Nancy McNally

Posted: October 30, 2008 in Decision Makers, Honorable Mentions

Anna Deavere Smith served as National Security Advisor, Dr. Nancy McNally, on TV’s “The West Wing” for seven seasons. On a fictional level, she beats Condleeaza Rice to the finish line for an African-American woman serving in the position. On a real level, she plays Paul McCartney to Allison Janey’s John Lennon, aka dynamic duo of McNally/Cregg. Check out this 2001 episode regarding an arms deal with the fictional country of Qumar:

The scene certainly exemplifies how much life can sometimes suck when you are a decision maker. That personal politics unfortunately rarely coincides with geopolitics. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but as a National Security Advisor, Nancy would have taken that medicine often particularly when she would be so much more privy to information the average Jane would not be.

It’s important to note that from an analyst’s perspective, the intelligence process does not necessarily solve problems. Sometimes intelligence merely recognizes a problem, sometimes it addresses the problems, sometimes an analyst makes recommendations that feel more like a choice between a variety of terrific evils and not at all a solution.

What you have to respect about the McNally character is that she has to recommend the lesser of multiple evils. She has to put aside her biases, she has to bury any personal opinions she may or may or may not have on the matter, and try to put forth the best possible options. What is brilliant about the character is that the options are awful, she knows it, but she owns them anyway. And there’s no magical solution that makes everyone happy at the end of the day. That’s some real life there.

About the only complaint I can make about McNally, is that she didn’t receive enough play on the show. Seriously, the producers of the West Wing did a great disservice by not making her a more integral character.

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