Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Job Security for Pundits

Over at Global Paradigms, Leon Hadar updates his point about the "contrast between the way the losers who operate in the market (including financial analysts) are punished and the reality in which the losers in the political game (including foreign policy analysts) rarely get punished."

Hadar also calls attention to the Andrew Sullivan column in the March 13, 2006 issue of Time magazine.

In reading that piece, all the usual tricks of punditry are on display--admitting "errors", trying to claim successes as a validation of policy choices (Iraqi Kurdistan had freedoms and a nascent civil society even before the invasion of 2003 thanks to the no-fly zones), and so on.

Also on display is the tactic of saying that if you didn't agree with the invasion, you must have preferred Saddam still in power, etc. It always suprises me the extent to which U.S. pundits continue to treat things in isolation.

Why not turn the argument around. By focusing on Iraq, we decreased pressure on North Korea. Doe Sullivan prefer Kim in power and Saddam deposed? Might not the world be better off if Kim was removed and Saddam boxed in? People who argued against the invasion did not do so out of love of Saddam, but because of their concern about priorities.

We can debate what those priorities should be. That is a fair debate. But mea culpas that aren't really mea culpas don't contribute to moving policy forward.

Thanks for the mention. I also have a new post on Walter LaFeber's critique of Condi's diplomacy. Very Interesting.
The worst part is whatever political accountability is there in this kind of business, it is all borne by the elected representatives - presidents, governors and so on. But likes of Karl Rove, all secretaries go with much less or no accountability.

Just look at the way Rumsfeld, Condi, Snow and other secretaries work. They all are answerable to President only and nothing sticks to them. So much damage has been done by these appointees.

In Parliamentary system, that is the real difference. Union Cabinet is generally made up of elected law makers only. Granted, that means lesser policy expertise; but much more accountability than secretaries only affirmed by Senate and then left to run amok by Presidency.
North Korea is not the only problem that has suffered from the Iraq distractions.

Once enmeshed in such an endeavour, every event and trend there becomes a distraction. The clerics, the militias, the police/army training, the civil war/incipient civil war, the insurgency, the moving in of the al Qaeda, the infiltration from Syria and Iran, what is or isn't there in the constitution, the fine tuning required to get the Shiites just enough power so they don't rise up while at the same time the Kurds and the Sunnis' fears can be kept under a reasonable level, clearing towns and cities and neighborhoods again and again when the insurgents keep on moving back in, making progress on infrastructure in the face of corruption and insurgency, and so on and on.

Each one of those pitfalls is a distraction from bigger problems we face around the world.
The point about accountability made by Umesh is quite interesting. What would happen if Condi, Rumsfeld and others had to run for re-election in the midterms in 2006?
Accountability in parliamentary systems is not that different from presidential ones. Prime ministers usually have kitchen cabinets and unelected aides often exercise significant influence.

The real difference is that in parliamentary systems more of the senior ranks of the civil service are filled by career people. In the United States, the top departmental positions are filled by political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president or the secretary. Career people can move up but then they become political appointees.
Guys, It's true that we have political systems in the west that provide for a change in government, etc. The problem is that when it comes to foreign policy issues and the individuals (yes, including pundits) who deal with them is that public ignorance over these complex problems as well as the ability of leaders to demagogue against threats and enemies (real and imagined) make is very difficult to get rid of them. Only when the costs become unbearable in terms of lives and money does the public make an effort to force change. In my post I tried to contrast that with the way the market system provides for more effective mechanisms to punish those who fail. Leon

I agree that Andrew Sullivan shouldn't have said that opponents of the war wanted Saddam to stay in office. There were consequences to be considered in removing him, and an absence of enthusiasm for war to remove dictators around the world cannot be presumed to constitute support for their continued tenure in office.

But I don't believe it follows that it was wrong to knock off one (easy to depose) bad guy in Baghdad if we didn't also knock off another (not so easy to depose) bad guy in Pyongyang. There may have been other reasons not have gone into Iraq but I don't think North Korea was or should have been one of them. I'm also not sure that the outcome in Iraq warrants an unqualified admission of defeat and failure. Sullivan's tone struck me as an attempt at a genuine apology and not as a conscious evasion.

Some insight into what went wrong in Iraq has been expressed by Stephen Biddle in the current Foreign Affairs (the article is online). I don't think Biddle's call for a renewed US commitment is realistic; and if it is too late to purge the Iraqi army and police of militias, then we have no further business in the country. But we need very badly to understand what went wrong in terms more helpful than just the charges of incompetence that seem to pass for reasons right now.

I take your point and I agree that the private sector can bring accountability more quickly and over much less consequential failures of performance. But the flip side of this is a danger of short-termism. If you look at the declining market share of some leading private firms, I wonder if senior management is really as accountable as the lower level people you have in mind.

There are two problems in foreign policy. One is that failure is not easy to identify and correct in the medium term of 1-5 years. The other is the tendency of the permanent foreign policy community to focus most of its attention on a context not much longer than this. Government in many ways resembles a private firm in its tendency to roll through time, looking backward a certain distance and forward a certain distance and adapting as it goes.

