviser, believes the president accomplished his objective. In his account of the Bush years, Baker writes:

I had the additional good fortune to be part of a Bush national security team that consisted of a
group of experienced, collegial peers who liked and respected one another. We not only enjoyed
one another's company, we trusted one another. That's not to suggest we didn't disagree…. But
our differences never took the form of the backbiting of the Kissinger-Rogers, Vance-Brzezinski
eras, or the slugfests of our national security teams during the Reagan years … As a result, I
firmly believe that one of the foremost accomplishments of the Bush presidency was that we made
the national security apparatus work the way it was supposed to. (Baker, 1995: 21–22)

People and their relationships made the Bush NSC a model of collegiality, but this was enhanced by the organizational structure put into place by the incoming administration. On January 30, 1989, President Bush issued National Security Directive 1 (NSD-1), establishing his new NSC system. Compared with past arrangements, it was streamlined. The formal Council would be supported by two key NSC subgroups—a Principals Committee and a Deputies Committee. The former would include the secretaries of state and defense, the director of central intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president's chief of staff, and the

-97-

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