Thursday, August 17, 2017

VPWatch1: VP as Signal - An Experiment

We are watching an embattled presidency. Approval ratings, given a reasonably strong economy, are astoundingly low. The White House is in a constant state of leaky turmoil. And the president is frankly divorced from any understanding of basic political inputs and outputs. I could say more - my thoughts on that man in the White House are no secret - but my point here is to be analytical.

One of my themes in studying the vice presidency is using it as a lens to understand the presidency. I thought it would be a good time to start really watching the vice president. I've started tweeting a few items daily, and here is my first blog. Probably a few times a week.

But there is an analytical challenge. Over the course of several presidencies the vice presidency can be a useful indicator. But, as a short-term indicator it is more difficult to say. The signal is weak. First, most of what can be known comes out after presidents have left office and memoirs have been written. Vice presidents have traditionally kept their counsel to the president private. This was a precedent established by Mondale and - for the most part - kept since. Because of this, what we know about vice presidents may not reflect the most critical issues. Mondale (again) was involved in many things, but information about his involvement on the Soviet Union or Iran was limited. Cheney had little to say about "No Child Left Behind" or PEPFAR, two of Bush's primary initiatives.

On the other hand, when Israeli-Egyptian negotiations were flagging, Carter summoned Mondale from the White House to join the parlay at Camp David. From the perspective of studying the vice president, it highlights the value Carter placed on his counsel. From the perspective of the president's needs it indicated that Carter was not doing so well with the Israelis. Mondale had a strong relationship with them and they trusted him more than the president.

Pence's Play
Pence abroad: Chile seems cool compared to DC now
And that is a good place to begin. The Vice President has just cut short a trip to South America. It does not appear that the president summoned him. What was the point of his change in plans.

Charlottesville was a terrible thing, but extremists have marched before and sadly will again. The violence and death was truly, truly awful. Is it a national crisis on the scale of Hurricane Katrina? JUST TO BE CLEAR - I HATE NAZIS AS MUCH AS ANYONE! But in this case I'm writing from the head, not the heart (which is sick and sad right now.)

A president saying the appropriate things would have made this a smaller and shorter story - and frankly could have had a salutary affect that we could have really used. It was the president's failure to do so that has made this a crisis.

When Presidents are in political trouble of their own making, the vice president can travel and avoid the cross-hairs. So what were Pence's calculations? What was he thinking?

Does he believe he can talk sense to the president and help the administration work its way out of things? Are we close to a Constitutional crisis and Pence figures being nearby is smart? Did the White House staff beg him to return?

Tough to know, but interesting to consider.

One important note is that for all of the leaks and reported intrigue - Pence does not appear to be a central player in this cut and thrust. He rarely appears in any form in the endless reporting. In fact the only hard exercise of vice presidential influence we've seen so far is that Pence persuaded Trump to fire Flynn. This works to Pence's favor - since Flynn was a nightmare politically, professionally, and personally. But it also indicates that just maybe the President listens to Pence. After all, Flynn was deeply loyal to Trump and vice-versa. Trump's efforts to protect Flynn, as much as anything, have endangered his presidency.

This is a strong indicator that Pence thinks, or people in the White House think, that the Vice President can help put it out the self-igniting dumpster fire that is this administration.

Can he? I doubt it.

Pence on the Fence
Like most politicians, he tries to have it both ways, and has done so effectively. He condemned neo-Nazis (not a hard call really) while also saying he supports the president. His statement in Argentina on Venezuela was a perfect example:
As President Trump said just a few days ago, “We have many options for Venezuela.”
The Vice President elided the ludicrous and counterproductive Presidential statement that we may have military options in Venezuela, but still cited and supported the president.

Say what you will about Pence, he's pretty good at walking this fine line.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Historical Perspective On Gen. Kelly's Prospects as White House Chief of Staff (UPDATED)

I wrote this yesterday morning, before Kelly's first day on the job as White House chief of staff. His opening move, firing the grossly inappropriate Anthony Scaramucci, was a good one. He has also begun reaching out to Democrats in Congress. Kelly does have significant experience there, but I'm still not certain that - as able as Kelly is - if he has sufficient political experience to pull of this role. But I believe some bigger factors, enumerated below, also will prevent him from being effective. Also, the continual controversies coming from this White House raise new challenges. Even Jim Baker (probably the greatest recent White House chief of staff - see below) would be challenged at this multiple scandal a day pace.

