Monday, October 13, 2003

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Drezner gets results from the Washington Post

The management of bureaucratic politics that I touched on in my last TNR essay is the subject of a page one story in yesterday's Washington Post (link via Patrick Belton). Greg Djerejian and Atrios have additional commentary.

Everyone interested in U.S. foreign policy should read the whole thing, but I'll highlight two sections from it. First, on the process:

Rice has focused more on her role as a presidential adviser and less on using the NSC to set policy. Bush prefers to assign specific tasks to different agencies to carry out his decisions, turning, for example, to Rumsfeld and saying, "Don, you take the lead on this."

When new staff members join the NSC, Rice outlines four key roles for her staff: preparing the president for meetings and phone calls; ensuring that presidential foreign policy initiatives are carried out; coordinating policy on matters that do not fall logically to a particular agency; and trying to interest different agencies in ideas developed at the NSC.

Rice's position on most issues is a mystery to many people within the administration, and she prefers to keep it that way. In meetings with Bush's principal foreign policy advisers, she usually does not tip her hand, saving her advice for the president when he asks her in private....

"Condi has a somewhat idealized and noble view of how the interagency process should work: You should get the best out of everybody involved and in the end forge it into an effective policy," [former NSC executive secretary Stephen] Biegun said, adding that it is important to remember that "the president makes the decisions. It's not Condi who makes the decisions. It's not Powell who makes the decisions. It's not Rumsfeld who makes the decisions."....

In one sign that Rice is trying to address the problem, she recently appointed Robert Blackwill, a mentor and former ambassador to India, to run a new committee that will seek to plan the administration's response to possible crises and help the NSC reach consensus on a huge backlog of unresolved policy questions.

As the administration enters an election year, the situation has become worse, several officials said, because everyone understands that no one will be fired no matter how far they stray from policy. (emphasis added)

Three thoughts on this:

  • For those tempted to criticize Rice's management skills, it's worth remembering that her attitude of what the NSC advisor should do is a direct copy of Brent Scowcroft's management style. H.W.'s administration is considered to be an exemplar of foreign policy management. The problem isn't with the management style -- it's with the President and the foreign policy principals that have been selected.

  • That said, I tend to believe that the NSC staff could do a better job in implementing Rice's second role.

  • Hiring Bob Blackwill for this job is a smart move. I've seen Blackwill in action -- he meets the two prerequisites necessary for the job he's been given -- he's extremely shrewd and he has no fear whatsoever about pissing people off. This is a guy I'd want to work for me.
  • The second part of this story sends a shiver down my spine:

    These managerial questions have been especially acute on the administration's policy toward the three countries identified by Bush as the "axis of evil": Iraq, Iran and North Korea. In each case, officials said, the NSC has been unable to bridge gaps in ideology and establish a clear and consistent policy.

    From the start, top administration officials have waged a bitter battle over policy toward North Korea. Powell has led a group seeking to engage with the secretive and isolated communist government; Rumsfeld and Cheney believe talk is useless and have sought to destabilize and ultimately topple the government. Neither side has gained the upper hand, resulting in a policy stalemate that has left allies and North Korea perplexed.

    The two factions, convinced they had the backing of the president, have pursued contradictory policies, often scheming to undermine each other. Insiders said that Rice rarely kept on top of the intramural bickering, though she seemed to lean more toward the Rumsfeld/Cheney group, and at times recommended policies to the president that he later rejected....

    "All too often what you've had in the last two years is diametrically opposed views between OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and others, and then no decisions being made. A lot of stuff gets papered over," said a State Department veteran.

    If I was oh, let's say, a Democrat running for president, this would be my angle of attack on the President's foreign policy. Forget the WMD question -- ask the president to articulate U.S. policy towards the other members of the Axis of Evil. Oh, wait.....

    Bob Blackwill is the man for the job, but he's got his work cut out.

    UPDATE: Josh Marshall links to a Washington Post story from today that suggests the issue of foreign policy management is worrying Republicans as well:

    "The president has to be president," Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That means the president over the vice president, and over these secretaries" of state and defense. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice "cannot carry that burden alone."

    In the first week of the administration's public relations campaign to explain its Iraq policy and highlight its achievements, Lugar noted that Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Rice had given speeches whose tone "was distinctly different" and that senators were rightly concerned about "the strength, the coherence of our policies."

    Marshall observes:

    Nor is Lugar the only one making this point.

    Last week Bill Kristol noted the foreign policy "disarray within his administration" and said the "administration [was] at war with itself."

    Clearly, Kristol doesn't agree with Lugar about a lot, and even less with me -- less and less every day, it seems. And he'd like to see the conflict won by different folks than I would. But the objective reality of disarray at the highest levels is impossible to miss or ignore.

