Saturday, August 14, 2004
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Back on the clock
I'd like to thank Siddarth and Reihan for doing such an admirable job of blogging in my absence, and convincing me that I need to see Harold & Kumar go to White Castle. They've encouraged me to outsource the blog somewhat more frequently.
Well, it wasn't just them. I didn't go on vacation this past week -- I just took a break from blogging. And I must confess it felt like a vacation. The e-mail traffic declined, as did my web surfing -- leading me to polish off a few day-job side-projects and make some progress on my book. By the end of the week, my need to check out other blogs slowly faded away. It was very relaxing -- I even recovered from the Nomar Garciaparra trade.
More substantive posts later. In the meantime, check out Rand Beers' interview with Bernard Gwertzman over at the Council on Foreign Relations site. Beers is John Kerry's chief foregn policy advisor, and would likely become national security advisor in a Kerry administration.
Reading the interview, I was disappointed to see zero, zip, nada on democracy promotion. In fact, what was striking about the interview was the general lack of bigthink. On the other hand, there was a great deal of explication about the Kerry team's policy process -- pretty impressive for a campaign.
This leads to an disturbing question. Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?
UPDATE: Oh, I also took the opportunity to see Garden State -- and was pleased to see that it actually lived up to the trailer. Hands down, it's Natalie Portman's best performance since Beautiful Girls.posted by Dan on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM
Good process with no grand strategy trumps poor process with a grand strategy--as we've seen in Iraq: clear vision, but extremely poor process to carry it out (e.g., lack of consultation with experts, staffing the CPA with enthusiastic and inexperienced incompetants, poor (if any) post-war planning, etc.). Moreover, a grand strategy can go awry because of unexpected events that must be dealt with immediately, and a good process can deal with those.posted by: BayMike on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
The problem with a superior policy process with no grand strategy is that it can be embarrassingly defeated by a superior policy process with a grand strategy. For example, Hitler had both a grand strategy and a superior policy process leading up while Neville Chamberlain had only a superior policy process.posted by: MnZ on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Sorry: I should have said, "leading up to WWII."posted by: MnZ on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
MnZ - So you don't buy the argument that Chamberlain was playing for time at Munich?
As to the general question, I think a good process is more important. That way you can presumably better accomplish the things you want to (even if they are not grand), and you'll presumably not bring a string of unwanted disasters down upon you through your own fumbling and mismanagement.posted by: Scott on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
(grand strategy) x (poor policy) = (grand failure)posted by: Ethical Werewolf on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
As an undecided voter, I found Mr. Beers' interview somewhat reassuring. In the past Mr. Beers has gone out of his way to criticize the Bush Administration's supposed naivete in promoting democracy in Iraq (I think the word Mr. Beers used as a pejorative was "heroic"), but in this interview, he didn't.posted by: Arjun on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
I don't know the answer to Professor Drezner's question, so I eagerly await others' insights.
I have another question: How can the U.S. vigorously promote democracy when the U.S. is unpopular throughout the world? And yet another question: How can the U.S. avoid unpopularity throughout the world when vigorous democracy promotion is in large measure the cause of that unpopularity?posted by: Arjun on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
A *very* good process would produce a good grand strategy, in any case.posted by: BayMike on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Comment on Update: I'll certainly want to see Garden State. I think every male who saw Beautiful Girls fell in love with Natalie Portman and thought the guy whom she loved was incredibly short-sighted in not waiting for her.posted by: BayMike on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Ah, yes, the "competent" Kerry administration with Joe Wilson -- scratch that -- Sandy Burglar -- scratch that -- Rand Beers heading up foreign policy matters.posted by: Matthew Cromer on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
You are definitely politically aligned with the majority of your readership. I keep violating my rule and paying attention here, as I seem to be on a different wavelength then you are.
John Kerry may have all these great people involved in the different policy committees, but we find that the campaign ignores them. The sole purpose seems to be to keep the participants busy and happy, thinking they are doing something substantive, when the campaign ignores them.
It is sad that you have hope that any of this has meaning, as all knowledge and wisdom are coming from this tall, boring guy who walks around in a Bozo costume (seemingly).
While you pin your hopes on a hypothetical foreign policy process, I listen to the Christmas in Cambodia story, the story about David Alston (a fine fellow, I'm sure) who, it turns out never served with Kerry, and Jim Rasmussen who can't even consistently tell us which Swift boat when he fell into the river.
All I can say is "good luck".
I'm glad that I am not pinning my hopes on John Kerry. I prefer a "cowboy foreign policy" and the process you don't like.
I keep coming back here because you are talking about subjects that are interesting to me. Also, your readers are knowledgable, if misguided.
Jim Benderposted by: Jim Bender on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
I will continue to hang around and see why you like the goofy guy who leaves no issue un-straddled, and no audience that hasn't been told what they want to hear. Also, no potential wedge issue is left un-demagogued.
I only wish my guy really was a cowboy, and didn't allow us to go through these destructive negotiations with people in Iraq that we should crush, when we can.
Jim Benderposted by: Jim Bender on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
No strategy + superior policy process = paralysisposted by: mark safranski on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Superior process tops grand strategy every time. I don't think there is one meta-philosophy that can solve every single foreign policy problem that will ever pop up. A good policy process allows one to examine each problem individually and come up with solutions tailored to the unique situation. Sometimes that's sweet talk diplomacy, sometimes it's hardball, sometimes it's multilateral, sometimes it's unilateral, and sometimes it's war. I feel better knowing that a Kerry administration won't limit itself to one mindset.posted by: David Schraub on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Why not apply the question to environments more of us have direct experience with? Like, say, the workplace.
I've worked places that had "grand strategies" with poor process. They're terrible places to work. There's no real accountability (just scapegoating), no post-project analysis, no lessons learned that stick. The higher-ups just lurch from one management fad to the next. Also,there's never any real disucssion of the grand strategy; i.e., whether it's actually doable.
This perfectly reflects what the Bush WHis like. Esp. the no-disussion, no-accountability part.
I wouldn't run a copmay that way. Why is it a good thing to runa country that way?posted by: Ciel on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Why the preposterous notion that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice are grand strategists?
