TO: The Next National Security Advisor
FROM: Ivo Daalder and Mac Destler
SUBJECT: What You Need to Know about Your Job
Congratulations! You have just been appointed to the second most demanding job in Washington. (Your new boss takes the honors.)
As the President’s closest national security aide, you will face incessant demands. On any given morning, as you dig into the latest intelligence threat assessment from Islamabad, your boss may buzz you asking just what it was he promised the Japanese Prime Minister the previous evening. Then, as your Deputy for Global Issues delivers the draft agenda for the upcoming Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change, the Secretary of Defense phones with news of a resurgence of sectarian violence in Baghdad that has left ten Americans dead. The Russian Ambassador has already been waiting twenty minutes for his long-scheduled meeting to help plan his President’s first visit to Washington. Meanwhile, China is resisting the latest draft UN Security Council resolution tightening sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear activity, and the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea is 15 or so votes short of passage, with the House vote set for tomorrow afternoon. And it’s only mid-morning.
You will need to handle all these matters—and more. But in the midst of the cacophony that is daily policymaking in Washington, you will need to give priority to those tasks that only you, as the National Security Advisor, are in a position to perform. This means you must:
Staff the President’s daily foreign policy activity—the information he gets, the people he sees, especially his communications with foreign leaders and his trips overseas.
Manage the process of making decisions on major foreign and national security issues, setting aside those that do not require the President’s attention or involvement while giving the most careful consideration to those critical matters that will make or break your President and his Administration. Drive the policymaking process to ensure that the President and his top advisers have real choices to consider, with advantages and drawbacks clearly spelled out and understood.
Make sure that decisions are implemented by the departments and agencies of the U.S. government in the manner the President intends.
No one but you and your relatively small NSC staff can do any of these tasks well. Failing to do any one of them is likely to have serious, even incalculable consequences for the President, the country and the world at large.
As you may know, the Project on National Security Reform has recommended a bold reform of the whole National Security Council system. But nothing like...