Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush

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9780688116057: Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush

20th century; General; Government; History; National security; National Security Council (U.S.); Non-Fiction; Political Science; United States

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From Kirkus Reviews:

A weighty and absorbing history of the metastatic growth of the National Security Council from a small advisory board into a vastly powerful bureaucratic colossus. Prados (Presidents' Secret Wars, 1986, etc.) chronicles persuasively how the Council, originally conceived by Truman as a ``channel for collective advice and information'' for the Executive Branch, and for coordination of intelligence activities, rapidly became the prime mover of American foreign, intelligence, and military policy, and ultimately ``acquired an institutional existence and importance few observers have yet accorded it.'' He contends that the Council, and the position of national security advisor, peaked in influence and effectiveness during the Eisenhower years, effectively coordinating policy among competing bureaucratic forces within the Executive Branch. Under Kennedy and his successors, however, the Council shifted subtly from a purely advisory role to a largely operational one. Reviewing the achievements of each of the 20 national security advisors, Prados shows that, especially in the Johnson and Nixon years, the national security advisor assisted in implementing rather than reviewing policy, ultimately resulting in the extralegal excesses of John Poindexter, Robert McFarlane, and Oliver North. The irony is that the position of national security advisor has no official existence (the Council was created by the National Security Act of 1947, and was supposed to be headed by an executive secretary), and that the Council's mission remains as nebulous in law as it is unclear in practice. Prados raises a number of interesting questions about the continued relevance and viability of the Council, and recommends reforming it by legislatively clarifying its role. A reflective, well-written, and much-needed history of a powerful and obscure institution, and a lesson on the self- perpetuating nature of bureaucracies. (Thirty-nine b&w photographs--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

"Something is wrong with the system," according to Prados, "when the NSC principals advise against a weapons sale, the Vice President says he opposed it, and the President says he does not remember it, but the sale occurs anyway and the proceeds are diverted to another cause entirely." This impressively detailed study of the National Security Council, from its 1947 beginnings as a purely advisory board under Truman to its climactic activist role in the Iran-contra affair and beyond, is the first comprehensive look at one of the most powerful yet least understood components of our government. Prados probes deeply into what he contends is a chronic tendency of the NSC to turn itself into a "little State Department" (as it did, for instance, when Henry Kissinger was President Nixon's security adviser) and explains how Kissinger's domination of foreign policy made possible the staff excesses of the Reagan years. The book also reveals that the kinds of ad hoc maneuverings attempted by Oliver North and company were not aberrational, but had numerous antecedents in NSC history. Prados ( The Presidents' Secret Wars ) calls for a formal Congressional inquiry into the role of the NSC and the national security adviser. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Prados, John
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