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How National Security Advisers See Their Role

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Over the past few decades, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (as the national security adviser is formally known) has emerged as the most important foreign policy aide to the president. Whether the job is performed largely outside of public view (as by Brent Scowcroft—1975-77; 1989-93 and Stephen Hadley—2005- ), or in a more publicly prominent manner (as was true for Henry Kissinger—1969-75, Zbigniew Brzezinski—1977-81, and Condoleezza Rice—2001-05), almost every national security adviser since McGeorge Bundy (1961- 66) ultimately emerged as a principal player in the foreign policy arena. Yet, despite the enormous power they have wielded, there has been insufficient attention to the role these advisers play in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.

Unlike the jobs of their Cabinet counterparts, their position is neither rooted in law nor accountable to Congress. As the White House point person on foreign policy, the national security adviser serves at the pleasure of the president. Moreover, while the adviser heads a small (albeit growing) staff, his/her managerial duties are small compared to the huge departmental responsibilities of the Secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, and other principal foreign policymakers. And though some advisers have not shunned the limelight, their public responsibilities are far more limited than those of, say, the Secretary of State, who is the president’s principal foreign policy spokesperson at home (and abroad). 

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