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!
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.