implementing an
effective foreign policy

By Peter Feaver & Will Inboden

The foregoing analyses and advice have focused on what the next President should do in the foreign policy and national security arena. But how the next President should do it is no less important. History has shown that the organization and process of foreign policymaking is critical to achieving desired and desirable outcomes.

Almost all Presidents experience some form of the “paradox of presidential power”: the “most powerful man in the world” often feels powerless to get his government to do what he wants. Part of this is by design, of course, as the Constitution provides numerous checks and balances on executive power and limits the authority of the presidential office. But the phenomenon of presidential powerlessness also stems from the sheer complexity of the modern Executive Branch, particularly the permanent bureaucracy of the cabinet agencies and the regulatory state. From afar the millions of Federal employees and thousands of departments, agencies, and offices that all ostensibly fall under the authority of the chief executive might appear to be sources of enhanced power. It seems logical that the more employees you have reporting to you, the more power accrues to you. Yet often the opposite happens as this sprawling bureaucracy leeches away presidential power. Each office and each employee frequently has a mind and political will of their own and just enough distance or autonomy from the President to pursue an independent course. This can even be the case with White House staff. As that staff has grown larger, so also has the number of influential people with their own preferences and opinions about what policy should be and how it should be conducted.

This challenge bedevils American Presidents in numerous ways. Their requests for genuine policy options are shirked by staff who present faux infeasible “options” that constrain the President to select the one subordinate-approved choice. Other times Presidents are not informed about important policies being developed and carried out in their name. When presidential decisions are made, they are either ignored or imperfectly implemented. When the implementation of policies begins to fail, the President is kept in the dark. In short, there are impediments to the exercise of Executive authority at every stage in the policy consideration, deliberation, decision, and implementation process.

The solutions to the “paradox of presidential power” are not to be found merely in crafting smarter policies, though that of course helps. The solutions lay in crafting a better national security policymaking process. Every new Administration reconfigures itself to suit the governing style of the incoming President, and the foreign policymaking apparatus is no exception. This fact reflects a deeper truth about American foreign policy, which is that it is the most President-centric aspect of American politics. To be sure the other branches of government have important roles to play, and the vast Executive Branch establishment known as the permanent government creates a powerful inertia that imposes limits on even determined Presidents. Yet in foreign policy and national security, the President enjoys more leeway than he enjoys on almost any other issue, and that leeway is particularly wide in how the President chooses to structure the policymaking apparatus. The President’s several roles as Commander-in-Chief, Diplomat-in-Chief, Chief Law Enforcement Officer, and Chief Executive all in whole or in part fall under national security policy.

It is possible to assess the best practices in this area drawn from the past several Administrations, clustering them in sections organized around concentric circles away from the Oval Office at the epicenter. The bottom line of this analysis is simple: While the President has a great deal of leeway to tweak the system in ways that suit his or her tastes, painful experience has shown that some ways are better than others. What the President needs is an organizational process that both fits his governing style and also mitigates the inevitable downsides of that style. Presidents should get the system they need, which is partly but sometimes not entirely the system they want.

The most important institution is an informal one: the small circle of advisers who enjoy particularly close relations with the President and, because of this, enjoy de facto power and influence much greater than their formal title or role might imply. 

In the foreign policy space, this circle often includes the National Security Advisor—the one formally assigned to be in this circle—but it need not. In the Obama Administration, two of his advisers have probably enjoyed that status (Tom Donilon and Susan Rice) but one clearly did not (Jim Jones). Both National Security Advisors in the Bush 43 Administration did (Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley) as did the one in Bush 41 (Brent Scowcroft). In the Clinton Administration, arguably one did (Sandy Berger) and one often did not (Anthony Lake).

Any President will find an inner circle helpful because it includes the people who understand and share the President’s vision most fully and who have the most independent stature (at least with respect to the President) to speak hard truths without fear of retribution. When the inner circle includes people who themselves enjoy a deep understanding of foreign policy and national security, this informal advising function can be quite constructive. But in some cases the President may include people in the inner circle who do not have such experience and wisdom. They may have keen political instincts or deep personal knowledge of the President’s views, but they are shakier on the national security policy issues.

History has shown that the organization and process of foreign policymaking is critical to achieving desired and desirable outcomes.