Doing well, Drezner, keep Piling Higher (and Deeper!)posted by: your.committee on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
More on the Kerry campaign's "competence" -- making his troubled Vietnam career the centerpiece of his campaign. He's clearly lied up and down the river about his whole Vietnam experience to make political points in the Senate over and over again, and just about everyone he served with saw him as a jackanapes and a dastard. Not sure how having him toss German and French politicians salads is going to lead to an America "Respected Abroad" either. Just because Theresa enjoys her gigalo doesn't mean America needs him in the Oval office.posted by: Matthew Cromer on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Maybe some of you Pro-Kerry types can talk about the amazing Kerry "process" that led him to Vietnamize his convention in the face of the massive opposition of his "band of brothers" in the Swift Boats ready to destroy every trace of credibility he ever possessed about his military service.posted by: Matthew Cromer on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"Superior process tops grand strategy every time."
Just like in Vietnam ?
"A good policy process allows one to examine each problem individually and come up with solutions tailored to the unique situation"
What if the problems are interdependent and interrelated ?
Strategy is about accomplishing goals within a dynamic system which requires recognizing the variables and being honest with oneself what will move them. *Tactics* are the *how* you move the variables and this is where you are well served by a good policy process. Without a strategy though, you may be solving the wrong problem with your good tactics.
Great strategy is a lot like a great novel...the two are alike in that they are very seldom ever created by a committee.posted by: mark safranski on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Strategy in democracies, and usually in non-democracies for that matter, is almost always the result of committees and other forms group decision making.posted by: Scott on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"This leads to an disturbing question. Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?"
Are you sure that is the choice anyway? Kerry projects a lack of grand strategy, but all of his speeches suggest that he wants to be out of Iraq really, really soon. That is a bad strategy, so even with a good policy structure it is likely to be disasterous.posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"Strategy in democracies, and usually in non-democracies for that matter, is almost always the result of committees and other forms group decision making."
True, but that does not always mean that this is for the good.
Cleon, Demosthenes and Alcibiades were not an improvement upon Pericles. Von Moltke the younger and the Grossgeneralstab weakened the Schliefen plan, they did not improve it.
Of course, few strategies are ever considered "great" but those that are usually had a briliant, if sometimes simple, insight at their root. Usually, this is the product of one mind.
North Vietnam --> strategy
The Union ------> strategy
The Allies ------> strategy
Yes, it is possible for superior tactics coupled with other advantages to win over an inferior side with better strategy - the Nazis won many battles over numerically superior opponents- but the costs are far higher than need be if strategy and tactics were joined.
A better set of questions would be " Why is the Bush administration so lousy at implementation ? " and " What is Kerry's plan for victory ?"
posted by: mark safranski on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Tom Friedman, Bill O'Reilly, Andrew Sullivan, Tacitus --none of these guys could in any way be characterized as liberal appeasers, nor as Kerry partisans; but in the cited articles each and every one blames the Administration for a profound inability to demand accounability for severely less-than-idea execution of a grand strategy all four were deeply in favor of. Tacitus goes into the most detailed examination of this, and its implication --changing leadership to Kerry may not be, in his opinion, the best option; but there must be a change in leadership. Tacitus gives a call to arms to those who support the Administration's goals to demand both accountability and to demand change in leadership, noting --correctly-- that if change does not come from inside, it *will* come from out. I am unsure I agree with Tactius's overall objectives or overall political viewpoints, but I am squarely in agreement with Tactius' --and Friedman's, O'Reilly's, and Sullivan's-- concerns about the distinct lack of either planning or accountability.
What frustrates me regarding many of the commentators here on this thread is the lack of acknowledgement of the points Tacitus raised. Whatever your beliefs about a grand strategy, without either sufficient planning before execution or accountability after execution, it frankly doesn't matter what your grand strategy is if you can't get to where you purportedly want to go. If you can't sail your ship in a straight line and you can't avoid reefs --if you consistently fail to plan for weather or the draft of your boat, if there is no effort to punish helmsmen who are sloppy in steering or navigators who are sloppy in charting, then your boat will constantly run aground and take damage --and never get to where the captain intends to go. In a situation like that, the ship and its crew will suffer, and it frankly doesn't matter where the captain wants to go; the ship, so poorly managed, will never get there.
And runs a significant risk of sinking altogether.
Polls constantly show that if Kerry were facing a *different* challenger from the Republican party --say, for example, McCain-- Kerry would be seriously behind. And there's a fundamental reason, I believe, for that; people fundamentally undersrtand that, unless there is proper planning behind a grand plan and accountabilty in executing a grand plan, all grand plans are doomed. At heart, people just want to know that the lives of their children sent to die under American flags are going to at least be spent with a clear plan and that someone will be held accountable for mistakes that get them killed. Americans are a tough people, willing to accept sacrifice. But they won't accept sacrifice for *nothing*. All they want is accountability and responsibility. And if the incumbent cannot convince them that he can deliver these things, they literally will take anyone else who at least *might*. There is a huge universe of difference between "Pro-Kerry" and "Anybody But Bush". And I think it is the latter which far better characterizes the opinion of much of the American Electorate; an unknown is far better than someone you *know* apparently either can't get accountability or doesn't care.
Tacitus gets this, which is why even if I don't agree with much of his big-picture viewpoints, I respect his opinion. Other comemntators on his end of the political spectrum don't, which frustrates me no end. All Americans want is accountability, especially in matters of war. Is that too much to ask?
posted by: Jeff on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
McCain is stupid. Can we say "idiotic campaign finance reform legislation". I knew we could. He's just a snarly, nasty, grandstanding media favorite Republican.posted by: Matthew Cromer on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Did Aristotle ask this question? The problem is I can't remember what answer he gave.posted by: Simon on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
The last foreign policy strategy the Bushies had can be read at the Project for a New American Century's website.
Can anyone actually say, without lying to themselves, that John Kerry would not defend this country? Any president, Dem or Repub ('cause I'm iffy on the Greens) would do whatever to defend our life and liberty.
So this bullhocky that John O'Neill is spewing on the airwaves is just that, bullhockey. The conversation should be on how a president has and will pursue foreign policy. This is a reasonable position to analyze the candidates.
There is a difference between strategy and mindset. The allies in WWII had a strategy to win. It also helped that the US had a virtually endless supply of young men and material. Hitler had a mindset, a set of short term objectives that upon fullfillment would result in some neo-Wagnerian shangri-la. It also didnt help that he had a limited amount of men and material.
The bushies had a mindset going into the job, and never really developed a strategy. I say the bushies had a mindset because strategies usually encompass how to solve a problem from beginning to end, something Feith, Wolfie, and Dick didn't think was important enough to do.
