Kitts, Kenneth 1964–

views updated

Kitts, Kenneth 1964–


Born October 9, 1964, in SC. Education: Appalachian State University, B.A., M.A.; University of South Carolina, Ph.D., 1995.


Office—Office of the Associate Provost, Francis Marion University, SAB 116, Florence, SC 29501. E-mail—[email protected].


Francis Marion University, Florence, SC, began as instructor, became professor of political science and associate provost.


Distinguished Professor award, Francis Marion University, 2003.


Presidential Commissions and National Security: The Politics of Damage Control (nonfiction), Lynne Rienner Publishers (Boulder, CO), 2006.


Kenneth Kitts is a native of North Carolina, and is a professor of political science at Francis Marion University in that state. His primary interest in research and teaching is the study of executive power and national security policy. These subjects are central to his book, Presidential Commissions and National Security: The Politics of Damage Control.

Presidential Commissions and National Security provides an in-depth analysis of the ways in which presidential commissions, which are formed to examine and interpret significant crises, are politically influenced. The validity of these commissions has been questioned by many, yet presidents continue to make use of them when facing scandals and crises. Kitts uses five different case studies as the foundation for his book: The Roberts Commission reported on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; the Rockefeller Commission was formed to look into abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency; the Scowcroft Commission reported on the advisability of deploying the MX missile system; the Tower Commission investigated the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration; and the 9/11 Commission gave a report on the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

For each of these commissions, Kitts describes the events that prompted its formation and the political situation in which the president found himself because of it. He details the process of the investigation, the conclusions reached by the commission, the writing of the report, and its impact when released. He also discusses the political repercussions of the reports once issued. Taking the five case studies into account, Kitts concludes that, generally speaking, the presidential commissions have served the political ends of the White House, with information presented in such a way as to provide damage control when needed, or to promote a political agenda. He also discusses the reasons presidents continue to make use of these commissions even though some—like the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy—have been widely ridiculed.

"Kitts makes a solid attempt to draw back the curtain of mystery behind which these commissions typically operate. He rightly emphasizes the paramount importance of who is selected to serve on them, and provides many insights into the political intrigue behind the scenes," wrote Max Holland in a review for the Wilson Quarterly. Holland felt that Kitts presented good evidence that some of the commissions were compromised, sometimes by the backgrounds of their members, which may have introduced issues of conflict of interest, or by the questionable qualifications of the members. He also demonstrates how commissions have been used as a stalling device, buying time in order to be able to shape the political debate surrounding the event. Holland found some shortcomings in the book, such as Kitts's acceptance of congressional investigations as generally legitimate, but he credited the author with bringing attention to a subject that "deserves scrutiny": the effect that these briefly convened panels may have on long-standing government policies.

Presidential Commissions and National Security was praised by Lawrence D. Freedman in Foreign Affairs, where he described it as a "neat and readable" book on the use of presidential panels to influence the public's perception of events. The book was also recommended by Amy B. Zegart, a reviewer for the Political Science Quarterly. She stated: "Kitts's book is the first serious treatment of national security commissions in the literature, and it is long overdue. The book's greatest strength is its thick description of each commission's creation and operation." Zegart found Kitts's work on the Tower Commission especially noteworthy.

While approving of Kitts's work generally, Holland did find that "some of Kitts's omissions are curious." Holland found it strange that the author did not discuss the possibility that Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's disease may have played a role in the varying percep- tions people had of his competency at the time of the Iran-Contra scandal. Zegart stated that the author's detailed descriptions of the workings of the presidential commissions "comes at the expense of analytic depth." On the other hand, the author was praised for "bringing theory and evidence together and letting the findings fall where they may," in a review by Patrick J. Haney for White House Studies. Haney continued: "It is written in an engaging style that is accessible to scholars and citizens alike. It brings together a fascinating set of national security commissions—and the political crises that led to their creation. Each case study is a great chapter in and of itself, and Kitts weaves them together both at the beginning and at the conclusion of the book." Haney concluded that Presidential Commissions and National Security "is an excellent example of bringing social science to bear on historical and current political problems, and should be read and appreciated as such. I recommend this book to students of the presidency and foreign policy, and to citizens who want to better understand the complex relationship between the mechanisms of the presidency and the requirements of an educated citizenry."



Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, July 1, 2006, A.L. Warber, review of Presidential Commissions and National Security: The Politics of Damage Control, p. 2077.

Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2006, Lawrence D. Freedman, review of Presidential Commissions and National Security.

Political Science Quarterly, December 22, 2006, Amy B. Zegart, review of Presidential Commissions and National Security, p. 703.

Reference & Research Book News, May 1, 2006, review of Presidential Commissions and National Security.

White House Studies, June 22, 2006, Patrick J. Haney, review of Presidential Commissions and National Security, p. 327.

Wilson Quarterly, June 22, 2006, review of Presidential Commissions and National Security, p. 105.

ONLINE, (April 11, 2008), author profile.