August 31, 2003
US foreign policy and politics
Security: Struggle for Supremacy in Policy Making: 1969-1989
by P.M. Kamath. Shipra, Delhi. Pages 222. Rs 550.
object of P.M. Kamathís book is to study the role of
institutionalised advisory groups having definite formal or legal
relationship with the President of the US, in determining national
security policy, though much more crucial and influential advice
might be coming the Presidentís way from his wife.
The President needs
advice because he is elected by the people due to the promises he
makes in domestic policies and not for his expertise in foreign
affairs. For foreign affairs he needs facts, information and
analysis of information gathered by various agencies, departments
and individuals. Even the experts among them do not have the time to
exclusively concentrate on foreign affairs; hence, the need to have
The author focuses on
the two most influential centres of power and influence, the
Secretary of States (SoS) and the National Security Adviser (NSA),
though the President has a Cabinet consisting of 14 Secretaries.
However, in the words of Jonathan Daniels, "No institution is
more a body of one manís men than the American Presidentís
Cabinet." Thus, US Presidents have depended upon the advice of
individuals of their choice, in the process generating a lot of
competition between the SoS and the NSA, with the Secretary of
Defence, too, playing an occasional role.
The period chosen by
the author is a momentous one, especially for Indian readers. It
deals with the Nixon Presidency when the "Ping-pong"
diplomacy of Nixon-Kissinger opened up China to the world. It brings
out in considerable detail the compulsions of the duo in tilting
towards Pakistan in 1971 and sending the Seventh Fleet towards the
Bay of Bengal as also itís Iran policy when it was being swept by
the Khomeni revolution.
A discerning reader
can clearly see that the present situation in the Gulf has its roots
in the US ambivalence when the Shah of Iran had started tottering.
Kamath has also categorised Presidents as those following the
"closed politics" or the "open politics" modelóPresident
Nixon being the practitioner of the former and Ford, Carter and
Reagan following the later. For the record, President Nixon not only
overruled his Secretaries of State, in favour of his National
Security Adviser, but also much of the liberal opinion in the world
over the issue of Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh, because for him
" towards Pakistan was much more pragmatic in view of the role
Islamabad was playing in opening a dialogue with China. Making a
mark in history weighed far too much with him.
Thus, the book is a
study of competitions, confrontations and conflicts between the SoS
and the NSA, an ongoing struggle for supremacy between the two in
matters concerning national security policy. Finally, what emerges
is a universal truth about power centres. The author rightly says,
"Undoubtedly, the White House aides have a sense of superiority
over the rest, as they serve the President, the only one to be
nationally elected in the country. The sense of superiority begets
knowledge on any issues under scrutiny, and as the years pass, the
feeling of superiority turns into arrogance of power." This
assumes importance as the term comes to a close and the President
happens to be looking for a second term.
The author contends
that the Presidents are more prone to commit violations of the
Constitution or breaking of laws from their efforts to win the
second term. Once they win the second term, their sense of unlimited
power has no limit. The Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan era is a
case in point. Even the Watergate scandal of Nixon is to be
attributed to this theory.
What emerges clearly,
however, is that politicians are the same the world over. Nixon
played politics when in 1972 Vietnam peace was a reality yet he
chose to prolong the war, as it was to help him get the Right-wing
vote in the re-election. President Carter used the hostage crisis to
beat off challenge from Edward Kennedy for nomination for the 1976
The White House, like
other power centres in the world, too weighs political costs and
benefits irrespective of the national interests during election
time. It is even more interesting to note that one person who
dominated the national security policy like none else and who
reduced the Secretary of State Rogers to a non-entity, Henry
Kissinger, after relinquishing office, was to say, " If the
Security Adviser becomes active in the development and articulation
of policy, he must inevitably diminish the Secretary of State and
reduce his effectiveness." Obviously, the academician Kissinger
knew what the bureaucrat Kissinger was up to!