Any discussion of Kelly's appointment to be White House chief of staff should begin with the simple and true observation that General Kelly is an extraordinarily capable man. No one should ignore the depth of his talent and experience. But in considering his prospects - before considering the external factors - it is important to consider what the White House chief of staff does.

What Does a White House Chief of Staff Do?
Read this if you really want to know stuff!
If you have time, read this excellent book by Chris Whipple - or at least this interview. But, the summary would be that the chief of staff tries to make the White House (and to some extent the government as a whole) work for the president. Note the lower case w - not work as in be employees of, but rather organize complex institutions in a way that serves the president's decision-making needs and then carry out the president's priorities.

One critical need is information. The chief of staff has to ensure that essential information reaches the president and just as critically, presidential time and energy are not spent on things that do not require the president's attention. The national security advisor manages the information flow in national security issues, the chief of staff manages it on everything else (and usually has a hand in national security issues as well.) Just to be clear, managing the information flow does not mean withholding information from the president (if there is something the president needs and is not getting - they will find it.)

The CoS has to coordinate White House operations. The single most valuable thing in the White House is the president's time. There is usually a deputy CoS in charge of scheduling, because it is important that the president's time support the president's priorities. Speeches and appearances should be linked to policy initiatives, contacts should be with critical interest groups, etc.

The CoS has to ensure that the parts of the White House are working effectively and working in synch. Are the Communications office and Legislative affairs coordinating to ensure the messaging around a new initiative is timely? Are potential appointees being vetted properly? Are executive agencies carrying out the president's mission (if not, why not?)

This barely scratches the surface of the nuts and bolts of the CoS role. But rather than diving in deeper, let's instead turn to comparisons to Kelly.

Ghosts of CoS Past
In recent history (that is my memory) there are three cases of a chief of staff being brought in to stabilize a White House in deep trouble. Howard Baker was brought into the Reagan White House after Iran-Contra, in early 1987. Leon Panetta became CoS in the Clinton White House in mind-1994. Josh Bolten became CoS for Bush 43 in 2006.

Baker had been Senate Majority Leader and had served three terms in the Senate. Panetta had previously been OMB chief (which is a lesser known but hugely powerful position). He had also been in the House for 16 years. Bolten had been OMB chief, deputy CoS for policy, and White House director of legislative affairs.

Let's add two more well-regarded White House chiefs of staff - Rahm Emanuel (Obama's first chief of staff) and Jim Baker (Reagan's first chief of staff.) Emanuel had previously been a White House staffer (and top fund-raiser) and then served three terms in the House of Representatives.

Looking over these four, effective White House chiefs of staff, it looks like there are two basic paths to the position. Capitol Hill experience, White House experience, or some combination thereof.

I'm not sure this bodes well for Kelly as CoS. There is little question he has the expertise for the form of the job - establishing clear lines of authority and overseeing a large complex operation. But does he have the appropriate knowledge of the substance?

The substance of the White House chief of staff role is politics which is the art of the possible. Effective political action requires balancing policy preferences with political realities. This problem space has multiple dimensions. Understanding policy options requires a broad-based general knowledge. Politicians may have a few issue in which they have deep expertise, but they cannot master every issue. They do need to know enough to be smart consumers of policy. General Kelly will, undoubtedly, have vast experience with many critical policy issues, but these represent a fraction of the issues a president must address. Does he have significant experience with the federal budget, natural resources and the environment, energy policy, urban affairs, or judicial appointments?

The politics side of the equation is also challenging. The core issue is congressional relations. Congress is not dictated to, it is bargained with. Politicians need to balance a range of priorities. No question that General Kelly knows the form - that is establishing priorities and adapting them to the situation (he was a battlefield commander.) But the substance is in question, there is a huge amount of tacit knowledge about the needs of political actors and the institutions through which they operate (like the arcane Senate procedures we all recently witnessed.)

In fairness, Kelly was the military assistant to SecDefs Gates and Panetta (him again... hmmm.) He also served in the Marine Corps legislative liaison office and was the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant. So he is not a political amatuer, but his political experience is through a pretty specific lens.

What about Baker?
I haven't talked about Jim Baker, Reagan's legendary chief of staff. On paper, Baker was not particularly well qualified. He had been an Undersecretary at the Department of Commerce in the Ford administration and run political campaigns in Texas. It is worth noting that Baker so impressed Ford that he ended up running Ford's campaign. He then impressed the Reagans (particularly Nancy) so much that they made him chief of staff, despite his being an ally of their former rival, George H.W. Bush. So resume is not a definite indicator. Baker was exceptional regardless of his previous experience.

