Starting with the inquiry headed by Owen Roberts into why the United States was caught by surprise at Pearl Harbor and concluding with the 9/11 Commission, this neat and readable little book describes and evaluates the use of blue-ribbon panels to defuse crises of confidence in the government's handling of national security. The other cases were prompted by revelations about the CIA's forays into domestic spying in 1975, the problems of finding a basing mode for the MX missile, and the Iran-contra scandal. The emphasis, as the subtitle indicates, is on the utility of these panels for political damage control at home, which turns out to be quite significant, and the importance of the selection of the panel members and their relationship to the White House. If the book deserves criticism, it is that although it discusses national security issues, it fails to provide international context or consider how these various scandals changed the terms of U.S. foreign policy.
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In This Review
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