    For a cogent rebuttal, check out Jonathan Rauch's latest in Reason. I think Rauch is making a virtue out of a clear vice, but I hope I'm wrong and he's right.

    posted by Dan on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM


    I like Condi Rice, I admire her and think she's probably an excellent advisor. But is this fix going to help or hurt in Iraq? What is it about Washington that convinces people that the solution to bureaucratic friction is a new committee? The problem isnt too little management in Iraq, its too much. The last thing the guys on the ground need is to be directly answering to Condi Rice 3000 miles away. Bremer is bad enough. What should have been done is to either temporarilly relieve Rice of her NSC duties and send her to Baghdad to directly oversee the project, or find someone else to do so. What is needed is someone willing and able to cut through red tape and get done what needs to get done. An individual, on the ground, directly responsible. Paul Bremer is probably a nice man, but he's a career bureaucrat that thinks in terms of requisition forms and protocols. Fine if your negotiating fishing rights with Equador, not so good when your in a crash effort to build a country from the ground up with the credibility and security of the US on the line. Rudy Giuliana would be the style of leader we need. Its good political cover for Bush as well, show the world we arent taking this lightly.

    posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    I know a guy who used to work for Blackwill, and while what I've heard would corroborate your praise of him, I would note that "extremely shrewd" and "no fear whatsoever about pissing people off" are not entirely compatible attributes.

    posted by: alkali on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    It's not hard to guess which of Condi Rice's four duties absorbs the bulk of her time and attention. That in itself is a major problem, and probably a good reason for bringing in someone like Blackwill; he is needed to do some of the things the NSC adviser normally does but Rice cannot because she needs to spend so much time and effort providing substantive knowledge and emotional support to the President.

    It's quite sound from a theoretical point of view to say that the President has to take ultimate responsibility for making decisions between feuding Cabinet departments. But suppose the President won't? Reagan did not choose between State and Defense, and after years of turmoil at an NSC struggling to deal with his refusal to "be President" (in Lugar's phrase) his administration settled for muddling through on all but the most intensely contested issues -- interestingly, under Ragan's only successful NSA, Colin Powell.

    Bush won't choose either, not because he shares Reagan's unwillingness to overrule subordinates but because he remains, by choice, only marginally informed on foreign and military policy and is in any case focused on the campaign for reelection. His administration will have to work out some way to muddle through, and finding that way will be the greatest contribution Blackwill can make.

    Incidentally (and to repeat a point many other have made) this administration's dynamics are different from all preceding administrations because the Vice President -- effectively a minister without portfolio with regular access to the President -- has such a prominent policy role. This would have been unthinkable in the elder Bush's administration, for example. I don't know how good a model Brent Scowcroft would look like to Rice if he had had to deal with Dan Quayle playing the rule in 1989-93 that Cheney is now.

    posted by: Zathras on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    Dear Buehner,

    Here I agree with ya. The press has made a unwarrented habit of sneering at Bremer as a 'pro-consul' and listing his last name suffix - as if being descended from a family who names children after parents is some kind of sign of decadence or something. I spit on such sneering.

    I'm completely against Jerry Bremer on other grounds - namely that he's grossly incompetent and has been a huge disappointment considering he used to be an aide to Kissinger. If there's been a way to screw up Iraq, Jerry Bremer found it; where there wasn't one, he invented it.

    This isn't based on some sort of chicken-little bad press scenario. It's based on a clear-headed look at the policies enacted by the occupation. Old fashioned Republicans used to understand the concept that people acted according to their perceived interest. This is what made the idea of Welfare Reform great. Give people incentives to become self-sufficient.

    What we need is a real pro-consul who is on the ground and can by fiat order things to be done, and is answerable only to the President himself. A real pro-consul who can cut through all the ideological bullshit. Right now we're running out of time, and that's because Jerry Bremer and the Pentagon have seemingly gone out of their way to do everything possible to ensure that the best interest of key Iraqi interest groups is to see us fail.

    Horrible, but true.

    posted by: Oldman on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    You mention that Democrats should "ask the president to articulate U.S. policy towards the other members of the Axis of Evil".

    Problem is, that might shed just a tad too much light on the fact that those very Democrats have yet to articulate such policy, even on Iraq and the War on Terror.... and they even have two years of hindsight!

    If there is truly some "alternative plan" out there that I am missing, please fill me in. I have had Democrat friends tell me that it is obvious that Bush picked the wrong target... he should have gone after North Korea. C'mon. Arab fascists attacked us on 9/11, Bush deposed an Arab fascist a year and a half later, and Democrats scream bloody murder about "no link", etc. Anyone out there with an IQ of 12 or above who believes Democrats would have marched with the President to Pyonyang? The idea is preposterous, and insulting if one is asked to buy it.

    With that in mind, just what are Bush's opponents proposing in North Korea? Did they not demand he hold one-on-one talks six months ago, which would have been a catastrophe, as every other power in the region would immediately declare it "a US problem", and sit on the sidelines.... AGAIN? Now it is a six nation problem, not a two nation (or one nation)problem.

