The American Interest

Purging the Bureaucrats

In his 1968 essay “Bureaucracy and Policy Making,” Dr. Henry Kissinger argued that there was no rationality or consistency in American foreign policymaking. “[A]s the bureaucracy becomes large and complex,” he wrote, “more time is devoted to running its internal management than in divining the purpose which it is supposed to serve.” There is only so much that even the President can do against the wishes of the bureaucracy, Kissinger warned. Unless he can get the willing support of his subordinates, simply giving an order does not get very far.

Three years later, Sen. Stuart Symington (D-Mo.) made a speech denouncing “the concentration of foreign policy decisionmaking power in the White House” which had deprived Secretary of State William P. Rogers of his authority. Symington singled out for attack “the unique and unprecedentedly authoritative role of Presidential Adviser Henry Kissinger,” who had become “clearly the most powerful man in the Nixon Administration next to the President himself.”

Symington’s diagnosis was correct even though his complaint was flawed. Nixon, an accomplished geostrategist, brought Kissinger on board and gave him extensive powers exactly in order to bypass the bureaucratic behemoth. It was an inspired move that allowed Nixon to open relations with China, crowned by his 1972 visit. It pushed the bipolar world in the direction...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here