Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Authoritarian Reflex

3 Generals Spurn the Position of War 'Czar' - washingtonpost.com

The authoritarian reflex to a failed policy is not to examine the policy, but to assume that those entrusted with the implementation were not "up to the task." The answer is always more power, concentrated more densely, with fewer checks upon the authority in question.

Now, the idea of a "War Czar" empowered to do the job right with the authority to make militarily sensible decisions based on the reality of the situation is appealing, even to this anti-authoritarian. I'm not really so much opposed to the idea of authoritative people having power as the opposite, the assumption that the power to enforce one's authority grants one the magical ability to make wise and prudent decisions. And I see that this idea comes from the latter school of authoritarianism - if only we give the right person enough power, they will be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

But the response of people who are qualified for the position have all demonstrated their qualifications by refusing the job.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.
Yep, some vague concept of what "victory" would look like is important. More significantly, it would have to be a victory on the terms of the American People as a whole, not just the cheerleaders of war. It would have to be significant, meaningful and tangible - not merely a symbolic moment.

Most importantly, it would have to achieve lasting, positive change. I do my philosophical opponents the credit of believing all of these things were not just possible, but inevitable at the start of the war. Frankly, I suspected myself that while the results would be less positive than the cheerleaders suspected, they would nonetheless be a net positive, given what I understood about rational war-planning and preparation. In other words, I made certain reasonable assumptions about what sane people and competent military organizations do before they "cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war."

I, along with everyone else, was betrayed in that assumption. There appears to have been no planning, no precautions, no allowances made for "the fog of war," no preparations made for casualties and consequences and most damning of all, no thought toward what victory would look like, and because of that most fundamental flaw - nobody has been able to plot a course toward it.

Some administration critics said the ideas miss the point. "An individual can't fix a failed policy," said Carlos Pascual, former State Department coordinator of Iraq reconstruction, who is now a vice president at the Brookings Institution. "So the key thing is to figure out where the policy is wrong."
And this is the lesson that we must take from the situation; that there are policies that are so deeply flawed, so fundamentally erroneous and unethical that no-one with the character, competence and moral stature to lead soldiers will take it on.

One of the great unstated consequences of this war - emblematic as it is of what happens to Bushite policies when they are implemented - is a broad loss of confidence in the competence of leadership. The greatest test of leadership is how you react to unanticipated problems - and the second greatest is how many problems inherent in your policies you anticipate and forestall.

While the Bush administration has clearly done everything it could to avoid anything resembling prudence and preparation, it was not sufficiently opposed by those who's very careers were supposedly based on knowing better. And those who were in a position to know better, should have known better as soon as the directives hit their desks. They must have known that the troop levels were insufficient, that training times given were insufficient, that the equipment mix and logistical trains were unprepared and that - most critically - they were woefully short of reliable intelligence and translation resources.

And yet - better to keep their jobs than to act in the interest of the men and women they were responsible to, and in proper deference to the office of Commander In Chief.

Authoritarianism is a lot like Communism - there are specific circumstances where it works, and works very well indeed - but it does not generalize to larger, more complex situations; for their inherent problems are identical - trust. People in either situation donate a portion of their liberty, their resources and personal power to people they can trust, and if there is no basis for trust, the appearance and reality will be two entirely different things - leading to a system divided against itself and effectively serving only the self-delusions of those seemingly in charge of the entire mess.

This leads me, and millions of others, to come to the conclusion that there is no way out of this current mess that resembles "politics as usual." Those trying to avoid political fallout, and who are aiming at political victory in 2008 are betting that Bush will not do something elementally stupid between then and now. I don't think that's a bet that's worth the prize. Indeed, Democrats should be looking at the question of "if we win in 2008, what will we have won?"

We do not need politics as usual; we need statesmanship. And we need to impeach the miserable failure, purge our government of his taint, and I would strongly suggest going so far as to impeach those members of the Supreme Court that selected him in the first place.

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3 comments:

Dirk said...

After reading the Reuters site this morning, I see that the Bush/Cheney/Rove administration wants to find a"Czar" for the Iraq war. These people are beyond reprehensible. After lying their way into this war, mismanaging it to the point of absurdity, they want a "fall guy" to take the blame when the inevitable bad end comes along! Disgusting is too mild a word for this administration. BTY, Czars of the past lead failures and often wind up dead! Is this some kind of Freudian slip whenever a government uses the term "Czar"?

Dirk said...

"cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war."I, along with everyone else, was betrayed in that assumption. Please don't include me in this belief! As an infantry veteran of 1971 in Vietnam, as soon as I realized we really were going into Iraq, I just googled that country and read a little history. Though I was aware of America's peccadillo regarding our former relationship with Saddam, I read some older history. They have a habit of removing occupiers by using the same tribal habits as many others in the world. Therefore I reasoned that we would be forced to leave at some point, and I knew that these clowns [Cheney/Bush/Wolfowitz/Perl/Rove ad nauseum, would run the show in the worst way possible. But who would listen to one such as I?

Bob King said...

Who would listen to a vet who did his homework and didn't sould like a raving loon?

Maybe somewhere between ten and one hundred - kinda like me.

And between ten and one hundred listen to each of THEM. And so forth.

Welcome to the new media and start blogging, damnit!

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