Their mindset made them feel that once the tanks rolled into Baghdad, the saints would come marching in and happy days would arrive again. All this would be closely followed by tax cuts for all Iraqis, and the end of the Democratic party.posted by: Sabbadoo on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Which is getting home first, a great boat with no map, or a leaky boat with a map? Probably the latter, but either way...posted by: Assistant Village Idiot on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
I don't consider myself particularly knowledgable about the Vietnam war, but wasn't "grand strategy" at least partly to blame there? We had a "grand strategy" of Containment/Rollback, to counteract the percieved Domino Effect. Thus, we viewed every single nation where communists seemed to be gaining ground through the same lens, as the first step to a catastrophic system crash where every country would become instant-marxist.
This blinded us to the fact that in Vietnam Ho Chi Minh was a national hero (ironically enough, because he attempted to convince President Wilson to actually apply his rhetoric on self-determination to places outside of Europe), and that the US supported politicians and dictators were extremely unpopular and not likely to be seen as an acceptable substitute for the communists. Thus, the strategy of "winning their hearts and minds" was fatally crippled by tactical mistakes such as supporting hopelessly corrupt leaders.
Its all speculation of course, but perhaps a process-based view of Vietnam would have revealed to US policymakers that Vietnam was not a huge threat to geopolitical stability, that it was relatively mild in terms of its affront to American values (as compared to say, Cambodia), and that it was a poor target for intervention because it played to virtually every stereotype the Communists put out about the West: The US rushing to the aid of ex-colonialists to prop up a universally despised dictator at the expense of a bona fide national hero. It really shouldn't have taken that much insight to see this was a bad idea.
Obviously problems can be interdependent and related, and a good process would account for that. "looking at situations individually" is not the same as "looking at them in a void." A solid policy process would look at all the variables from the ground up and then create a response tailored to those variables, which might include simultanous responses to other problems if need be. What it wouldn't do is artificially impose an preconcieved external narrative on events that might not (and probably will not) match the reality.posted by: David Schraub on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"or a leaky boat with a map? "
Unfortunately, the map Bush is using was provided by the PNAC, and has things on it like Atlantis, and areas marked "Here Be Dragons". (And of course, "Here Be WMD"), and the outlines on the map bear only a vague resemblance to the actual contours of the coasts.
Sebastian writes: "all of his speeches suggest that he wants to be out of Iraq really, really soon."
Oh, you mean like the Bush administration used to do?
You may have forgotten, but last year the Bushies had been publicly predicting that we'd be down to 30,000 troops in Iraq by last fall.
Given the choice between no grand strategy and a bad grand strategy, I choose the former. The Bush administration views the "war on terror" as a primarily military effort aimed to rid the world of unfriendly dictators that ostensibly "aid terrorism". A corollary, supposedly, of this strategy is to promote democratic change in the volatile Middle East.
The Bush doctrine has a few problems, though. As we've seen, Iraqis did not uniformly view the invading US army as liberators. Our recent struggles in Najaf suggest that we cannot even get the majority Shia population behind us. Troubles with the once-favored Sunni population were expected to some degree, but the Shias were supposed to be pleased with their expected return to power.
The Bush administration underestimated the degree to which foreign populations resent US influence over their national affairs. It must bruise Iraqi pride to see their nation patrolled by uniformed, English-speaking Americans. As a result, sympathy for the bold insurgents inevitably rises.
So, we've gotten ourselves into a situation where in order to provide some measure of security in Iraq, we have to clamp down on the insurgents, but by doing so, we risk alienating significantly larger sections of the population. It's a no-win situation and a consequence of Bush's failed diplomacy.
I encourage everyone to read David Halberstam's article on Bush in the current issue of Vanity Fair (the one with the lovely Reese Witherspoon on the cover). Halberstam correctly states that Bush (and Cheney,and others) continually fails to apply the lessons learned in Vietnam. David Schraub lucidly points out above what those lessons are, so it hardly bears worth repeating here. It strikes me as hypocritical that the same men who obtained draft deferments or cushy Texas Air National Guard assignments during the Vietnam Era, when both were able to fight, continue to assert that the Vietnam War was lost due to a lack of military effort on our part. Iraq is vastly different from Vietnam, but there are some parallels, and the issue of political legitimacy is a big one.
Since Bush asserts that Iraq is a success, well, we can hardly expect him to correct flaws in his doctrine should they apply in the future to other nations. Kerry at least recognizes (or pretends to) that our operation in Iraq hasn't helped in either the short or long term combat the larger al Qaeda threat.
I don't really have a solution, but I suspect it may have to do with a concerted mulinational effort of some sort. Kerry, I'm afraid, doesn't have much of a solution either. But he seems to know what the problem is, and that's a good first step.posted by: vagabondplus on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
So the grand strategy within the administration was severely weakened by an inferior policy process. Can it be said that this was due to the attempt to capture as much support for the war in the wake of Sept. 11th? That the Iraq war was rushed and that the administration is not as far as it wanted to be according to preliminary plans?
Flipping the whole scenario around and assuming that a change in Middle East policy must begin with regime change in Iraq, could the US have invaded Iraq at a later time to accomodate a more superior policy process?
It seems to me that US and the Iraqi government is doing a good job in alliance building for the new state. Security situation is subpar, but not as bad as it once was. Domestically, the administration is much better off because Americans are not facing as many casualties as before. However, I think when Americans hear 'Iraq', they can't forget the early predicaments, regardless of an improving situation.posted by: Jas on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
You say North Vietnam had the grand strategy and the US had the tactics. Of all the accounts I have read, it is precisely the tactical elements of a guerrilla war which the Americans and the French did not implement.
Reminds me of Lederer and Burdick's The Ugly American where Reds understood not only military variable, but diplomatic, economic, cultural and social variables as well- all of which are necessary for achieving a grand strategyposted by: Jas on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Which is getting home first, a great boat with no map, or a leaky boat with a map? Probably the latter, but either way...
I was thinking about it in almost the same way: would you rather have a car with a crappy engine but a good steering wheel, or a car with a great engine and a shitty steering wheel?posted by: Al on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
I would have to argue that Vietnam was always a tertiary consideration for American policymakers in the context of Containment ( Dulles " Rollback" was something else and was not attempted in Vietnam) until you reach about 1965, when it moved to the frontburner. It moved to the frontburner because the size of our investment itself created the " must-win " situation that the GVN did not merit...at least in terms of our national interests.
Nixon recognized that before he ran in 1968 in his Foreign affairs article, " Asia after Vietnam " but even so he found getting out exceedingly difficult even with a concrete objective.
