Thursday, July 06, 2006

When Your Heart's Not In It

One of the most salient critiques of the Bush administration's handling of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco has to do with tying that tragedy into the larger narrative of small government zealotry. It is important to take note of the impact that an adminsitration's prevalent philosophy of government can have on the efficacy of the government itself: if you don't believe that the government can solve problems, and are disdainful of government agencies, functions and missions, then that ideological predisposition is probably going to translate into some pretty ugly stuff if and when you take the helm of the ship of state.

Only contempt for the federal government and its functions could lead one to appoint an endless stream of incompetent cronies to positions of the utmost import (FEMA - post 9/11!) and industry insiders/lobbyists to key regulatory positions - overseeing the very industries the insiders hail from, and inevitably return to, with big rewards waiting on the other side for their invaluable tenures.

In general, the Bush administration has seemed wholly disinterested in most policy-related matters with few exceptions. And with respect to those exceptions, they have displayed an impressive level of acumen. They are, in no particular order: 1) Shifting the tax burden from the wealthiest Americans to the middle and lower classes and generally pursuing an economic policy that rewards the top end/Bush supporters; 2) greatly enhancing the power of the unitary executive, while curtailing civil liberties of US citizens; 3) gutting the regulatory/administrative state in favor of industry provided wish lists (see, ie, here, here and here); and 4) winning elections. In these areas, the Bush administration has excelled quite admirably (regardless of whether you agree with the stated goals).

In almost every other respect (and even as a result of some of their "successes"), this administration has been an astonishing failure. This should not come as a surprise though. It's hard to succeed when your heart's not in it.

Kevin Drum - responding to a post by Marc Lynch tracing the demise of the Bush administration's policy of democracy promotion in the Middle East - notices the rather frightening state of confusion surrounding the Bush administration's foreign policy in general:

But that's really just a single piece of a broader, and even more remarkable turn of events: the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore. They have no serious plan for Iraq, no plan for Iran, no plan for North Korea, no plan for democracy promotion, no plan for anything. With the neocons on the outs, Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, and Dick Cheney continuing to drift into an alternate universe at the OVP, the Bush administration seems completely at sea. There's virtually no ideological coherency to their foreign policy that I can discern, and no credible followup on what little coherency is left.

As near as I can tell, George Bush has learned that "There's evil in the world and we're going to stand up to it" isn't really adequate as a foreign policy for a superpower but is unable to figure out anything better to replace it with. So he spins his wheels, waiting for 2009. Unfortunately, the rest of us are left spinning with him.

Not exactly encouraging stuff at this juncture in history. Kevin seems to answer a question he didn't quite pose in a subsequent post on Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine:

More than a broad rationalization of mere hawkishness, the One Percent Doctrine is actually a justification for ignoring unwanted analysis. After all, nearly anything has a one percent chance of happening, and if that's the threshold for action, it means we can take action anytime we want. Under the OPD, there is literally no reason to waste time with analysis or policy discussions.

This, of course, is where Suskind ties in this book with his earlier one, The Price of Loyalty. The single most defining characteristic of George Bush's personality is his belief in his own instinct and his corresponding disdain for serious policy analysis. For Bush, the One Percent Doctrine is tailor made. He is contemptuous of policy discussions, and the OPD is the perfect excuse to ignore them.

Again, is it any wonder that an administration so averse to the rigors of sound policy making, so hostile to the mission of government and that happens to be headed by a man who doesn't much like to listen to debate and dialogue, would end up with a muddled sense of priorites that consistently lead to tragic outcomes? Even Donald Rumsfeld, one of the so-called grown ups, has seemed more interested in winning bureaucratic turf wars than in implementing any broader policy. That is his forte.

Yet, as I stated above, with respect to the things they care about most, they have a record of achievement - even as the underlying rhetorically pleasing platitudes wither on the vine. The experts may be in near unanimity over the Bush administration's failures in Iraq and the war on terror. Democracy promotion might be nothing more than a fading rhetorical flourish, and the rest of the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policy apparatus may be almost completely unmoored.

But despite the general lack of direction, and consistent strategic blunders, is there any doubt that they have won the war to fatten the coffers of the military industrial complex - and now the Homeland Security Industrial Complex to boot. The regulatory/administrative state has been successfully neutered and rather docile in the face of industry abuses and excesses. And they have displayed a steely resolve to stay the course and win the war for more and permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

As they say, where there's a will, there's a way.

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