To bring new accountability to foreign policy, you would have to be more clear about whether the sort of servicing that policy intellectuals do for the sort of government we have is the problem, or whether the servicing is just falling short of what a government rolling through time ought to expect and receive.
Excellent points, and I'm not proposing that we "privatize" foreign policy... In fact, I've always thought that the system we have in this country of checks and balances plus a powerful media has been very effective in terms of energizing debates and creating an environment in which political changes do take place. For many reasons this system failed to do what it should have done. Leon
Leon, I am not sure the media is powerful enough to contribute sufficiently to the checks and balances. I think in recent times it has followed, rather than led in the news cycle, and easily gets distracted. The Iraq war was a good example.
The media also falls into the trap of continuing to go back to the same experts who were wrong because increasingly it bases its "expert opinion" on credentials rather than original thinking.
Just to make some final comments here:

I disagree on the point about Sullivan making a genuine apology, or perhaps to say it is both an attempt at a genuine apology but also is evasive. I think this because of this constant point made by him and others about always using pre- and post-war Iraq as justification.

David raises what I think is a legitimate point for debate: going after the low-hanging fruit or taking down the dictator we could take down in Iraq versus a much more difficult operation in North Korea. That is fine. This works from a calculus of probabilities and priorities. Most of the apologetic supporters of the war who now are finding buyers' remorse never put it in those terms, of dealing with evils we could deal with and recognizing that there were evils were couldn't. Instead they tagged people like Scowcroft as defeatist or an apologist for Saddam.

I also disagree with the point about the private sector and short-termism. I find the government extremely short term in its view because people think in terms of two and four year election cycles. In contrast, I find my friends over at the Eurasia Group think in much longer terms because they are trying to look at longer-term trends and precisely because it is their bread and butter. Political appointees don't worry about 2009 right now because they aren't going to be around.
As I've said before, and as Steve Simon and Jonathan Stevenson said in your mag some issues back, think thanks don't think anymore. THey are holding pens for people to go back into government. And once there they don't think either. They are either responding reactively to events or they are engaged in bureaucratic games.

Could George Kennan survive as head of policy planning today?
Accountability means that there is an accounting, a public record of the revenues, costs, and expeditures, and other more creative intruments used to monitor or track the flow of monies.

Misuse or somehow loose the accounting, and there is no accoutability!!!!

At that point we have either keptocracy, tyranny, oligarchy, or larceny.

Quite obviously - to any mere pedestrian paying even mild attention =- THERE IS A MONUMENTAL LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY in and from the facsist warmongers, profiteers, incompetent chichenhawks, rapturists fanatics in the Bush government. -

The more socalled experts, or realists ignore, excuse, defend, shield, or attempt the cloak the glaring and appalling factabasedreality that our socalled leadership is ruthlessly robbing from, lying to, subverting, injuring, endangering, and betraying the American people - the more trust, credibilty, and legitimacy of the socalled experts and realists is lost and legitimately challenged as questionable and suspect.
if those against the war were so because of their priorities and not from doubts concerning chances for success than that does not answer why the war has 'failed' or how the priorities they favored might also have failed had they been followed. It's easy to say now that one's priorities were wrong re Iraq but that's a meaningless answer to a question that is itself beside the point. The only questions that matter are: what we're the real motives behind the mission to Iraq? Is it failing because of bad policy or bad execution? If one assumes sanctions were no longer a feasible tactic, and there's pleny of evidence to support that, then what were the realistic options concerning the future of Iraq with Saddam as it's leader?
I think when talking about threats of weapons of mass destruction, it can hardly be besides the point to consider where priorities should be. "Sanctions were no longer a feasible tactic" - what exactly was the direct threat that Saddam with his severely weakened military posed?

I am surprised also that anyone can consider seriously being able to sit down and chart out the future of Iraq from the outside.

I just reread Scowcroft's WSJ article from 8/15/02. I agree that Scowcroft was tagged unfairly at the time; in fact, his article specified a condition for going to war (resistance to arms inspections) in terms very close to those we actually invoked.

His prediction of a costly war and immediate instability elsewhere in the Arab world did not come true, and in his emphasis on resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute he reflected a view of what needed to change in the Middle East that is hardly complete. But what is relevant to the present discussion is how he framed the war on terrorism essentially as a police problem. This is what should have been debated at the time, not his stand on Saddam Hussein.

It is certainly wrong to deduce that if terrorists come from a region, therefore the United States has to invade it. But if we had not invaded Iraq, we would still have had to determine the appropriate level on which to wage war against al-Qaida. Scowcroft did not specify this level and whether realists at the time (or since then) meant to endorse the level that has evolved is the question.

Right now we are cooperating with friendly regimes who help us up to a point yet sponsor terrorists (eg. Syria), or who arrest some terrorists yet allow tribal areas under their jurisdiction to provide sanctuary to them (eg. Pakistan), or who provide us with intelligence but enforce repression in their own countries and turn some of their young men into terrorists (eg. Egypt). One can adduce reasons for the expediency of US policy in these cases, especially now that we see what democracy in these places could bring, but clearly US interests and those of the cooperating governments have not been fully congruent. The question is whether the level of cooperation from these governments is acceptable, and the question behind this is whether the terrorist threat is tolerable at its present level.

