White House Warriors
How the National Security Council Transformed the American Way of War
by John Gans
Pub Date 14 May 2019
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Since its founding more than seventy years ago, the National Security Council has exerted more influence on the president’s foreign policy decisions—and on the nation’s conflicts abroad—than any other institution or individual. And yet, until the explosive Trump presidency, few Americans could even name a member. “A must-read for anyone interested in how Washington really works” (Ivo H. Daalder), White House Warriors finally reveals how the NSC evolved from a handful of administrative clerks to, as one recent commander-in-chief called them, the president’s “personal band of warriors.” When Congress originally created the National Security Council in 1947, it was intended to better coordinate foreign policy after World War II. Nearly an afterthought, a small administrative staff was established to help keep its papers moving. President Kennedy was, as John Gans documents, the first to make what became known as the NSC staff his own, selectively hiring bright young aides to do his bidding during the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, the fraught Cuban Missile Crisis, and the deepening Vietnam War. Despite Kennedy’s death and the tragic outcome of some of his decision, the NSC staff endured. President Richard Nixon handed the staff’s reigns solely to Henry Kissinger, who, given his controlling instincts, micromanaged its work on Vietnam. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan’s NSC was cast into turmoil by overreaching staff members who, led by Oliver North, nearly brought down a presidency in the Iran-Contra scandal. Later, when President George W. Bush’s administration was bitterly divided by the Iraq War, his NSC staff stepped forward to write a plan for the Surge in Iraq. Juxtaposing extensive archival research with new interviews, Gans demonstrates that knowing the NSC staff’s history and its war stories is the only way to truly understand American foreign policy. As this essential account builds to the swift removals of advisors General Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon in 2017, we see the staff’s influence in President Donald Trump’s still chaotic administration and come to understand the role it might play in its aftermath. A revelatory history written with riveting DC insider detail, White House Warriors traces the path that has led us to an era of American aggression abroad, debilitating fights within the government, and whispers about a deep state conspiring against the public.