The ad hoc nature of early American policy comes across very well in books like _The Longest war_, A Bright Shining Lie_ . I think the lack of clear objective strategy helped get us in to a situation where our investment did not match our interests and our perceptions were askew from reality. Incidentally, our tactics were often pretty bad as well and those who advocated counterinsurgency warfare, like Hackworth and Vann, or who were bearers of bad news, like the CIA, were ignored.
And at the time, Bundy, Rusk and McNamara were considered to be the wizards of good policy process. These were very bright guys but they just did not put Vietnam into the same high-priority strategic thought category as West Berlin or Cuba because the trigger for nuclear war was not evident, certainly not in 1961-1963.
Jas, as for the North Vietnamese, Giap crafted their strategy in which guerilla warfare was the initial and middle phases but unconventional warfare wasn't the strategy itself. The war finished conventionally as Giap planned.
Weak country. Good strategy. They won.posted by: mark safranski on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?
But what we now have, it seems to me, is a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy and a f#BBf#$%ed-up policy process. That is why so many of us signed up right after the push for the Iraqi war started, before we decided to send troops in, with the ABB campaign.posted by: chuck rightmire on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
I think alot of the problem comes in terms of how far out you define "strategy." Are we talking about the specific strategy we applied to the Vietnam War or the strategy the US had in dealing with the communist threat in general (to which the US actions in Vietnam might be considered a tactical move)? I'd argue that the phrase "grand strategy" means we're talking about the latter.
Since you agree the tactics were bad as well, its pretty difficult to ascribe an ultimate cause to the Vietnam failure. Suffice to say, we screwed that one up all around, both on the tactical and strategic levels. But that hardly creates a damning indictment of the "tactics first" paradigm then.
But furthermore, I'd say that the fact that Vietnam wasn't viewed as a nuclear threat and we still sent in troops is a powerful argument against grand narratives as a whole. If Vietnam didn't pose a threat, doesn't a massive troop deployment there make zero tactical sense? The action is totally out of proportion to the situation. But strategically, the action was warranted under the Containment doctrine, because it saw every communist advance as potential threat to American security. I think the prioritizing of that grand strategy over an individualized review is what caused the distorted American response.
A question: Would a strong process based evaluation (as opposed to one based on grand strategies) have concluded that we should have intervened in Vietnam?posted by: David Schraub on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
I wonder if anyone here thinks that Clinton's containment strategy with regards to Iraq was great strategy or the result of great process. Because knowing what we know about Iraq, it in hindsight was wrong and moreover it led to a far greater loss of life on our side, if you, like me, believe that containment of Iraq was 70% of the reason we ended up in bin Laden's cross hairs.
Given that Kerry is recycling many members of the Clinton foreign policy team, who essentially failed to correctly assess what the dangers with regards to Iraq were, didn't do enough with regards to al Qaeda, and who allowed the proliferation of nuclear technology to go unnoticed and unchecked for far too long, why should we expect much better from a Kerry administration.posted by: ATM on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process? -- Drezner
The fact is the State Department told us before the war that this is a flawed strategy:
Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements.
The thrust of the document, the source said, is that this idea that you’re going to transform the Middle East and fundamentally alter its trajectory is not credible.
posted by: Carl on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Of course the State department report would say that. The emplyoees responsible for the report have no doubt secured a nice place for themselves in some Saudi funded "thinktank."posted by: Atm on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Check out "Containing Iraq: Sanctions Worked" by Lopez and Cortright in the current issue of _Foreign Affairs_. The authors argue that the sanctions were a great strategy + great process with the end being prohibiting weapons proliferation. Containment resulting in the creation of bin Laden is a bit of a stretch. The politics of Iraq and its Shia majority does not seem to be strongly aligned with the bin Laden et al. bin Laden and company existed long before containment policies in the form of Ayman al Zawahri.
Noteworthy excerpts from Lopez and Cortright: "...despite such political failings and the initial humanitarian cost, sanctions forced Baghdad to make significant concessions on disarmament."
They also say, "In addition to driving the disarmament process, sanctions undermined Iraqi military capabilities and prevented rearmament by keeping Iraq's oil wealth and imports- which could be used to produce WMD- out of the hands of Saddam Hussein.
Furthermore, "The sanctions system also prevented the import of specific items that could be used for the development of long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons."
Containment is certainly not that simple. Numerous externalities were in place to prevent weapons proliferation in Iraq. I feel that with the US in Iraq, and the political landscape changing in the neighboring countries, the US is effectively practicing containment, through other means, in the greater ME. As Clausewitz said, "war is the continuation of Politik by other means."posted by: Jas on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Dan, What would Rubin's maximum expectation theory (decision theory), tell you to do? I think its pretty obvious.posted by: Jor on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
I agree containment was a success in preventing Saddam from restarting weapons programs. But I think Clinton's containment strategy was too "hot," made us too involved, and gave the U.S. no viable exit strategy. Arab countries should have taken the lead. Regardless of success, containment came at a high cost for the US. US Miltary facilities in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf came under attack. Al Qaeda also wanted to target the Turkish bases used for maintaining the northern no fly zones. And of course there were the embassy attacks and 9/11.
Containment didn't create bin Laden since he was already an extremist and a xenophobe and bigot. But it certainly agitated bin Laden quite a bit. Containment made us the priority target.posted by: Anil Maliyekkel on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
“Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?”
The Democrats did not choose Joseph Lieberman as its standard bearer. We are therefore compelled to choose between George W. Bush and John Kerry. Who is the lesser of evils? What about Kerry’s military record? It is essentially meaningless. Courage in battle does not necessarily translate into effective political leadership during wartime. The current president has at least proven his willingness to bite the bullet and taken huge risks. The Massachusetts senator is a proven foreign policy wimp. His record as senator during his years in the U.S. Senate is deplorable. This is the number one reason why Kerry was picked as the Democrat nominee. The Howard Dean fanatics would not go along with someone who unambiguous militarily defends our nation. Just remember this: Senator Lieberman was embarrassed during the primaries---and yet common sense dictates he would have greatly improved the Democrats’ chances in November. Why did the Democrats select the weaker candidate?
John Kerry’s campaign is starting to unravel. The Christmas in Cambodia lie reveals his basic dishonesty. Kerry is a flip-flopping liar. An no, he did not commit an honest mistake or was merely confused about the dates. Kerry lied to help himself politically. The man seems incapable of ever telling the truth. He might be worse than Bill Clinton. Why do Democrats select such morally corrupt individuals?posted by: David Thomson on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
“Tacitus goes into the most detailed examination of this, and its implication --changing leadership to Kerry may not be, in his opinion, the best option; but there must be a change in leadership.”