So it is entirely possible that Kelly will prove excellent in the chief of staff role (we can certainly hope so.) And Kelly's own distinguished career is certainly a mark of great ability.

Elephant in the Room
In their masterful book on the National Security Advisor, I.M. Destler and Ivo Daalder cited an old Washington hand who observed that National Security Advisors should choose their presidents wisely. I've made the same observation about vice presidents, and it also applies to the White House chief of staff.

Other CoSs have struggled with presidential discipline issues. Reagan and Clinton come to mind. But, fundamentally they were political actors who understood the game and what the key outputs were. If they wanted a policy to be enacted, they would need to take certain steps.

If anyone can... um... persuade the president to lay off the Twitter, it is General Kelly. But it is not clear that anyone can do this. The current occupant of the Oval Office does not appear to see his actions in a systematic context contributing to definable political outputs. Can Kelly help him set priorities both in outputs and then in defining the actions to produce those outputs (say in legislation passed.) Time will tell...

The Dying Elephant in the Room
My regular readers (you out there...) know that I am a big fan of Steve Skowronek's work. At the core of his work is that presidents are much less the masters of their fate than we would like to believe and much more the product of their time. (So echoing what I wrote above) a president should choose their time to be president wisely.)

I'll write more about Trump in Presidential Time later (but here's my overview), but long and short is that the president is the type of president presiding over the collapse of a political order (last two presidents of this type were Carter and Hoover.) The GOP has dominated politics since 1981, but now the policy solutions that were successful in the early 1980s are no longer relevant. Carter and Hoover were, to a great extent, technocrats who promised to do government better. Trump, in his way, promised to do the same.

However, the thing about the Skowronek typology is that the collapse of the political order is not because of the president's competence (or lack thereof.) It is because the party is factionalized between groups committed to foundin
g policies and groups that recognize those policies are no longer viable. We saw this dynamic play out in the health care repeal efforts where the group on the far right committed to absolute repeal out of fealty to the principle of small government and the centrist group, which saw repeal as deeply unpopular in their district, were each large enough and vocal enough to prevent effective policy-making.

So regardless of the chief of staff or the president, it may be very hard for anyone - even a Lincoln - to govern effectively.

Pence's Play
Did you really think I would write all of this without mentioning the vice president?

We don't know much about what VP Pence has been up to. He's been outwardly loyal, traveling a bit, and liaising with Congress. Typical and important VP stuff. I'll write more about him later as well.

But vacuums in the White House are good places for VPs to play. They don't want to be fighting for power with other players, but if no one has a good handle on an issue or problem, the VP can fill the vacuum. If Kelly, will running a tight ship, needs help balancing policy and process, Pence is well placed to assist. (I wrote before that Pence would be a backstop to the chief of staff.) It is also worth noting that the White House director of legislative affairs, Marc Short, was a Hill staffer to Congressman Pence.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Vice Presidents and Technology Policy 1: Observations from the late Zbigniew Brzezinski

Your humble blogger has, at his day job, been writing a bit on technology policy. Not as much here, but out in the world. Naturally, I wanted to bring this together with my first love - vice presidents.

The obvious thing to write about would be actual vice presidential roles in making policy regarding technology. There are some examples, most notably Al Gore, but also Quayle (who ran a commission on the space program) and maybe some others. I could stretch and include Biden overseeing the cancer initiative. That'll be the second in the series.

But first I wanted to talk about broader lessons from the vice presidents and today is a fitting day for it, since we have just lost Carter's national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who inadvertently inspired this post. Zbig was kind enough to allow me to interview him for my dissertation, for which I am very grateful (I was nervous as hell - although there was no need, he was very nice.) It was over the phone, so I didn't get to meet him. Still...

In his very candid memoir Zbig wrote of the vice president:
Mondale's most important contribution was his political judgment. He was a vital political barometer for the president, and Carter respected his opinion on the domestic implications of foreign policy decisions....In general, Carter rarely, if ever though of foreign policy in terms of domestic politics, while Mondale rarely, if ever, thought of it otherwise....Fritz, in effect, provided a needed corrective.
Carter was our last engineer president (and his predecessor as a professional engineer turned president was Herbert Hoover.) Carter's instinct on every issue was to find the optimal solution and then worry about the politics. Mondale pushed for incorporating politics into the process from the beginning because it would ultimately result in better policy. In the Carter administration this was an uphill struggle. Mondale told his biographer, Steve Gillon,
Carter's anti-political attitudes used to drive me nuts because you couldn't get him to grapple with a political problem. He thought politics was sinful. The worst thing you could say to Carter if you wanted him to do something was that it was politically the best thing to do.
There were innumerable examples of Mondale's political acumen shaping administration policy, but one great example highlighting the differing perspective between the technocrat engineer and the politician was something called MX Racetrack. It was a plan to put missiles on trains that ran in giant circles. Defense analysts and Carter liked the plan which would make it nearly impossible for the Soviets to be sure they had destroyed all of the U.S. missiles. Mondale was appalled, they had given no serious consideration to the politics. Communities did not want to be in nuclear crosshairs and environmentalists would hate it. Reagan (not exactly a missile hating dove) ultimately killed the program.