Bush 41’s inner circle was especially strong on foreign policy and national security, reflecting the long career of the President in this area. By contrast, Obama’s inner circle has been probably the weakest on foreign policy of any post-Cold War President, and the individual closest to the President, Valerie Jarrett, vividly illustrated the problem. Whatever her merits as a counselor to the President on other issues, she has simply lacked the knowledge and experience to contribute well in the foreign policy arena. Yet her closeness to the President has put her at an extreme advantage over more knowledgeable but less powerful players in the system.

To compound matters, President Obama kept an especially closed inner circle dominated by the political people who had been with him since his campaign for the White House and sometimes even his Senate days. The results have been pernicious for the good functioning of foreign policy. Consequently, Obama often got the policies he wanted, but in a fashion that was chaotic and contributed to a high degree of mutual distrust with the other players in the system. Moreover, while these policy choices reflected Obama’s preferences, the cramped and insular policy process arguably deprived him of exposure to alternative viewpoints on policy options and the downsides of his policy preferences.

The next President must take care to include in his or her inner circle someone with deep foreign policy and national security expertise, preferably also assigned to the role of National Security Advisor. A White House chief of staff with some foreign policy expertise is also preferable. Members of the inner circle with less foreign policy and national security credentials should accept self-imposed limits on their own action.

The President will also be served by a larger but still limited number of senior staff at the Principal, Deputy, and near-Deputy level, all working as part of the White House staff. In most Administrations, this groups functions very differently on domestic policy than it does on foreign policy. Some stovepiping is inevitable because of certain exigencies: the classification system and its implications for Information Technology systems (NSC staff have separate computers for classified material that even many very senior White House staff do not possess); many senior White House positions are filled with campaign people who do not come from the national security community; policymaking in the national security space gives very senior non-political people from outside the White House, such as senior military and intelligence officials, higher level access to the President (and other senior decision-makers) on foreign policy than their civil service counterparts enjoy on domestic policy; and so on. Thus, it is inevitable that Administrations will look for ways to bridge across these stovepipes.

The Bush 43 Administration addressed this issue by emphasizing collegial relations at all levels, but still keeping the silos rather separate. The Obama Administration went much further in merging the silos, placing and greatly empowering political (as opposed to policy) people in senior NSC staff slots and opening up NSC meetings to the senior White House political advisers. The upside of the Obama approach is that it kept the Obama national security team very tightly integrated with the President’s larger partisan political agenda. This aided Obama in running for re-election and ensured that considerations of his political legacy were uppermost in all national security decisions. The downside was that when broader national security interests were not in sync with the President’s partisan agenda, there was little institutional protection against politicization. President Obama has presided over the most politicized national security policymaking process in recent times, invoking unfavorable comparisons to Richard Nixon even from sympathetic observers.

The next President should be willing to swing the pendulum away from the appearance (or reality) of the politicization of national security. It is probably a mistake to have the formal political advisers sit in on most national security meetings, though of course they should feel free to advise the President (privately) on the political implications of any policy. Likewise, while senior NSC positions will of necessity be political appointees who the President can trust and who share his vision for American foreign policy, it is preferable if those people have stature and experience in the policy world.

There is a legitimate role for political advisers, and just because the Obama Administration granted too large a role to partisan calculations does not mean that the next President should over-correct.

The National Security Council staff exists to keep the NSC and associated interagency process functioning smoothly. The NSC is a Cabinet-level committee established in law and designed to be a formal mechanism that enables the President to wield his authority and impose his will on his own government. This is as it should be seeing that the President and the Vice-President are the only two elected members of the Executive Branch of government.

The next President will make two very consequential decisions during the transition: the size and composition of the National Security Council staff. Here again, the next President must guard against over-correcting for the obvious shortcomings of the Obama Administration.

In terms of size, the next President will almost certainly opt for a smaller, more elite staff than the one that has ballooned in the Obama years. It is an almost universal critique on both sides of the partisan aisle: The NSC staff has gotten too large (reaching 400 or higher by some estimates) and, as with other forms of inflation, this growth has debased the currency of the positions.[88]

But it is a mistake to hold up the very small size of the staff from alleged golden eras– for instance, the roughly fifty staff professionals serving under Bush 41 and Brent Scowcroft. The demands for Presidential-level involvement in national security policy development, implementation, articulation, and promotion are greater today than they were in previous decades. Moreover, 9/11 was a game-changer, involving the creation of Homeland Security staff functions to complement National Security staff. Some, but by not means all, of the growth of staff reflects this broader ambit. 