The Bush administration reacted as it did in 2001-3 because its top people believed that the terror threat would not remain tolerable and therefore something more than police cooperation with existing foreign governments had to be done. Realists can point out correctly that what Bush did was push rhetoric out of line with action and then mishandled the action. But this critique does not address the question of whether we should now and for the future (a) continue present efforts against terrorists unless and until the present level of foreign government cooperation proves inadequate, or (b) change this level in order to prevent the circumstances that might prove its inadequacy from occurring in the first place. This is not to say that we should invade countries, or invade them more competently, if the answer is (b). But it is to ask whether the way the Bush people mismanaged the US response or exaggerated the threat of Saddam Hussein is as important now as debating in a forthright way the question to which (a) or (b) above are the choices.
When and if the Bush government warmongers and profiteers initiate any attempt to redress Saudi Arabia and the malignant perversion of wahabism, - the bioreactor and primary funding and nurturing source for all the jihadist mass murder gangs inclucing al Quaida, - then many of us pedestrians might believe the Bush government is serious about defeating our jihadist enemies.

Now quite obviously since the Bush government warmongers and profiteers have America bogged down for many decades slaughtering, plundering, and profiteering, - I mean occupying and nationbuilding in Iraq - and since the oleaginous cabals in the Bush government actually shield and consider "good friends" the duplicitous slave traders, and American haters in the House of Saud - there is absolutely ZERO credibility in the FALSE claim that the Bush government is attempting to better secure America.

For example, this statement is patently false and is indicative of the primary problem with American leaders and socalled experts.

{"The Bush administration reacted as it did in 2001-3 because its top people believed that the terror threat would not remain tolerable and therefore something more than police cooperation with existing foreign governments had to be done."}

Pretending or parroting the patent lie that the Bush government's bloody, costly, noendinsight horrorshow and woefully mismanaged war of choice in Iraq was or is based on any noble, just, or legitimae intentions - or imagining that the Bush government warmongers and profiteers were intending to better secure America by purposefully maliciously decieving and betraying the American people with regard to the reasons and justifications for the slaughter, plunder, and wanton profiteering ongoing in Iraq, or conjuring or parroting that there was or is any other reason beyond wantonly engorging the offsheet accounts of cronies, klans, cults, cabals, and oligarchs in or beholden to the Bush government warmongers, profiteers, incompetent chickenhawks, and rapturist fanatics who were and are bent on marauding Iraq's oil and profiteering from the socalled reconstruction - is an obscen insult to the intelligence of, and an affront to all Americans, - and a naked lie.

The "Pearl Harbor like event" of 9/11 was ruthlessly exploited by the fascist warmongers, profiteers, incompetent chickenhawks, and rapturist fanatics in the Bush government as the craven excuse for advancing and enforcing the supremist delusions of PNAC, or the fascist Pax Americana neverendingwar and empire designs and machinations unfettered by quaint restrictions like the rule of law, the Constitution, the public trust, the general welfare, or the America people.

America has been, and is being ruthlessly betrayed, decieved, and robbed by fascist cabals in Bush government.

America and the nations treasure has been, and is being pilfered and wildly mismanaged by cronies, cabals, cults, klans, oligarchs in or beholden to the Bush government.

Our leaders are pathological liars exclusively focused on and devoted to fattening their own off sheet accounts, sliming, diabolizing, dismissing, or destroying any and every questioner or anyone daring to challenge the leaders wayward policies and machinations, - dismembering, perverting, and re-engineering the Constitution and America's unique experiment in democracy, - insidiously commandeering the mechanisms of America's government - and implementing a fascist totalitarian dictatorship (which even Justice O'Conner legitimately warns about) with the fascist cronies, klans, cults, cabals, and oligarchs in or beholden to the Bush government ruling and reigning supreme, uncontested, unfettered, and Olympian.

This government does not deserve and will not be afforded one nanoparticle of the peoples trust, respect, or good faith!!!!!!

The Bush government betrays America.

Any socalled expert affording or pretending to afford any legitimacy, credibility, trust, or good faith to anyone in the Bush government, or in anyway painting lipstick on the monsterous pig that is the Bush government - is a craven sychophant, a complicit parrot, and liar.

This moment in American history is unprecedented.

Until, and unless America awakens from our collective torpor and somnabulance, recognizes that our government is decietful and criminal, and ultimately impeaches and hopefully incarcerates the entire malignant marauding, deceptive, malicious, secretive, vengeful, unprincipled, duplicitous brood of pathological liars, brutal wamongers, wanton profiteers, shameless traitors, supremist rightwingideologues, fascist tyrants, and rapturist religious fanatics in the Bush government - our future will be the continued unabated nazification of America by the Bush government and the tyranical imposition of the Pax Americana neverendingwar and empire designs and machinations.

Deliver us from evil
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