Presidents Captive to National Security System
As much hubris as it takes to think you can be the Leader of the Free World, it takes even more to buck the advice of the Establishment.
Responding to my argument in “Obama Wins Executive Secrecy Case” that presidents invariably seek to expand the power of their office in matters of national security, Kevin Drum counters that the real problem is that “newly elected presidents routinely find it almost impossible to buck a national security establishment when that establishment unanimously opposes something. ” He adds, “That’s not to defend Obama. It was still his decision, and it’s an odious one. But until, as a country, we come to our senses on national security, it’s not going to matter very much who’s in the Oval Office. The system is stronger than the man.”
There’s a lot to that. When presidents get the aforementioned “daily briefings on the dire threats facing the country,” they’re also getting implicit pressure to do something about them.
While it’s obviously a work of fiction, the early episode of “The West Wing” in which the new President Bartlet goes into the Situation Room, visibly cowed by the assemblage of the Joint Chiefs and other security bigwigs around him and then gets smacked down when he calls for a response to the crisis that goes outside the boundaries of how the game is played rung true to me. As much hubris as it takes to think you can be the Leader of the Free World, it takes even more to buck the advice of the Establishment. And woe be unto you if you do it and get it wrong. Far easier to go along with the flow.