Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Darling Responds

Dan Darling has posted his first part of a series of responses that will address my own three part series on the future of Iraq, entitled The Epilogue. In the process he also challenges certain of Nadezhda's arguments, and may address other of the Liberals Against Terrorism authors to varying degree.

Darling mostly glosses over some politically charged rhetoric on my part, offering, in kind, some mild retorts, but I think it best to avoid the political tit for tat. So, following his lead, I will table that discussion for now. I will respond, however, to a section from Darling which was a response to my lament of the lack of a dialectic in the Bush White House. First the relevant portion from
my post:

...no one should have expected Bush to come up with a military plan on his own. But a wise leader is not the leader who thinks of every policy on his own (that is impossible after all), but rather the leader who is capable of recognizing good policy when one of his or her well trained subordinates or task forces comes up with it. When various intelligent experts battle it out and the leader judges who among them is carrying the torch of knowledge.

In the Bush White House, however, that is almost impossible to achieve since there has been a disciplined, and defiant, dearth of process. Bush has a distaste for debate, has never encouraged dissent, even behind closed doors, and during his tenure has sought to shield himself from, not seek out, opposing viewpoints. From populating the ranks of the Executive branch, the CIA and the CPA with cronies and industry insiders, to hiring journalists to shill for Administration policies, to allowing faux journalists like Jeff Gannon into the White House press corp, to rigorous admission standards and tests for crowds appearing at campaign stops, ideological purity has trumped ability and unison has been favored over the dialectic. Choosing good policy in that kind of dysfunctional environment would be nearly impossible for someone many times more intellectually curious than our current President. For Bush, the results have been all too predictable.
Now Darling:

Another point that needs to be made as clearly and as loudly as possible is that it doesn't matter if the Bush cabinet is dissent-free, shields itself from opposing viewpoints, and populates the upper and middle tier with a combination of insiders and cronies. This strikes me as pretty similar to how Italy or France operates, yet the French government is still quite capable of designing capable foreign policies and implementing them. Absent the unlikely event of an impeachment, which I suspect is what many of Eric's colleagues if not Eric himself actively desire, if for no other reason than that it would be the payback in full they feel they're owed after what happened to Bill Clinton.
First the easy part. I have never called for the impeachment of Bush, and last time I checked, no one on this site has either. Please, correct me if I'm wrong. Payback for Clinton in that way would be counterproductive and rank politics of a nature I do not endorse. While I'm on the subject I should point out that Dan makes too much of my statement to the effect that the Democrats should exploit weaknesses the way the Republicans have - a comment that came immediately after a laundry list of complaints about Karl Rove's political strategy and methods. No matter the efficacy, I would never suggest that the Democrats adopt tactics of a kind similar to Karl Rove. It might be due to my own lack of clear writing that gave this impression, but I was not endorsing such a path (nice Boromir analogy by the way Dan). I was merely referring to the fact that the Democratic Party should, nonetheless, not be so timid. It should be aggressive on important issues of policy, and not be resign itself to be reactive. It should be possible to begin to attack the weaknesses of the GOP while not engaging in Swift Boat style misinformation campaigns/media manipulation or homosexual bigotry.

On the substance of Dan's other point, I am not sure he accurately describes the typical operation of the Italian or French executive branches. He certainly doesn't describe the American version. Appointing cronies and insiders is one thing, but quashing internal dissent and robust debate is quite another - and hardly typical of either Republican or Democratic administrations (as an aside, did Dan just praise the French government or am I reading too much into it?).

Numerous White House insiders have described the situation as I recounted, from Paul O'Neill to John DiIulio to Richard Clarke. In the case of O'Neill, his critique was made as a contrast to the conduct in the Nixon and Ford administrations, in which he worked, as well as the Reagan and Bush Sr. Administrations - which he had significant contacts with. As O'Neill observed, decisions in the Bush White House, unlike his predecessors, were made by an insular group of insiders, Bush himself was more "disengaged" and less interested in debate between the principals, and the key decision makers tended to base their decisions on their own predetermined preferences, not on the result of honest, empirical inquiry launched without a desired outcome. The suggestion by Darling that this is not a flawed process is a bit shocking. Quite the contrary, it is healthy to have a sincere debate, helpful to use empirical-based research and inquiry, and necessary to show leaders a broad range of possibilities. The dialectic is crucial to insure that even outcomes that are not the best case scenario are examined and planned for.

Many critics point to the potency of "group think" in terms of leading the Bush administration to make so many errors in Iraq that were otherwise obvious, even to members of its own State Department (whose work on the Future of Iraq Project was scrapped at the eleventh hour due to perceived pessimism). Unfortunately, those dissenting voices were cordoned off, ignored and on occasion the speakers were relieved of their offices. That is how otherwise implausible predictions were able to harden into principles that guided policy - much to the detriment of the overall mission. These included prognostications about the overall ease of the Iraq campaign, the likely reception we would receive in terms of candy and flowers, the effect on the region in terms of democratization, the costs of the campaign and the ability of Iraqi oil to finance reconstruction (Larry Lindsay was fired when he contradicted Wolfowitz and went public with the claim that it could exceed $100 billion - which is, in retrospect, an extreme underestimation), the expectation of an ineffective and short-lived insurgency, the duration of a troop presence (Wolfowitz in Congressional testimony claimed we would be down to 30,000 by Autumn 2003), the possibility of Chalabi enjoying a popular mandate or, in the alternative, the popularity of secular leaders, etc. In fact, I think most major blunders vis a vis Iraq can be traced back to this proclivity on the part of the Bush administration to remain so inverted and single-minded in its policy formation.

It was enough to drive Paul O'Neill, a lifelong Republican, to cry foul and is a curious thing for any supporter or critic to try to defend as sound process. While I don't expect to convert Dan, or Paul O'Neill for that matter, to the cause of the Democratic Party, I do expect that we could meet on common ground to declare this method of policy making to be less than ideal - no matter the occupant of the White House. I think recent history is on my side.

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