This is simply illogical. Change for the mere sake of change is ludicrous. There is never a reason to change leadership unless you can find a better person. The lying and flip-flopping John Kerry most certainly is not an improvement over George W. Bush.posted by: David Thomson on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
What grand strategy? Wishful thinking is not strategy, let along grand strategy. "We'll take out Saddam and then democracy will flower and Israel will finally be safe" is a pipe dream, not a strategy. A strategy lays out an objective and then crafts a cause and effect method based on some semblence of reality for achieving that objective.
The fact is that the neo-con piple dream lacks that cause and effect method. So the question of execution doesn't even come up. Positing a magical connection between "Saddam dead" and "flowering democracy" is simply stupid.
So Drezner's dilemma doesn't really exist in this specific case.posted by: Alan S on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Yes, there are different " levels " of strategy, a good point. We had a grand strategy of Containment - though Kennan would have been the first to say that we did not need to be fighting the communists everywhere - we did not have any strategy to win the war in Vietnam. Nixon had a strategy to get out with reasonable terms but not to win.
I think the ideal would be good strategy with good tactics. Having one without the other brings disadvantages but if forced to choose I'd take strategy because strategic victories having enduring import.
Specifically to Vietnam, I'm often amazed at how *little* our decisions had to do with Containment and how much they had to do with our own prestige or " credibility". We were in Vietnam in huge numbers because Diem and Nhu had been intractable and treacherous and our overthrowing him by proxy destablized the GVN.
LBJ claimed he feared unrestricted bombing of North Vietnam would trigger China's entry into the war and ultimately WWIII with the Communist bloc. But reading through declassified FRUS papers of the Johnson years shows that we knew very well from conversations wih the Romainians that the monolithic Communist bloc was a myth and that the Chinese wanted to explore closer relations with the U.S. because they feared the Soviets. So LBJ was concerned about other things than WWIII.
( This works both ways. While China and the Soviet bloc both aided North Vietnam they did not let the war - or even bombing Hanoi during Kosygin's visit there- impede them from cutting their own deals with the U.S.)
Your question about a strong policy process is a very good one. Overall I think the Kennedy-Johnson people had a competent process ( LBJ more than JFK) in place - the EXCOMM discussions illustrate this during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Some of these people were fairly described as brilliant or at least shrewd. My best judgement is that within the time frame they were often considering with Vietnam - the problem of the day usually - their decisions made sense. Measured against the long-run however, they did not. Vietnam was usually eclipsed by more important and dangerous situations in their view - Berlin, Cuba, nuclear testing, the Dominican intervention etc.
They slid into a major war not for a lack of process per se but for a lack of strategic thinking* about South Vietnam during that process.
*Notable exception of George Ball who, unfortunately, found his advice ultimately ignored. See example below:posted by: mark safranski on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
“"We'll take out Saddam and then democracy will flower and Israel will finally be safe" is a pipe dream, not a strategy.”
Why mention Israel? This is most peculiar. Are you hinting that the Bush administration places Israel’s interests before those of the United States? Could this be a Freudian slip hinting at the hostility towards Israel embraced by many activist Democrats? Yup, I think that’s it.posted by: David Thomson on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Wow Dr. Drezner, first post after your "break" and you seem to have whacked a hornet's nest - I'd be curious to see your response to Yglesias and DeLong.
Most particularly - do you think that the "clearly articulated grand strategy" of the Bush Admin is the Gaddes formulation as Delong suggests? If so, what would a well implemented "democracy promotion" strategy in Iraq look like?
Seems to me the closest analogy to Iraq today is Yougoslavia after Tito - which today no longer exists. Final question - which is more important - maintaining Iraq as a unified state or the "democratic" self-determination of the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds? I don't see how "both" are possible.posted by: TexasToast on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
One of the things that bothers me about the Kerry team's likely approach is its praise for the foreign policy Bush Administration -- the first one, that is.
The first Bush Administration had the opportunity to help establish democracy in two Arab/Muslim nations -- Kuwait and Iraq -- and deliberately decided to do so in neither.posted by: Arjun on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Not getting into specifics, self-determination as a principle is ultimately incompatible with democracy, as President Lincoln correctly noted.posted by: Arjun on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
“Most particularly - do you think that the "clearly articulated grand strategy" of the Bush Admin is the Gaddes formulation as Delong suggests?”
Why are you focussing on such a secondary aspect. The American constitution gives the president enormous powers. We cannot ignore John Kerry’s wimpy foreign policy choices. He is a proven appeaser. Lastly, Kerry revealed much about his character by lying about spending Christmas 1968 in Cambodia.
“Final question - which is more important - maintaining Iraq as a unified state or the "democratic" self-determination of the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds? I don't see how "both" are possible.”
Nobody is advocating a pure democracy. Thus your point, while I’m sure well meaning, is pointless. Any democratic self-determination by a religious or ethnic group must always be balanced against the constitutional rights of others.
First, Bush clearly has a grand plan that makes quite a bit of sense. It goes back to the 90s, and can be read about here:
Second, execution is never perfect. Nothing human beings attempt is ever perfect. Kerry's telegraphing his weakness (out in six months) is precisely the wrong thing to do in Iraq.
Third, the difference between LBJ and Nixon in Vietnam illustrates very nicely the differences. Nixon's plan WORKED. The South Vietnamese army soundly defeated Gen'l Giap's 1972 offensive, and the North knew it; they relieved Giap of his command at the time.
It was only after Nixon resigned, and the Democrats and liberal Republicans formed a veto-proof majority in congress that cut-off any aid to South Vietnam, that the North decided to invade the South again, in 1975. That's how we "lost" Vietnam. And one of the people responsible was John Kerry.posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
You make some good points yourself. Clearly you have a much deeper knowledge of the Vietnam war than I do, I'm just kind of winging it here at this point :).
One thing I think we need to distinguish (because at the moment I think we're conflating them) is the "strategy" and "tactics" of WINNING the Vietnam war and the "strategy" and "tactics" of going there in first place. In the former case, the lack of good strategy was a big problem, but as I said we were also tactically outmaneuvered, so its hard to assert an ultimate cause. In the latter case, its a shakier question. I enjoyed the Ball memo, but I think it is the ultimate support for my claim that strong TACTICAL thinking would have kept us out of Vietnam. Indeed, he says specifically:
The problem for us now--if we determine not to broaden and deepen our commitments--is to re-educate the American people and our friends and allies that:
(a) The phasing out of American power in South Vietnam should not be regarded as a major defeat--either military or political--but a TACTICAL REDEPLOYMENT to more favorable terrain in the overall cold war struggle" (em. added).