All well and good - a tribute to Zbig and little vice presidents talk - but what does this have to do with technology policy?

I was just at the Governing Emerging Technologies Conference, in which one of the central issues discussed was how to ensure technology is developed that aligns with people's values. This is a complex multifaceted issue. (More on this elsewhere.) But, the people who build technology - primarily engineers - are not always equipped to grapple with these questions. Not to say, in anyway, that engineers are not moral. Rather, that addressing these kinds of questions requires a different analytical toolkit - how do you even determine what is in the bounds of public tolerance and acceptance? How would you query the appropriate communities? What are the central issues?

This is not just values. It is also process. There have been far too many cases of experts building IT systems that did not in practice serve the needs of the organization using them. If you do not consider people and their needs and feelings from the beginning, the product in the end will be flawed.

Just as Mondale urged Carter to build politics into the process from the beginning, as we develop new technologies we should build these questions - which span social science and philosophy - into the process from the beginning.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Syria Strike Picture Speaks 1000 Words - Integrating National Security & Economic Decision-making

As a student of the national security and White House decision-making process, your faithful blogger has been overwhelmed by the doings of the current administration. In fact, I considered doing a post simply summarizing the different things I would like to write about - although I believe that is called a Tweetstorm. Even the discussion of the princeling son-in-law's ridiculous almost vice presidential role deserves another post - after a prominent (and generally sensible) person defended it. (If you need a response to that defense, here is an excellent one.)

But then I looked at the picture of Trump's ExCom during the Syria strikes and something (not a Tomahawk missile) struck me. Kremlinologists long relied on pictures of the Soviet leaders to derive power. This open source effort has expanded exponentially with the Internet, allowing deep insight to closed regimes like Pyongyang. It can even serve a purpose here, in our open society, and yours truly has not hesitated to dabble in it to highlight the expanded role of the vice president.

Going around the table we have on the far side of the table, facing us: Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and then the President. Sitting behind them in the corner is Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Continuing around the table is Secretary of State Tillerson, National Security Advisor McMaster, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Just behind McMaster is National Economic Council chief Gary Cohn and next to him is the Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell. Next to Powell are Michael Anton, Assistant to the President for Strategic Affairs and Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, and chief strategist Steve Bannon. The VP, SecDef, and CJCS are all there by video-conference.

The famous picture from the OBL raid contained primarily people with hard national security roles (DNI, various advisors on terrorism from the national security council, as well as the relevant national security principles.)

The stark differences are:
  1. Far greater presence of political advisors and staffers. Of course the Chief of Staff belongs in the room, but also the Deputy CoS and the Press Secretary? Bannon and his team have a corner and the Jared-of-all-trades even has a seat at the table.
  2. The absence of working-level national security staffers is striking. This may reflect the ongoing disconnect between the administration and the bureaucracy.
  3. The economics team is also there in the Treasury Secretary, the Commerce Secretary, and the chair the National Economics Council. I am not original in this observation - but I have a lot more to say about it.

The Good
Putting aside thoughts on and preferences for specific players, what can we know about the broader structure of decision-making here.

Let's start with the good. While some have criticized the inclusion of the economic team in the strike video, I'm not sure this is a bad thing. In international affairs there is often a divide between the money people and the guns people. This can lead to real discontinuities. Economic disturbances can cause security problems, while military actions can create economic problems. Yet the practitioners barely understand one another. More closely integrating these decision streams could bring better policy.

The Bad
The bad is the large number of political types in the room. Everyone in the White House is a political, it is the nature of the beast. But past presidents have tried to - at least somewhat - section off the policy/national security types from the political staffers. There are innumerable stories of presidents (and other politicians) telling policy experts, "Tell me what to do and leave the politics to me!"