    And what are they proposing now? Did I miss it?

    Just one more... Senator Biden gave a speech in which he wrote he was appalled at Bush's (nineteen month) "rush to war". He said flat out that if we had waited longer, say through the summer, the Europeans and UN would have gone in with us.

    Anyone want to take issue with my assessment that this is literally insane? Go back eight months. The opposition and demonstrations grew DAILY. French, German, and Russian intransigence grew DAILY. And anyone can psychologically understand that the longer it went on, the more oppostionists would dig in, convinced that they would carry the day in the end. Meanwhile, the military, at full strength, bakes in the desert, Saddam prepares his ducks and foments terror in the mid-east and anywhere else he can, and even the North Koreans work in tandem with Saddam (as they did) to try to shut the invasion down.

    And Biden says "We'd go in in the Fall, with all allied flags flying? It's ludicrous.

    Again, if there's an alternative plan out there (attack Saudi, Pakistan? See "march to Pyonyang" reference above), by all means, fill us in.

    posted by: Andrew X on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    Dear Andrew X,

    Mister am I given to understand that you are advocating that we should have gone to war when we did because as time went it it would have lost popular support and become politically untenable to do it? Since I last heard it this was supposed to be government for, by, and with the people. If a government can't convince their people to accept a policy it isn't supposed to happen. The onus is therefore on the government to explain why it has to do things and make that justification stick. It's a little something we call - D - E - M - O - C - R - A - C - Y -.

    Besides last I heard, Saddam is still fomenting terror in the middle-east and since then NK has got even more bombs. Invading Iraq hasn't changed any of that.

    posted by: Oldman on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    Dear Oldman:

    Methinks you miss Andrew X’s point that waiting four days or four months would not have changed the attitudes of the leaders of Old Europe. The Bushies had what they needed – a force in place, public support, and one additional resolution from the UNSC – so there was no need to postpone the dance just because some old friends were determined not to attend.

    Should the citizens of this republic find fault with this, they can make their feelings known during the next regularly scheduled election. In the run-up to next November, I for one wound enjoy hearing how, in detail, each of the Democrat candidates proposes handling the NorKs. The Bushies can’t even get credit for the six-way meeting they arranged to prevent the NorKs from their favorite tactic of divide and conquer. So what’s the alternative, other than a Carterite approach of extract promises, bribe, and don’t verify?

    posted by: The Kid on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    The point is moot, we couldnt have held that level of force in a state of readiness for 6 months. It was 'now or never'.

    posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    Thanks TK and Mark. You got it. Oldman, the people DID approve, via an overwhelming vote of the US Congress. This post-facto "Um, I voted for the resolution to 'threaten' not actually go to war" is yet another example of one of the worst sins of Democrats, and that is a genuine lack of professionalism, and I dare say immaturity, in foreign and defense policy. And I note that, par for the course, no one here has yet presented any alternative plan(s).

    Maybe there aren't any.

    posted by: Andrew X on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    "If I was oh, let's say, a Democrat running for president, this would be my angle of attack on the President's foreign policy. Forget the WMD question -- ask the president to articulate U.S. policy towards the other members of the Axis of Evil. Oh, wait....."

    Fortunately or unfortunately the loonies whining endlessly about WMD are making more than enough racket to drown out this sort of criticism.

    posted by: JK on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    Dear Foolish,

    First of all, that bit about military readiness is cock and bull. The commanders of the military forces came out stating that they were ready to stay the course, and that military preparedness would not suffer. Our troops have been out there doing combat operations all the long summer anyway. It's not like they avoided fighting during the heat at all!

    Second of all the 4th ID was still enroute from Turkey at that point. A few more weeks would have let them land and deploy to front line status, giving us more capability to control post-war looting. Third of all, we lost at least a week and almost two in there anyway from freaking sandstorms which we could have just as easily waited out in Kuwait instead of getting shot at during the wait.

    Finally, the deal on the table which the *British* our allies recommended to us was a few more weeks and we'd bring the rest of the Security Council with us or abstaining and certainly the rest of the smaller countries - Mexico, Chile, etc.

    And give up on that stupid "Old Europe" bit. I don't give a damn about who you want to ally with. But if we'd had that UN resolution we could have had Pakistanis, Indians, and everyone else the Admin has been begging since for troops. The fact that the Admin is going back now and making concessions to get it showed plain and uncontestably that it was a mistake the first time around to push on solo.

    This whole bit of military revisionism is horseshit. It presumes that our military is a bunch of pansies that would have melted in the summer heat and that going gung ho would have spared them fighting in the summer heat - that's crap since they ended up having to fight in the summer heat anyway.