People often forget that President Clinton came in promising to cut the White House staff from the allegedly “bloated” level it had reached at the end of the Bush 41 presidency. Trying to keep that campaign promise produced havoc for early Clinton White House operations. A smaller NSC staff is advisable; a small staff is probably not.

In terms of composition, the next President must make two decisions: what is the appropriate political vs. career mix among the professional staff; andhow to allocate the issues to directorates to reflect the President’s vision of the geopolitical landscape.  

In terms of the staff profile, some mix of political and career officers is appropriate. All-political would not work well; it would cost too much for the relatively small White House budget (career detailees usually count against their home department budgets) and it would be perceived as too political by the rest of the interagency and lose the coordination advantages that come from bringing detailees to the White House. NSC staff tours are also an important part of the professional development of departments and agencies. However, all-career detailees would not work well either. That approach would exclude the combination of informed experience and fresh thinking that political appointees can bring; a great advantage of the U.S. system over that of other advanced democracies is its relative permeability. Political appointments on the White House staff, including the NSC staff, constitute an important avenue for exploiting that advantage. Some posts may be better suited to political appointees, such as Strategic Planning, and others may be better suited to career appointments, such as Intelligence. And the ratio of political to career staff should be higher among the more senior positions than the more junior ones.

In terms of issue allocation, the directorates are organized regionally and functionally; how they are divided reflects the prioritization schema the President wants to impose on the system. Clinton elevated economic issues into a separate National Economic Council and, within the NSC, created a Non-Proliferation Directorate to reflect the higher priority given to those concerns relative to previous Administrations. President Bush elevated terrorism issues into a separate Homeland Security Council and added an Iraq and Afghanistan directorate to enhance oversight of the wars in that arena. He also added a Strategic Planning office in the second term, underscoring the importance he placed on longer-range integrative policymaking. President Obama added Cyber security and also merged the Homeland Security staff back into the NSC staff.

The NSC staff contributes best when it is powerful but focused. It should play both an honest-broker and an entrepreneurial role that respects the prerogatives of line departments and agencies while also ensuring that the President’s options are not limited to the few favored by the interagency.

The exact configuration depends on the specific interests of the next President, but the following lessons learned over the past several Administrations are worth embracing. If the staff is sufficiently streamlined, the precise allocations of the regional bureaus do not matter so much (for example, the hoary question of whether India belongs in the directorate addressing Pakistan issues or in the directorate addressing China issues, or if both should be combined). However, if U.S. forces are active in a persistent shooting war in the country, that country likely merits its own Directorate. Functional concerns that are sufficiently high priority also merit their own Directorates: Intelligence, Terrorism, Non-Proliferation, Defense Policy, Cyber, Democracy and Development, and so on. But where possible, functions should be clustered, so Space can be subsumed under Defense; Nuclear, Bio, and Chemical WMD proliferation can be clustered together; and so on. Given the tyranny of the White House inbox, a separate and sufficiently empowered office for Strategic Planning is vital; to make the office more effective, it should handle the formal NSC role in the DoD and State budget processes, augmented by the relevant policy directorates (Defense and Development).

A smaller staff would allow for some streamlining and reduction of rank inflation. The growth in Deputies and their equivalents and Senior Directors and their equivalents is near inexorable, but some reduction from the Obama high-water mark is appropriate. Fewer Deputies, with more senior/qualified Senior Directors, would not necessarily result in a weaker NSC staff. On the contrary, the flat structure has traditionally been key to the success of the NSC staff compared to their much larger but more hierarchical counterparts in the interagency. Creating fewer layers will give Directors and Senior Directors more coin of the realm—access to their principals—allowing for the de jure interagency rank equivalence (Director~Deputy Assistant Secretary; Senior Director~Assistant Secretary; and so forth) to be observed de facto. It may be preferable to reserve the Deputy level for the functions that integrate across a mix of functional and regional directorates, rather than for Deputies to aggregate several functional Directorates, and Deputies to aggregate several regional Directorates. For example, a Deputy for Planning, which cuts across many different directorates, probably makes more sense than a Deputy for Regional Affairs, which would combine various European and Western Hemisphere offices.