Besides the costs of appearing to make national security decisions on blatant political grounds, the reality is that the national security staffers don't give very good political advice and the political advisors don't give very good national security advice. The chief of staff plays a key role in bringing these sides together. Perhaps some other political advisors and staffers might participate, but in this care there were six politicals besides the CoS.

And the Ugly
If the attendees of this meeting were part of a carefully considered plan, great. But the reality is that it appears to have been haphazard, shaped as much by who was around. This is also highlighted by the lack of national security staffers present. Without them, you may not have the necessary people with the working knowledge of the issues. The administration has not established an orderly process and is still being run by personal whim.

One can speculate as to who is up and who is down. Bannon and his crew were in the back, while new Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell was closer in. That Powell is also a protege of Gary Cohn could be a good sign for further integration of security and economic issues.

It cannot be said often enough, good process does not guarantee good policy. But lousy process makes it really hard to get anything but lousy policy. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Is Jared Kushner the de-facto VP?

Domestic task forces.
Private huddles.
High-profile international travel.
Interlocutor with foreign powers and critical domestic constituencies.

This is the portfolio of the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner. It is also the typical portfolio of... wait for it... vice presidents!!!

Vice presidents are my thing, but this pretty much sums up the kinds of things they do.

From George H.W. Bush on, each vice president has chaired various policy councils and reform initiatives. Putting the VP on the case gives an extra oomph to the inter-agency process and it works reasonably well.

Vice presidents make lots of high-profile trips on the president's behalf. This is not just funeral duty (although that can be important.)

But of course, VPs also provide critical and discreet advice to their Presidents. Often they can say things no one else can say.

It looks like that is what Jared is doing.

So what?

President's have discretion to organize their staff and assign responsibilities as they see fit. And every White House has courtiers. They play a number of necessary functions. Still, even putting aside specific questions of Kushner's own experience and capabilities, there are some problems. Some of these problems are managerial, but some are deeper.

Kushner is being given the role of czar - the Presidential appointee who can crack heads and break logjams. It is an appealing notion, but the actual record of effectiveness is mixed. For a White House staffer, the ideal czar issue is narrow and short-term - not huge and open-ended. The White House does not have the internal staff to run issues, their role is rather to push and prod the bureaucracy. Kushner's issues however are huge and open-ended.

Kushner has also been tossed a vast number of issues very quickly. It is difficult to see how anyone could work many of them effectively at the same time. Further, many of these issues (like relations with China) are considered by the interagency process. This process can be slow and cumbersome - it is also necessary to ensure critical aspects of an issue are not missed. Giving an overwhelmed White House staffer this broad portfolio is a recipe for policy freelancing and missing key factors.

In general, presidents have tried to separate the national security process and the political calculations - bringing them together in a very tight circle.  This is not a firewall, senior White House political staffers certainly have input on major national security decisions. But if politics are injected to early into the national security debate, it discredits the decision-making. The roles played in national security by political advisors have been limited. The White House chief of staff, for example, does not have time to act as an emissary abroad - liaising with congress and the media is more than enough work for anyone.

If a czar is needed for a particularly big or high-profile issue, that czar is more likely to be a cabinet official or the vice president. These figures bring greater stature to the role which can be important in pressing through change and for reassuring the public that the issue is being taken seriously. Cabinet officials are confirmed by Congress and vice presidents are elected. If it is an issue of national concern, the key official should in some greater sense be accountable.

Conceptually there is a distinction between line and staff. A senior aide for a powerful congressperson may wield more de facto power than a junior congressperson. The aide, no matter how important, is still staff and can be fired by their principle. The congressperson is answerable to voters - to the American people.

I cannot say, categorically, that any single role taken on by Kushner is unprecedented. There have been occasions where domestic political advisors addressed foreign policy issues. They have certainly taken on domestic policy issues. And of course Kushner's oft-reported role is Trump Whisperer (ie close confidant) is not only a common White House role, but also frankly a necessary and welcome one.

Taken in total, however, Kushner is taking on a broader range of White House roles than any staffer before him and at a higher profile - while also serving as a sympathetic ear. The only figure I can think of to have held a comparable role is Colonel Edward House as the surrogate to President Wilson. That was a century ago, and there was a significant difference between that case and the present.

Now, when the 45th President is signaling that an issue is of critical importance, where other Presidents have sent their vice president, this President prefers to send his son-in-law.