Going to Vietnam was a poor tactical decision to achieve the broader strategic goal of containing communism. I don't deny that LBJ and JFK had very intelligent advisors (just as I'm sure that Paul Wolfowitz, Condy Rice, et. al are very intelligent as well). But even smart people can make mistakes. Claiming that LBJ's advisors tried to look at it from a "policy process" point of view doesn't show anything if they did a poor job of it. At worst, all Vietnam shows us is that bad strategy and bad processes lead to bad results, which I doubt anyone disputed. But then it doesn't serve as a particularly good counterexample to my original assertion (probably long forgotten at this point!) that case-by-case is better than imposed narratives.
Of course, good strategy and good tactics is preferable to an unbalanced equation. You say that we should default to strategy because its victories have enduring importance. Unfortunately, the lack of good tactics means we're lucky if we ever get the victory at all (but if we do, its a knockout). Tactics first gives us lots of scattershot victories which may or may not end up giving us a strategic victory. Either way its luck, but I'd prefer lots of little guarenteed victories than a possible big victory.
One more thought I just had, which kind of relates to the difference between the how/why of fighting the war and going to war. In terms of an actual military conflict, strategy might be better than tactics for the US, because we have such a huge military advantage that as long as we know our objective, we can pretty much steamroller anyone even if our tactics leave much to be desired. However, on the broader foreign policy front, tactics are more important because US dominance isn't as assured, we have limited resources that need to be allocated effectively, and the amount of variables that need to be accounted for (and thus the probablity that at least some of them will fall outside the preset strategic storyline) is astronomically higher. All of these lead me to say that on issues of "grand Foreign Policy strategy," tactics are still more important.
But at least you're making me think, Mark!posted by: David Schraub on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"Why are you focussing on such a secondary aspect. The American constitution gives the president enormous powers. We cannot ignore John Kerry’s wimpy foreign policy choices. Blah Blah Blah"
Maybe becuase I thought that was the topic of this thread instead of a reason for yet another off-topic attack on John Kerry?posted by: TexasToast on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
“Maybe because I thought that was the topic of this thread instead of a reason for yet another off-topic attack on John Kerry?”
You obviously need to learn how to think and follow a logical argument. Your objection is bizarre to say the least. One cannot completely distinguish between a candidate and their policy. This is a false dichotomy---and I might add also borders on being a disingenuous one. It is never an “off-topic attack” to address said candidate’s past performance and positions. And you have no moral right to avoid dodging the issue of John Kerry’s despicable lies about spending Christmas 1968 in Cambodia. This disgusting man apparently even had the audacity to slime the United States merely to advance his political fortunes.posted by: David Thomson on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Some people may be wondering what I'm talking about. After all, the liberal media are doing their best to protect John Kerry. Please read the following lie uttered by John Kerry:
"I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer rouge and Cambodians, and the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared -- seared -- in me."
Do you feel like puking? Is this the man you want to lead our country?posted by: David Thomson on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"Superior process tops grand strategy every time", says David Schraub, and others, here.
But, hey, thanks a lot for reminding the board why the equivication-set favors a Kerry Presidency.
God - Thomson - do you see why I don't come 'round here much, anymore? I don't know how you stand it.posted by: Tommy G on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Noteworthy excerpts from Lopez and Cortright: "...despite such political failings and the initial humanitarian cost, sanctions forced Baghdad to make significant concessions on disarmament."
Care to venture what the ten-year pay-out was on that 'HC' bill?posted by: Tommy G on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Daniel, I suggest that Bush's "clearly articulated grand strategy" is not even that. When you have the Bush administration encouraging a military coup against a putatively elected leader, how can you seriously say they're led primarily by their grand strategy of "democracy promotion?" Honestly, I think it's a smokescreen.posted by: neil on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
First off, I'm a bit skeptical there is any grand strategy to our current foreign policy. You could just be falling for clever marketing.
Regardless, process beats out strategy most of the time. Whether its business, politics, sports, even war, its all about blocking and tackling. After the fact, we can always go back and build a story around how the strategy was so important, but we're just rationalizing what good execution has delivered us. A bunch of idiots with the best stategy in the world aren't going to get you anywhere.posted by: dave on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
DT, can you please explain why Bush is a good war-time leader? On 9/11, after the SECOND plane crashed, he sat paralyzed for 7 minutes. Rummy was MIA for 30 minutes. However, the people on United flight, somehow figured out what was going on, called their loved ones, and took action during the same time.posted by: Jor on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
A small part of me really hopes that Bush is re-elected, so when he sends this country to hell in a hand basket -- the idiotic right wing intellectuals who supported him (or pretend to straddle the fence) are so thoroughly discredited and ashamed, that they never open their big dumb mouths again. Of course, I live here, and the country is probably more important than discrediting some fools. When parts of the left supported Stalin and communism, it was primarily based on teh fact that -- well the idealogoy sounds good -- and it sure does (well, except the godless part). OF course, they somehow ignored all the facts, and took Stalin at his word. This is exactly what youa re doing now. The overwheliming majority of the evidence is a sweeping indictment of this administration. Failed policy, after failed policy, after sham policy. Yea, they want to "democratize the middle east", and Miss America wants to end world hunger. The devil is in the details. Stop being such a chump. Minimize your variance, and maximize your expectation. You know what you need to do.posted by: Jor on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Thank you for the compliment. I have enjoyed the dialogue.
Vietnam provokes a lot of ferocious argument among historians on a lot of levels. Why we were there is a key dispute. Those who argue that it was a strategic choice usually point to the Mekong delta's role as the region's rice bowl and the need for a market to dump cheap Japanese goods to build up our ally's postwar economy.
It's not an argument that I find very convincing since Japanese access to American markets trumped anywhere else, including China. It just paled in importance to stabilizing France itself and French leaders made it clear to Truman, Marshall and Acheson that they saw support for them in Indochina as their absolute " must have " to cooperate with the Anglo-American plans for Europe. We moved in to Vietnam as a trade-off for far more important gains - NATO, the nascent EU in the form of the Franco-German Coal and Steel community, Marshal plan - and in the view of Truman probably a minor trade-off at that. It was a good tactical move that developed across five administrations into a strategic blunder.
