Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wagging The Dog : What Happens When Politics is the Only Policy

Tenet, Black and Rice Meeting: Catalyst For August 6 PDB? | TPMCafe

I know, in a sense, all this is old news, but then again, it really isn't. First we had Clarke tell us the Bush Administration ignored serious and material warnings about 9/11. Then we had Tenet and/or McLaughlin through Ron Suskind tell us the Bush Administration ignored serious and material warnings about 9/11. Now Bob Woodward is doing the same thing, revealing to us that the Bush Administration ignored serious and material warnings about 9/11 and continues to ignore serious and material warning about Iraq.

Mitchell wonders in the article if Condi will resign. She denies the meeting ever took place. I doubt she will. But this is a dangerous place for the country right now. This Administration is like a wounded animal in a corner, there is no telling how (or where) they will lash out.

There is one clear message buried in the spin and twaddle coming from the various actors in the White House; at the bottom, a sense of utter confusion and astonishment that Reality is not behaving as it has been directed to by the President.

I have come to the conclusion that when Bill Clinton was accused of "Wagging the Dog" for attempting to take out Bin Ladin during the Lewinsky scandal his critics were utterly sincere, in that their personal universe did not include the possibility that there is any action that is NOT a political action. They accused Clinton of acting for the reasons they would have acted. It never occurred to them that when a sitting President claims to be acting in the interests of US National Security, he might really be speaking of actual US National Security, not the security of incumbents.

The reasoning was simple. Bill Clinton had attempted to counter the Republican political offensive centering around the Lewinsky scandal with the specter of Bin Ladin, trying to distract and terrify the electorate into countering the impeachment process.

And no doubt they felt that "political strategy" was in part responsible for the failure to convict Clinton in the Senate.

That sort of reasoning - if I may use the term loosely - resulted in the current mess. George Bush was supported by such people because he is simple-minded and drawn to simple answers to complicated issues. Or in other words, effective governments understand that complex issues often need to be put in simple terms for the convenience and effective understanding of the electorate; this government truly believes things actually are that simple!

Condi is - I grudgingly admit - a supremely well-qualified and well-read person. But I do not think it very arguable that she is political to the bone; a neoconservative first, last and always. Like many academic ideologues, she is as tenacious with her ideology as a dog with a bone; should evidence or reality conflict with her preconceptions, she is often literally incapable of even hearing, much less understanding the implications. I would also suggest this is exactly why she has a position in this Administration; there does not seem to be a single person there who is intellectually capable of being confused by the facts. Of all the people who should NEVER be put in the position of National Security Advisor, she must be somewhere near the top of the list, right up there with Carrottop and Bono.

Consider the implications of this mindset - it implies the internalization and acceptance that the whole Lewinsky affair was purely politics and that the current administration neither considered, nor even comprehended the necessity for any actual substance. Likewise, it never considered the threat posed by Bin Ladin as being anything other than a Democratic political ploy, which as a matter of pragmatic politics, they refused to lend energy to. Any appeals to the morality and sensibilities of "the base" during the Lewinsky affair and currently is devoid of any real appreciation of the morals of sincere social conservatives - other than as a sure-fire way to motivate them.

It has a certain awful majesty; an entire class of people so divorced from reality that they are reduced to pushing emotional hot-buttons in response to events, with no understanding that those buttons have effects and purposes that go beyond the political effect during the current news cycle. Furthermore, they seem to have no understanding that when you make a policy statement, people expect to see concrete results evolving from it that have some logical connection.

The most convincing argument for my case is to point to the things this administration has been utterly blind-sided by, and the most obvious of these is Katrina. With 9/11, who and where the failures occurred is still somewhat obscured, but there is no confusion in the minds of Americans as to Katrina. They knew from experience how FEMA and other agencies were supposed to respond, expected that response, and did not get it.

Furthermore, they know damn well that if the administration couldn't cope with a cat five hurricane destroying a city, it couldn't do any better if that city had been devastated by a smuggled atomic weapon. The reality was this, in the face of much-touted terrorist threats used to justify war and spiralling debt, none of that very expensive rubber had actually met the road!

Clearly, there were real-world warnings, long before Katrina came that there were real problems with the levy system. But it was apparently politically convenient to divert money to uses other than vital (and far cheaper) preventive measures.

Second, they clearly did not comprehend the point to FEMA, which is that emergencies regularly happen within the US that are on a scale that requires a federal response and resource management - often because the "proper" State authorities are underwater or otherwise disrupted. They saw it as a democratic political agenda, perhaps as a way of "buying votes" in hurricane-prone red states. Since they already had those votes, they saw no point to continuing the effort.

FEMA is, through a doctrinal lens, an "improper enlargement of government" or some damn twaddle such as that.