Some have called for a return to something like the Eisenhower-era National Security Planning Board, particularly as a way to better integrate across economic affairs and foreign affairs. If properly empowered, this would have more capacity and clout than the current system of dual-hatting a Deputy on the NSC and the NEC to provide the linkage.

The next President should also resist the temptation to “cut the NSC staff down to size” in another area: travel. Under Condoleezza Rice, the NSC staff faced quite severe travel restrictions. Those restrictions were eased under Stephen Hadley, and, to the best of our knowledge, lifted still further during Obama’s tenure. To be sure, the NSC staff should not travel as much as their interagency counterparts, and when they do travel it should be under conditions that make it clear they are not usurping the diplomatic function properly resident in departments. But the restrictions of the Rice years were too limiting. Travel is an important opportunity for forging better interagency cooperation, and in many cases NSC presence in key foreign settings—for example, delicate diplomatic negotiations on the President’s highest priority issues—can be an essential ingredient for success.

That said, complaints about an overactive, even overweening, NSC staff during the Obama tenure are so widespread and so bipartisan that some correction is appropriate. The NSC staff contributes best when it is powerful but focused. It should play both an honest-broker and an entrepreneurial role that respects the prerogatives of line departments and agencies while also ensuring that the President’s options are not limited to the few favored by the interagency.

The NSC staff can also play a vital role during the implementation phase: holding the line departments and agencies accountable for delivering on what the President has decided. This role can produce controversy and even conflict. In his memoirs, Secretary Robert Gates reports chaffing at the way the Obama NSC sought to monitor the implementation of Iraq and Afghanistan policies. While mindful that it would be inappropriate for the NSC staff to subvert the chain of command, Secretary Gates did not identify many concrete examples where that was actually happening. The specific complaints seemed to concern activities like direct communication exchanges between the White House and the field, something that is essential for holding the interagency accountable for deliverables.

For the NSC to function effectively, its staff must strike two tacit bargains with the relevant Cabinet departments and agencies involved in national security policy. The first bargain might be called the “balance of power and responsibility,” and goes something like this: The NSC staff will ensure that interagency perspectives are included in the policy development process, and the departments and agencies in turn will faithfully implement policies once decided. The second bargain might be called the “balance of time and resources,” and goes something like this: The NSC staff will ensure that deputies and principals committee meetings do not consume too much interagency time, and the departments and agencies in turn will send appropriately senior representatives to participate in those NSC meetings. 

Both tacit bargains have come under severe strain in recent years. Policy development has become so centralized in the White House that the interagency often feels marginalized and irrelevant to the policy process. NSC meetings have become so frequent and consume so much time that deputies and principals have little bandwidth left to actually implement policies and manage their departments and agencies. Even worse, the frequency of NSC meetings has increased in inverse proportion to the involvement of departments like State and Defense in the actual development of policy. Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, and Under Secretaries from State, Defense, and Treasury have had the perverse experience of seeing their schedules being consumed by mushrooming NSC meetings even as they and their departments have diminishing influence over policy decisions.

Improving the functioning of the National Security Council system must start with restoring these tacit bargains. Simply put, the NSC needs to listen more and meet less. Doing so will substantially improve the development and implementation of presidential policy priorities. Inviting more involvement from State, Defense, Treasury, and other relevant departments and agencies in the development of policy decisions does not mean diminishing presidential prerogative; the President will remain Commander-in-Chief, Diplomat-in-Chief, and Chief Executive. Yes, it puts more of a burden on the Presidential Personnel Office to ensure that the President’s appointees at each department and agency are well chosen and loyal to his agenda, and also able to represent presidential authority to their respective career staffs.

The next President should also resist the temptation to “cut the NSC staff down to size” in another area: travel.

There are positive examples of these principles from recent history. The George H. W. Bush NSC led by Brent Scowcroft upheld both tacit bargains, and is deservedly remembered as a very well-functioning NSC system, which, not coincidentally, led to effective policies. The Scowcroft NSC did meet frequently, but all involved happily participated because they knew their voices were being heard in the policy process, and they were thus more willing to implement presidential directives once decided. As President Reagan’s second Secretary of State, George Shultz stands as an exemplar of a loyal Cabinet official who was devoted to the President’s policies but who also managed the career staff in his department exceptionally well. Shultz simultaneously controlled and empowered the Foreign Service bureaucracy, and successfully enlisted it in service of the Reagan agenda. Or for a case study in the effective functioning of the NSC and interagency process, take President George W. Bush’s deliberative process on the Iraq surge. APNSA Stephen Hadley led a rigorous interagency review process, which, while hardly perfect, nevertheless ensured that all concerned parties participated and had their voices heard—including State, Defense policy officials and the Joint Chiefs, the intelligence community, and relevant NSC staff members. Once the President made his decision for the new counter-insurgency strategy, all parties saluted and executed the new policy.