It does not appear to me that any of this, in anyway, is unconstitutional or illegal (although it may be organizationally unwise.) But it does seem, deeply and profoundly off.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Vice Presidents and the Intelligence Community

If you've been following me on social media, you know I am just back from New Orleans, where I presented a paper at the Southern Political Science Association conference (and of course took in some of the delights of The Big Easy.)

The paper was an expansion on my recent piece for War on the Rocks about the vice president's role in national security affairs. For WOTR I tried to provide a sort of user's guide for the in coming president about how vice presidents can be helpful. In the academic paper I tried to be a bit more well, academic.

Quick Recap
My dissertation asked the question of why the vice president went from nothing to something over the past forty years (others have asked that question as well.) My major findings (no surprise to my regular readers - again, assuming I have any) is that we keep electing outsiders with little experience in Washington to the presidency. Those outsiders encounter policy vacuums where political insider VPs can help. Congress is the big one, but others crop up.

Next Question
My dissertation left me with the question of what exactly is this insider knowledge that the outsider presidents lack and the VPs can provide? Look, presidents have access to lots of advisors, what is so special about the VP?

To answer that question I looked across the five insider presidents serving outsider presidents to see if any areas regular popped up across administrations. I didn't exclude Quayle, but didn't expect to find much. Not his fault, he was VP to the wrong president. The key was to look for specificity. To say VPs help balance politics and policy is a bit general. To say that they help the president understand sentiment in congress and whether or not a particular bill can be passed is closer.

Findings: Consistent VP-IC Engagement
The most interesting finding was that each of the five VPs played a substantial role interacting with the intelligence community.

Mondale: Oversaw administration efforts to reform the intelligence community including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and drafting a CIA charter.

Bush: Former DCI, helped develop intelligence options for countering terrorism as chair of the Task Force on Countering Terrorism.

Gore: Pressed the IC to incorporate public health and environmental issues in their analysis. Along with his VPNSA Leon Fuerth, advised the president about intelligence operations including outing Iranian agents after the Khobar Towers bombing and carrying out covert renditions. Fuerth and Gore looked into the intelligence about an alleged assassination plot against former President Bush. Fuerth oversaw sanctions on Bosnia.

Cheney: Architect of the intelligence response to 9/11.

Biden: Brokered a dispute between DNI and DCI over who would appoint station chiefs.

This short list is about what is publicly known. It was happily augmented by another WOTR article that discusses the VP's role shaping the all-important President's Daily Brief.

There may be a great deal more as documents are declassified, oral histories compiled, and memoirs written. The point here is that VP's tend to wind up engaging with the IC. With my academic hat on, I want to investigate this further to understand what this can tell us about the president's needs and the role of the IC. 

But the pundit in me is also intrigued. The President has famously feuded with the intelligence community, but now is trying to mend fences. But this might require more than a public appearance. Understanding and working with complex bureaucracies can be challenging, even without a political backdrop of distrust. However the President will need the CIA to carry out many of his policy goals. Further, the world is a complex place and the president may actually find he needs the CIA to help make sense of it, particularly as unexpected crises emerge.

My past research suggests that Pence could play a central role in mending that rift and helping the intelligence community meet the president's needs, while interpreting the intelligence community for the president. As more than a few wags have observed, this administration will test a number of political science theories. This one is another.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In WOTR on the next VP

The awesome War on the Rocks recently ran my analysis of the likely national security roles of the next vice president. In the process, I summarize my dissertation and include some nice juicy quotes from my interviews. Here's the first part, but read the whole thing here!



OCTOBER 31, 2016
Despite the vice presidency’s status as “the most insignificant office” for most of American history, since the late 1970s, vice presidents have emerged as important and unique advisors and surrogates to the president — particularly on national security affairs. Besides the president, only the vice president and the White House chief of staff can bring politics and national security together, as Clinton administration national security advisor Tony Lake explained to me.
In his classic essay, “Two-Level Games,” Robert Putnam illustrates how politics and national security interact. According to Putnam, when leaders engage in international negotiations, they are playing on two boards simultaneously. On one board, the leader is playing with domestic constituencies, while on the other the players are the other countries, each of whom has their own domestic board to play. A good move on one board may be disastrous on the other board. Putnam writes, “The political complexities for the players in this two-level game are staggering.”
Vice presidents can be uniquely helpful in these two-level games. As Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s second national security advisor, explained to me in an interview:
VPs have run for office; they are political animals. The President hears from policy people and political people and has to make decisions to balance both. The one person who has the combination of policy experience and political experience is the vice president.
Over the past four decades, vice presidents have played increasingly critical roles helping presidents understand the other players and execute moves in the two-level game.