George Ball: Behind the Scenes in U.S. Foreign Policy.


JAMES A. BILL, George Ball: Behind the Scenes in U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 274 pp., cloth (ISBN 0-300-06969-3).

The value of James A. Bill's George Ball lies in its description of how a person plies his trade in the "second tier." Not many presidential scholars focus on this level of the executive branch: positions just below the rank of cabinet secretary. The term sweeps in under secretaries, deputy secretaries, ambassadors to critical posts, and special advisers. Precisely because they do not hold top cabinet posts, people in the second tier often have more maneuverability within the bureaucracy allowing them to exert influence for many decades. Moreover, "in spite of their differing political ideologies and personalities, the leading members of the second tier all shared a commitment to public service that took precedence over their personal desire for public recognition and fame" (p. 211).

George Ball was able to use the longevity and anonymity of the second tier to affect American diplomacy, ranging from trade (President Kennedy's 1962 Trade Expansion Act was pure Ball) to the Congo, Cyprus, and European unity. Anybody wanting to know how to manipulate policy from backstage should study this book. Ball enjoyed the ability to take the initiative in producing and explaining dicey policy decisions. An administration could easily disavow his ideas since they did not come from the top. "Yet Ball might still force an issue onto the agenda or change its salience through a well-timed speech or discrete act" (p. 211). That is why James Reston could describe Ball as a man who acted" `by being a connecting rod between people, by being obscure, patient, obstinate, and never taking credit for what he did'" (p. 107).

George Ball learned from France's Jean Monnet, who would identify a high-placed government person he wished to influence, then find the individual" `who actually prepared the initial drafts of documents that provided his boss with advice and new initiatives. He sometimes spent day after day with that lowly but tactically placed minion'" (p. 107).

Removed from the spotlight, George Ball served with alacrity and became, in the words of an Oxford University chancellor, "the man who has been more nearly right on every major foreign policy issue of the past forty five years than anyone else I know." In 1956, Ball predicted a tunnel beneath the English Channel. Seventeen years before it happened, he...

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