There is yet one more driver of interagency churn ripe for reform: the cacophony of strategy reports, many of which are congressionally mandated. This alphabet soup—the NSS, NDS, NMS, QDR, QDDR, and so on—is intended to serve the noble purpose of forcing the Executive Branch to think strategically. The work that goes in to preparing them does accomplish that in part, but at great cost in staff time and senior leader focus. The same benefit could probably be achieved with a more modest set of public white papers and classified annexes. The next President should work with the relevant committees in Congress to develop a more sensible set of mandates.

A better functioning NSC, coupled with the reforms of the NSC and White House staff outlined above, would greatly contribute to improved civil-military relations—another area that has suffered greatly in recent years. Differences of opinion between civilian and military leaders are normal and not signs of civil-military crisis. Indeed, the United States rightly boasts in an unbroken record of civilian control and military professionalism that makes us the envy of other advanced democracies (let alone coup-prone developing countries). Yet in recent years this natural policy tension has been exacerbated by deep and mutual distrust, with civilians convinced that military brass are gaming the system to constrain presidential options and the military convinced that civilians are denying them their rightful advisory role and distorting military operations through indecision, micromanagement, and basic ignorance of the military tools of statecraft. 

This distrust is especially toxic because the professional military enjoy much greater respect among the general public than do their superiors, the civilian political leaders. Civilians are understandably wary about how politically savvy military officers might wield that respect in ways to impose their preferred policies on the process. The best tonic for distrust is a healthy advisory process, one where the military voice is heard even if it is not always heeded, and where military advice is accurately described even, or perhaps especially, when civilian leaders invoke their constitutional prerogative to choose a different option than the one the military prefers. Better-designed processes, managed by more alert civilians attentive to the civil-military equation, will quickly restore higher quality civil-military relations in the next Administration.

Just as interagency relations function best through the honoring of its tacit bargains, so also do Congress-Executive relations. The acute Congress-Executive tensions of recent years are partly the consequence of insidious partisanship, partly from Constitutional ambiguity on the precise roles of Congress and the Executive Branch in the conduct of foreign and defense policy, and partly from the erosion of the tacit bargain that undergirds healthy Congress-Executive relations. That tacit bargain goes something like this: The Executive Branch will consult with Congress and invite congressional input on policy development, and in turn Congress will provide resources, support, and latitude for Executive leadership and implementation of policy. 

When trust erodes and this tacit bargain breaks down, Congress often reacts by stymying Executive capabilities, whether through restrictive legislation, critical oversight hearings, budget cuts and limitations, or refusing to confirm presidential appointees. While any President will have very limited control over the composition of Congress, he does have substantial control over his posture toward Congress. Whether Congress is controlled by the President’s party, or the opposition party, or a bicameral split, the next President will be wise to engage in more active outreach to Congress than has been the case in recent years. Every President soon learns that Congress can be a partner or an obstacle to national security policy but cannot be ignored. Whenever possible, partnership is always to be preferred. This not only ensures smoother functioning on foreign and defense policy but also helps ensure the staying power of presidential policies.

It should also be remembered that, Executive Branch chauvinism notwithstanding, Congress occasionally originates good policy ideas. The many examples of astute congressional initiatives that were initially opposed by the Executive Branch include the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in support of Russian Jewry, which helped undermine the Soviet Union; the Goldwater-Nichols legislation, which profoundly and effectively reorganized the Defense Department; the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction program, which helped secure and dispose of substantial amounts of nuclear material in the former Soviet Union; and the ratcheting up of economic pressure on Iran in recent years. In a similar vein, some of the most successful presidential initiatives depended on enlisting the support of a leading congressional member of the opposite party. Think of Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s indispensable backing for President Truman’s signature Cold War initiatives such as the Truman Doctrine’s aid to Greece and Turkey and the Marshall Plan, or of Democratic Senator Sam Nunn’s fervent commitment to the Reagan Administration’s Cold War defense build-up.