As for tactics trumping strategy the best argument that I can think of against your position is that we are not having this conversation in German.
Cheers !posted by: mark safranski on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
I say Tomato, you say Tomahto. You say equivicating, I say deliberating. All a matter of perspective, don't you think?
Why is "wonking it up" a bad thing? Knowledge is power after all, and I'm much more comfortable with a wonk than someone who doesn't read the newspaper. The problem with "trusting" someone else with the policy implementation (as Bush is doing) is that when one of those wonks comes back and says "this idea is stupid and will never work," you don't have to listen to them. And what I think Prof. Drezner was saying when he was talking about the current "f#$%ed-up policy process" is that President Bush has surrounded himself with a bunch of syncophants so he is never faced with the above scenario. His wonks are forced to work inside these giant strategy-narratives concocted by President Bush, even when the narrative doesn't match the facts. That's been the objection I've made to strategy-first throughout this comment board. That Bush is "decisive" on these issues just means he's wrong with enthusiasm. It isn't something to brag about.posted by: David Schraub on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Hey, I have a great strategy to become a millionaire moviemaker, it's great...gonna use all kinds of neat storytelling techniques…my only problem is implementing it! Can’t ACTUALLY do…but boy…can I dream…now, let’s discuss that loan.posted by: NeoDude on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Beers is John Kerry's chief foregn policy advisor, and would likely become national security advisor in a Kerry administration.
God help us, should that occur. (Shudder)
posted by: Biithead on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
“I say Tomato, you say Tomahto. You say equivicating, I say deliberating. All a matter of perspective, don't you think?”
No, not at all. Is seems someone has been influenced by deconstructionism. I (although your question was not directed to me personally) categorically reject the “my truth” silliness of Jim McGreevy, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry. Facts stand independent of one’s wishes and desires.
“Knowledge is power after all, and I'm much more comfortable with a wonk than someone who doesn't read the newspaper.”
Is this a not too subtle reference to George W. Bush? If so, the President is being slandered by the accusation that he is uninformed. Those around him easily contradict the lie. Bush is praised for keeping around him those of differing opinions. Please note, for instance, that both Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz have places at his table. Not waking up and reading the lying New York Times and Washington Post might be a major plus. These second rate media outlets have proven themselves to be biased and unreliable. I’m sure that the elected leader of the United States can find far superior news sources.
Last but not least, you are conveniently ignoring the harsh reality that policy itself is useless without the right person at the helm. Why is Kerry’s record of appeasement to our country’s enemies supposedly of no importance? Also, why doesn’t it concern you that the Massachusetts senator casually lied about spending Christmas 1968 in Cambodia?posted by: David Thomson on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Let's stop the self-righteous pontificating about Kerry and Clinton's lies. Do you really think nominating deceitful candidates is endemic only to the Democratic party? Cut the partisan crap.
All politicians lie and distort to improve their positioning. President Bush managed to be against the 9/11 commission, and then, when it became politically expedient, in favor of it. If that isn't an example of the dreated "flip-flopping", then I don't know what is.
Here is my case for opposing Bush. Our Iraq occupation hasn't gone well. We have worked ourselves into a no-win situation in Najaf, where we may be forced to capitulate to the odious Muqtada al-Sadr, lest we risk inflaming the whole of Iraq's Shia population.
I don't argue that Kerry has proposed a solution to this problem. But it's deeply troubling that Bush has issued nary a contrite statement on Iraq, instead spinning the news as positive and bulldozing on ahead.
Of the two candidates, Kerry is far better positioned to affect change in our foreign policy. Since our operation in Iraq is going badly, and a majority seem to think so, shouldn't that be rationale enough to vote for Kerry?posted by: vagabondplus on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"No, not at all. Is seems someone has been influenced by deconstructionism. I (although your question was not directed to me personally) categorically reject the “my truth” silliness of Jim McGreevy, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry. Facts stand independent of one’s wishes and desires."
My jibe was aimed at Bush, and this is a wonderful oppurtunity to extoll the virtues of context. I actually make the argument that Bush's delegation of "the details" (which apparently includes keeping him informed) is a specific problem with the Bush administration. If he thinks the Times and Post are biased (I'd agree as to the former but not the latter), then he can read the Wall Street Journal and the Economist for all I care. That doesn't absolve him of his responsibilty for independent thought.
And finally, as to why I'm not going ballistic over Kerry's Cambodia statement, I'll admit I'm a bit jaded when it comes to Politicians lying about their past. Am I a huge John Kerry fan? Not at all, I don't like him that much as a matter of fact. But I think on the "who's been more secretive/deceptive about their past" (or about their policies for that matter) game, the Bush campaign is certainly in contention for the title.posted by: David Schraub on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Bill O'Reilly had an interesting take on the Swift Boat thing in his column that I read this morning.posted by: chuck rightmire on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Strategy, policy process and execution of policy are three different things. It is error to conflate "process" with "execution".
The British developed a superb "process" during World War One and used it during the inter-war years and World War Two. It produced absolute crap as strategy and British military execution of policy was worse.
The Germans beat the snot out of all comers in World War Two due to superior military execution, despite their complete lack of "process" in this context, until the Soviets got back on their feet and used their far superior military planning process to eventually trash the Germans. It wasn't numbers. The Soviets had a far smaller economy than the Germans but produced more due to superior process.
And the U.S. was absolutely first-rate in strategy - a legacy of the Civil War which carried over, and was a major Allied advantage after Pearl Harbor. We eventually developed a better policy-making process than the British after being snookered by theirs at the first few conferences.
There are piles and piles of books on this. I recommend starting with these:
Military Effectiveness (3 volumes) by Millet & Murray plus their Calculations - Net Assessment and the Coming of World War Two, and Great Crusade by Willmott.
My evaluations based on my extensive reading of military history:
Bush administration so far. Incredible vision. Superb strategy. Average policy-making process relative to past administrations. Superb military execution. Mediocre political execution.
Chief problems - presidential inability/unwillingness to grapple with necessary and unavoidable bureucratic reform. Over-reliance on known flawed bureacracies and individuals. Failure to recognize the supreme importance of communicating vision, strategy and policy results in to relative inarticulateness relative to past seminal administrations (Truman & Reagan), and questionable ability to persuade the American people to stay the course. The latter is offset by the direct and immediate threat posed by our enemies to the American homeland. Any further attacks at home will tend to negate the adverse domestic effects of presidential failures to communicate, but not the adverse effects overseas.
