5 October 2003

Barely Managing

In the Reagan administration, this management style contributed to the Iran-Contra fiasco. In the Bush administration, the battles over Iraq's WMD program have led to open hostility between the Defense Department and the CIA. The leaks and counter-leaks over Nigerien yellowcake have escalated to the point where the Justice Department is investigating whether anyone in the White House violated federal law and jeopardized national security by outing the identity of an undercover CIA operative. What's amazing about this episode is that, if true, a felony was committed over what was truly a minor dispute. Which leads to a troubling question--if an administration official was willing to commit an overtly illegal act in dealing with such a piddling matter, what lines have been or will be crossed on not-so-piddling matters?

Many have given the president a pass on these issues and blamed NSC advisor Condoleezza Rice for the kinks in the policy process. That would be grossly unfair. The only real leverage an NSC advisor has is the ear of the president, and that only matters when the president takes an interest in the process. George W. Bush has done a fine job of articulating the goals of U.S. foreign policy. He needs to spend some more time on how to negotiate the means.

Drezdner puts up an attractive analysis, but I am not sure it's a persuasive analysis. Both Blair and Howard have committed essentially the same mistakes as Bush. Blair has the Kelly affair and Howard has the whole Bolt/Wilkie incident. Neither has ever, to my knowledge, been questioned on their intelligence or their ability to handle the levers of government.

The real (and much more frightening problem) may be bright people whose ideology blinkers them to empirical reality.

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