Through close examination of Eisenhower’s Vietnam policy-making, Pasi Tuunainen presents an analysis of the functioning of the President’s NSC machinery as an advisory system. Tuunainen’s work builds primarily upon extensive declassified archival materials and a massive body of literature. He rebuts the traditional criticism that Eisenhower’s NSC machinery was merely a slow and toilsome “paper mill” which produced consensus recommendations and policy papers for long-term consumption. Tuunainen reveals instead that, regardless of its red tapism during the Eisenhower Administration (1953–1961), the formalized NSC think tank mechanism operated with considerable efficiency and flexibility, providing the President with a wide range of options and even adapting to acute situations. However, interdepartmental and interagency coordination under the aegis of the NSC was complicated to some extent because Council members sometimes also acted in the interests of their respective departments and agencies, and their interpersonal relationships were further affected by various bureaucratic and civil-military rivalries. The case of Vietnam is particularly revealing. With the Council deliberating Vietnam-related issues at one in five of its regular weekly meetings “on top of policy hill”, the American involvement in the fate of Vietnam progressively deepened.
Tuunainen’s detailed study offers numerous insights into the inner workings and foreign policy decision-making processes of the Eisenhower Administration. At the same time, this is also an account of the Presidential NSC advisers – those business executives, lawyers and soldiers who assisted Eisenhower in coping with the Cold War crises of the 1950s.