The latter problem is accentuated by the open hostility of American diplomatic staff abroad to the Bush administration's vision, strategy, policy and execution. Nothing can help in the latter regard until there is a major to titanic purge of the State Department, and its Foreign Service in particular.
Kerry potential. No vision at all. No discernible strategy. Obvious administrative problems with national campaign indicate below-average policy-making process if elected. Kerry's known character traits - indecisiveness and Walter-Mittyish issues - indicate he will have major problems in executing any policy.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?
The question presumes that having a grand strategy is automatically a good thing. What is the basis for this? Isn't a bad grand strategy worse than no grand strategy at all?
My experience with grand strategies, and grand strategists, in business settings echoes ciel's somewhat. The grand strategy is too often a substitute for the hard work of figuring out what to do. The strategist is too often someone who wants to think great thoughts, and not bother with the messy facts - you know, Paul Wolfowitz types.
The impressive thing about good strategies is precisely their realism about what can be done, and their attention to the details of getting it done. In other words, the fact that the process of developing them was intelligent and hardheaded in the best sense.
Designing a strategy involves making choices about objectives and the use of resources. Without a sound process the decisions made are likely to be poor. So the question seems to offer a false choice. You can have a grand strategy without a good process, but it is likely to be terrible.posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Just so everyone knows, when Tom H says "stay the course" he means a military invasion of Iran sometime next year. Please note that his only criticisms of the Bush policy process are things that might thwart that goal. Moreover, he wants to fire all the diplomats who might advise another course.
Just sayinposted by: TexasToast on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
A clearly articulated grand strategy that's been an abject failure for four years? So, you'd rather have a pitiful policy, so long as it's explained in simple words. Pathetic.posted by: Nordy on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
"Stay the course" means "salvage and destroy" concerning the Arabs. Their failed tribal culture is the main problem - 9/11 was just a side-effect. The Arabian peninsula will be a charnel house no matter what we do, and at their own hands. How much worse it gets beyond that depends on events, none of them good. Now would be a real good time to get a high m.p.g. car.
Iran will be just a way station in the process. The Israelis will take the mullahs out if we don't, but we will next year (probably - that depends on how successful the Israeli airstrikes are - if they are far more successful than I expect, then our invasion might not occur until 2006).
If somehow we don't take out the mullahs, it is almost certain that nuclear weapons will be used in anger before election day 2008. There is some chance that nuclear weapons will be used in the U.S. in that period, but it is highly unlikely that those would be the first.
But we'll do Iran. The Democrats are only starting to find out the bad news about Kerry. Even I'm surprised. I thought he was El Dud as a campaigner, but had no clue about his Walter Mitty fantasies. His campaign is developing the horrid fascination of a good car crash.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
Is this that internet place where people try to sound intelligent by showing us how much they take for granted? Wow, it sure is!
"How can the U.S. vigorously promote democracy when the U.S. is unpopular throughout the world? And yet another question: How can the U.S. avoid unpopularity throughout the world when vigorous democracy promotion is in large measure the cause of that unpopularity?"
Ask dumb questions, get dumber answers. Yup, this is the place.
One might better ask "Why would the US vigourously promote democracy when most of the world opposes US military and corporate policy."
But yeah, you go ahead and worry whether the supposed Bush "promotion of Democracy" is "naive."posted by: Homer on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
The problem with this debate is that it isn't high-level enough. Let's start at the bottom and work up:
At the lowest level are the tasks actually carried out in the field. In most cases, these mesh with the plan created by the executives in charge of various departments. (Notoriously, the State Department often acts in accordance with its own private foreign policy, rather than carrying out that of the President, when it disagrees.) This is largely beyond the direct control of the President or his Cabinet: he is dependent on careerists for good execution. Two examples of tasks in the Terror Wars would be hunting down Osama bin Laden (military, mostly) and influencing neutrals like France to work on our behalf (diplomatic, mostly). Essentially, this is the execution layer.
Above that level is the plan. Ideally, the plan is detailed, and specifies who will do what tasks, in what order, to match the plan. It should also specify how to determine failure, and how to react to it, as well as how to determine and react to success. This is directly under the control of the Cabinet-level officers of government, via the deputy's who oversee the various plans (but still largely beyond the President's direct influence). Each department will have their own plans, and they will infrequently co-ordinate in any meaningful way. Essentially, this is the process layer.
The purpose of the plans is to achieve the next-highest level, the strategy. The strategy is generally made by the President in consultation with his Cabinet and with foreign allies and important domestic political figures (like the leaders of the House and Senate, and key governors in some cases). As the plan specifies the tasks, the strategy drives the plans.
At the highest level, and the least talked about, are the goals of foreign policy. This is purely the President's job to manage, and to communicate to the public. But only when the public buys in does politics "stop at the water's edge". And right now, the Democrats and Republicans don't agree on the goal.
The President stated a goal for the US after 9/11: destroy terrorists able to strike internationally, and the governments which support them, in order to create a stable and peaceful international environment.
The Democrats obviously disagree with the goal as well as the strategy (take out rogue regimes too close to nuclear capability, and democratize them, so that prosperity and representative government and liberty will remove the causes of jihadi terrorism), and thus will viciously criticize our every action. It is this reason which ensures that what is good for American in the Terror Wars is bad for the Democrats.
And that does not need to be a bad thing: it was far from clear in 1950 that the strategy of containment serving the goal of eliminating the threat of Communist revolutions was the right way to go. The problem is that the Democrats now (like the Republicans then) do not have an alternative goal to offer the American people, except to go back to 9/10 and act like everything's OK. It's not, and the Democrats must recognize this and offer a goal to include US security before they can be taken seriously.
They seem to be groping in that direction, offering various orbits around transnational progressivism as their ideas. While this in and of itself scares me - I'm no fan of ever-larger and more intrusive governments being in control - it is at least a groping towards a goal.
The debate over strategy is meaningless until the Democrats either agree to President Bush's goal, or the Republicans agree to some goal the Democrats eventually propagate.
Bad execution is nearly the least of our worries if our strategy is meaningless and reactive.
Strategy need not be "grand" to be effective, all it needs to be is reasonably right and focused. With that said, the essential part of the equation is definitely execution (by mid-level and ground-level functionaries.) A caveat: without good strategy and clear understanding of goals, interests, cost and benefits, even the most gifted executioners of policy can't overcome that policy's more systemic defects.posted by: nemesisenforcer on 08.14.04 at 10:22 AM [permalink]
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