    This ideological knee-jerk business is making me ill to my stomach frankly. Bush has figured out that it was a mistake even though he's admitting it in actions rather than words, maybe the rest of the neo-con tribe out to figure it out too.

    posted by: Oldman on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    "First of all, that bit about military readiness is cock and bull. The commanders of the military forces came out stating that they were ready to stay the course, and that military preparedness would not suffer. "

    Find me a quote saying the military could have stood on station for the summer and still been combat capable of initiating a war. You wont. Our forces have been fighting all summer? Thats because they defeated the Iraqi army proper 5 months ago. No offense Oldman, but you dont seem to have much background in military theory. There is a huge, in fact unabridgable difference between occupying a conquored enemy and being combat capable of initiating a full fledged invasion against an active foe. Complete difference. Dont allow the brilliance of the campaign that was launched fool you into thinking it was easy and could be done at any time. You stand an army around in 150 degree weather for 5 months, allow the enemy to do whatever he pleases to thwart or preempt you, and friction to wear at your forces 2000 miles from base and reequip, and you see what it will get you. Military theory says once you decide war is inevitable, allowing anything to interrupt your plans simply costs lives. Period.

    "Second of all the 4th ID was still enroute from Turkey at that point. A few more weeks would have let them land and deploy to front line status, giving us more capability to control post-war looting. "

    Again, you dont know what you are talking about. There was a single port capable of embarking troops and equipment in the theatre, and landing the 4th ID before initiating combat would simply have created a nightmare of logistics, plus allowing the Iraqi army further time organize. We achieved tactical surprise _because_ we did not wait for the 4th ID. We were barely able to supply the divisions we had on hand in the strategy we used. Would you have preferred fighting hundreds of thousands of Iraqi regulars and Republican Guards on a wide border front? Because that is what you are suggesting. We bypassed these with a small force in order to spare American _and Iraqi_ lives.

    "Finally, the deal on the table which the *British* our allies recommended to us was a few more weeks and we'd bring the rest of the Security Council with us or abstaining and certainly the rest of the smaller countries - Mexico, Chile, etc."

    Prove it. 12 years wasnt enough. 9 months negotiating wasnt enough. Wishful thinking is great in ivory towers, but for the guys wondering if they are going to get hit with a preemptive chemical attack in Kuwait, all the diplomatic wrangling isnt so cure. Especially when it goes on, and on, and on. And on.

    posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    I'm backing up Mark here, Oldman. Look, keeping an armed force in immediate prepatory mode is like running an engine at full RPM's plus. When you do it, you do it for the right reasons, know you're gonna have to ease down soon. Much of this is psychological rather than material. You simply cannot bring an armed force of that size to invasion strength, and psychological readiness... and then just sit there for months.

    Then, there is, as they like to say, "the little matter of the enemy". D'ya think Saddam is just gonna be be doing nothing? Do you think the message, "OK, We REALLY ARE coming to get you.... in, oh, about six months or so. Count on it." is a brilliant message to be telegraphing to your enemy? We lost 130 troops in that war. If we wait six months and lose 1,300 because Saddam had six months to read our forces, pre-postition, and basically get ready... is that a good bargain in your book?

    Plus, I stand by my earlier assertion that it is ridiculous to assume that the ever growing global opposition would miraculously reverse itself over Spring and Summer. Both nations and peoples were bound and determined to keep Saddam in power. What horrors have we unearthed that left such people shocked? What apologies or congratulations have we heard from them to the Iraqi people? They knew the score. They added the numbers. They wanted Saddam to stay... for all sorts of reasons, many that had to do more with the US than with Saddam. That was gonna change? It HAS changed now? Gimme a break.

    Finally, there is a very disoncerting problem afoot, that I do not see how we are going to resolve. If you and I want to collaborate on a project, and I send you the files in Photoshop and Excel, and whatever, and you email back... "Hey, thanks, but I'm running Windows 3.1, and it looks like you are on XP. Ya mind downgrading to 3.1 so we can do this?"... what am I supposed to do? Even if I WANTED to, Photoshop don't run on 3.1. Period. No moral judgments there, no diplomacy will change that.... that's the deal. Ergo, ya know what? You and I can't really collaborate. Don't take it personally, we just can't.

    Well, we ain't talking about some project, we are talking about the lives and families of US military professionals. Many allies are content to run 3.1, we are not. And now, the fact is, they get in the way. From a military standpoint, that's the deal. And people get killed trying to keep European feathers unruffled. That is not acceptable. Are we being arrogant, or are they being .... well... militarily lazy?

    That is a whole issue unto itself, but it explains a hell of a lot about Mr. Rumsfeld and his organization, and why they were not chomping at the bit for help, and frankly, I don't even think they are today.

    posted by: Andrew X on 10.13.03 at 10:55 AM [permalink]

    Post a Comment:


    Email Address:



    Remember your info?