David Rothkopf is an expert on the history of the National Security Council. He was recently interviewed on KQED's Forum (available as a podcast.) His new book, Running the World, The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, sounds quite interesting.
The NSC was formed in 1947. It's an ill-defined group intended to advise the president. The personality of the president will often determine how well it works. The NSC came into its own under Eisenhower who appreciated serious debate of issues. Kissinger used his position at the NSC to great effect -- or perhaps excessive abuse -- putting the nation on a high DEFCON status -- something only the president should do -- just before Nixon's resignation.
Rothkopf reports seeing huge differences between the two Bush administrations. HW Bush was perhaps the most qualified person to run for president in many years having been Vice-President, CIA Director and a member of Congress. The meant he was uniquely positioned to understand how agencies interact and the value of rapport between different branches of government. W Bush had little experience and was beholden to ideologues with an agenda. Ideology is very dangerous to a successful foreign policy because it has little tolerance for debate and a variety of viewpoints.
"Congress is sick," states Rothkopf. The United States returns more incumbents to Congress than did the Russians to the Supreme Soviet! General elections don't matter. The only people interested in voting in primaries where candidates are chosen are the extreme left and right. They are the ones giving the money, which means the elected officials are beholden to groups with very narrow agendas. The center is no longer represented. Rather than discussing important policy issues, the debate centers on stem cell research or evolution. The media, meanwhile has failed in its informative role, by giving us a steady diet of Michael Jackson and girls lost in Aruba. Interesting perhaps, but ultimately irrelevant except to a very few.
Reform is impossible because Congress, while voting for change, always manages to retain control of its fiscal fiefdoms effectively canceling any meaningful change. Unless and until Congree is fixed nothing else can be done.