It was therefore subsumed into the Department of Homeland Security, used as a dumping ground for political reliably incompetents and left to "rot on the vine."

DHS itself is clearly intended as an exercise in seeming to do something useful, and perhaps a cloak for doing things we would very much object to if they were more widely understood, such as creating networks of concentration camps for displaced and inconvenient persons.

How very neoconservative, to perceive citizens in need of emergency services as primarily a threat to their political power, who must first be isolated and controlled.

I don't miss Clinton because he was a Democrat. As Democrats go, he wasn't very faithful to Democratic ideals. To me, he seemed far closer to Barry Goldwater than to JFK. But what he - and honestly speaking, most of his predecessors - understood is that politics is a means to a real-world end, not an end in itself.

To neoconservatives, the point to power is power. To George Bush, the point to torture IS torture. And yes, I am paraphrasing Orwell, though this Brave New World Order is even more banal and petty than his most bleak imaginings.

Mark Twain once remarked that the difference between fiction and reality was that fiction had to be plausible.

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Anonymous said...

Some things that are very important to remember: We don't know half of what the President is told about the goings on in other countries. We are given a fraction of that information. Those in positions of power aren't any better, smarter or anything else than the rest of us. They're people. They screw up. They have their motives and we have to hope that their motives include the best for those directly effected.

Also important to know, Clinton didn't do anything when Bin Laden's groups declared they're intentions, once again, with the bombing of the USS Cole. Doesn't it bother you that US service people were killed, and that our President only said, in effect, "That's not nice"?

Perhaps you would like to know what actual living breathing conservatives think about politics and how it effects their daily lives? If so, I invite you to read PolitiqueMystique here ate Blogger. It's mine, of course, and I think it might give you another perspective.

Bob King said...

It appears you missed my point:

While ordinarily we should be able to presume and ordinarily do presume that a President has access to the best minds and the best information and therefore deserves some slack - in this particular case we have access to a great deal of the information and insight he did have or should have had. This is why I cite Katrina, as nothing involved is a legitimate secret.

And sir, "But CLINTON did it" is childish. So what?

Doing nothing about the Cole as opposed to doing something entirely wrong and unrelated? I can legitimately be unhappy about both.

But the President does not serve to fulfil my passiate desires that "something be done about this." Most often, such public sentements will lead in entirely unproductive directions, particularly when those demands involve significant acts of violence.

I'll confess that is exactly what I wanted, and I'll warrent it's precisely what Clinton wanted. But grownups do not permit themselves to have temper tantrums; not personally and certainly not in the capacity as "leader of the free world."

That was, like it or not, a title that Clinton managed to fulfill (as did George Bush the First and Ronald Regan.) But it is a title of acclaim, and is applied to GWB only in tones of deepest sarcasm.

I can be unhappy about Clinton's inability to act decisively irt Cole - even if I admit the possibility that there was no possible immediate response that would not have made things worse, in Clinton's judgement. I'll accept that even if he was wrong about that in retrospect - a courtesy I give Regan as well.

As you say, they are human and they do screw up; we pay them the big bucks and give them power tools so that they are empowered to avoid screwing up as much as possible.

But - to go back to your initial point - I do not know what alternates were presented to Clinton in the Cole matter, and as you may recall, his political options were rather limited at the time, by a Republican Congress.

That's a situation I approve of. MOST of the time, in both foreign and domestic affairs, "nothing" is the best possible response.

Very often - and this is true for all Presidents - when a matter comes to the Oval Office, the alternatives are between things that range from bad to worse.

If it were easy, it would have been dealt with already. That's what we have county clerks for.

And this is why I am so very upset with the Bush administration. It has nothing to do with their stated agendas - since those are usually short-term lies and smokescreens - and they are clearly too incompetent to handle the actual meaningful implementation of a policy that I would disagree with on the normal grounds.

This is not about conservative v. liberal or big government v. small. Would that it were, Sir, we would be on more comfortable and familiar ground.

This is between "presumably competent" and "demonstrably Incompetent."

Before ANYTHING else matters - the basic capability to not comprehensively fuck up everything they touch is an essential requirement for public office.

Oh, and Sir, I am a living, breathing fiscal and Constitutional Conservative. I do happen to place being correct ahead of being "right." I'm an Antiauthoritarian because I have little reason to believe there is a great supply of qualified Authorities, and certainly few that are interested in being Authoritarians.

And sir, if you wish me to click on your link, it would help to include it; the trivial effort of logging in would have provided that automatically.

Bob King said...

I finally gave into curiosity:

PolitiqueMystique is not to be found on Blogger, or via Google. It's a very unique search term, so I am somewhat surprised.

But it does indeed give some insight into your perspective, sir.


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