One of the first public servants John Gans remembers seeing was a scoundrel. As rain ruined a family vacation day in 1987, he was eight years old and sitting in a hotel room captivated by the Capitol Hill hearings into the Iran-Contra scandal. Like millions of Americans around the country, Gans watched as Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who had been a member of the president’s National Security Council staff known in Washington as the NSC staff or “the NSC,” sat upright in his olive uniform and tried to explain his misadventure to a crowd of congressmen.
North’s hearing brought the NSC Staff to the attention to Americans of all ages, including Gans. In the years after the hearing and as he began a doctoral dissertation at Johns Hopkins, the same question persisted: just what does the NSC staff do all day? Gans threw himself into understanding the institution and those who serve in it, conducting nearly 100 interviews with policymakers, including 12 national security advisors, four secretaries of state, three defense secretaries, one vice president, and dozens of NSC Staff, and reviewing more than 10,000 original documents from nine presidential libraries and archives.
The result White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Transformed the American Way of War (from Liveright a division of W.W. Norton) is a revelatory history written with riveting DC insider detail. The book shows how the NSC Staff has evolved from a collection of administrative clerks to, as one recent commander-in-chief called them, the president’s “personal band of warriors.” White House Warriors also traces the path that has led the United States to an era of American aggression abroad, debilitating fights within the government, and whispers about a deep state conspiring against the public.
Since its founding almost 70 years ago, the National Security Council has exerted more influence on the president’s foreign policy decisions—and on the nation’s conflicts abroad—than any other institution or individual. And yet, until the explosive Trump presidency, North was one of the only members of the NSC staff Americans could even name.
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