While the supposed halcyon years of bipartisan consensus supporting American foreign policy are more the stuff of nostalgic myth than historical reality, bipartisan cooperation remains both a worthy aspiration and an important pillar of American national security. Even more than domestic policy, foreign policy remains largely an elite realm. Creating bipartisan buttresses for foreign and defense policy begins with restoring a bipartisan elite.

There are both formal and informal channels for doing this. Formal channels include the advisory institutions that have designated slots for representatives from both parties: the Defense Policy Board, the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, and the like. The next President should restore customs from earlier eras that have waned in recent years, in particular the custom that these formal advisory institutions will always have strong representation from both parties—and not just nominal bipartisanship, where the out-party is represented by disaffected members of that party, but real bipartisanship involving the current and future thought-leaders of the out-party.

Informal channels such as private consultations and conversations may be less visible but are often just as meaningful, if not more so, and are excellent opportunities to engage the most capable members of the opposing party’s bench. Activities such as presidential meetings with former cabinet secretaries from the other party, NSC staff briefings with leading thinkers from the loyal opposition, and regular consultations with congressional leaders of the other party form the vital sinews of bipartisanship. Such channels rarely produce unanimity on policy, of course. But they do help ensure that a range of perspectives is heard, can help dampen partisan fervor and public criticism, and sometimes equip members of the other party to help explain American policies to their own constituents as well as overseas audiences.

Getting the organizational process right might be a necessary condition for the next President getting the new policies right. 

Most Administrations learn the value of these formal and informal channels through painful experience, sometimes not until their second term; some never learn it and leave a bitter legacy of partisanship for the next Administration to fix. The next President should commit to a better start, implementing these reforms from the outset rather than waiting for policy failure and gridlock to force the Administration’s hand. 

The challenges that American national security policy has encountered in recent years have also revealed some significant gaps in our foreign and defense policy toolkits. When confronted with a new crisis, the hackneyed binary between full-scale military intervention and complete isolation is almost always a false dichotomy—and its articulation is often a sign of antecedent error. More often, the best and most realistic policy options are those that involve a calibrated, circumscribed, and properly resourced American involvement. There are many other options for creatively projecting American power while minimizing risk. But to realize these will mean expanding or even developing other instruments of national power. Three particularly acute needs are improving our Military Assistance Programs for training and equipping foreign fighters; developing a permanent stability-operations capacity that harnesses civilian and military power for failing states and post-conflict situations; and building an institutional ability to wage ideological warfare, especially the battles of ideas against jihadism and the propaganda of expansionist authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China.

Again, while our current national security institutions are deficient for each of these needed capabilities, there are ample precedents in the past for the successful wielding of these tools. Military Assistance Programs offer deft instruments for projecting power while managing costs and risks and have been instrumental in many policy successes. Just a few examples from a manifest catalogue include the provision of arms to the Afghan mujaheddin in the 1980s in their insurgency against the Soviet Union, Plan Colombia support for Bogota’s fight against the FARC narco-guerillas, and America’s decades-long military assistance to Israel, which has protected the security of our most important Middle East ally.

In the realm of stability operations, the recent mixed legacies of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya may highlight our current deficiencies, but America’s leadership in the post-conflict reconstruction of nations such as Japan, Germany, South Korea, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo serve as reminders that we have been able to get the task done before.

The Cold War stands as the high-water mark of American engagement in the contest of ideas, with dedicated institutions such as the United States Information Agency, numerous broadcasting entities, and active participation by the intelligence community in covert information warfare—all of which contributed to countering communist ideology and enhancing America’s reputational power. Countering our various ideological adversaries today may not entail replicating the USIA, but it should entail building new institutions and capabilities (including reforming or scrapping the feckless Broadcasting Board of Governors) adapted to the challenges of 21st-century information warfare.

The next President faces a daunting task restoring America’s global position after the erosion of the past several years. But undoing recent mistakes may not prove to be the hardest challenge facing the next President. Instead, it is the crises and surprises we cannot fully anticipate that may end up being the more daunting test.

While he (or she) will be better prepared to meet those new challenges if the President puts in place the policy reforms discussed in previous chapters, in the end success will hinge as well on the performance of the President’s national security and foreign policy team—the institutions, capacities, and people—that must adapt and innovate in real time. In other words, getting the organizational process right might be a necessary condition for the next President to get the new policies right.