The Replacements

Every president faces the daunting task of putting together a team that can lead America while transitioning to the role of leader of the free world. Given the way the new administration’s cabinet is shaping up and the heap of global crises, Obama

Issue: Jan-Feb 2009

Kurt M. Campbell and James B. Steinberg, Difficult Transitions: Foreign 
Policy Troubles at the Outset of Presidential Power (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2008), 204 pp., $26.95.

Richard E. Neustadt, Preparing to be President: The Memos of Richard E. Neustadt, edited by Charles O. Jones (Washington, DC: AEI Press, 2000), 250 pp., $25.00.

Peter W. Rodman, Presidential Command: Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), 368 pp., $27.95.


A SUCCESSFUL presidential candidate has about eleven weeks to prepare for actually becoming president. This is when presidents-some at least-visibly struggle to learn from history, hoping to avoid repeating mistakes and to copy past successes.

The results have usually been mixed. Not paying much attention to earlier practices contributed to Jimmy Carter's stumbling through most of his single term. It marred the first terms of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But, then again, trying hard to take account of past failures and successes did not protect Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan from missteps that they later rued. (Among other things, all three concluded that they had appointed the wrong person as secretary of state-and for the wrong reasons.)

You must be a subscriber of The National Interest to access this article. If you are already a subscriber, please activate your online access. Not a subscriber? Become a subscriber today!