Thursday, October 16, 2003

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Drezner gets results from the Philadelphia Inquirer

The bureaucratic politics meme scores another news story. Somehow, I have to think that Joseph L. Galloway and James Kuhnhenn were giggling hysterically when they wrote the first few grafs of this story:

Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge - told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.

News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.

OK, I don't care what your partisan affiliation is, that last graf is just damn funny.

These paragraphs, on the other hand, should prompt more concern:

The infighting, backstabbing and maneuvering on such major foreign-policy issues as North Korea, Syria, Iran and postwar Iraq have escalated to a level that veterans of government say they have not seen in years. At one point, the senior official said, Bush himself asked how bad it was.

"This isn't as bad as [George] Shultz vs. [Caspar] Weinberger, is it?" he asked, referring to a legendary Reagan administration rivalry between secretaries of state and defense. One top official reportedly nodded and said it was "way worse."


posted by Dan on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM


This is one of the most serious and continuing concerns regarding those who would proclaim that all is well and there is no cause for undue concern. The focus on the internal divisions are only a small reflection of the lack of foresight and coherent planning in this Administration.

What initiatives they do put into place are poorly thought out and poorly executed. The No Child Left Behind Act is embelmatic of the domestic trend on this. Wasn't it us Republicans who used to complain loudest about unfunded mandates from Washington?

Anyway, the internal controversies merely reflect a President who is so out of touch he has no idea what is really going on. He makes decisions based on internal factional ascendencies and public political consequences.

Many Republicans including myself used to criticize the Clinton administration for being "pie-in-the-sky" big government policy wonks who thought Washington could solve every problem.

What policies this Administration does push however are completely clueless. They are based on ideological rhetoric that seem to have no sense of real-world impact. Whether or not one thinks going after Saddam was a good idea, and I was one of those who did think so but not on account of WMD possession, the fact is that the way it's been carried out has been a complete mess. No sort of trumpeting about the improvement via opening of schools can hide the disappointment of the comparison to the way things *could* have reasonably been expected to go. When we invaded Panama to remove Noriega, it did not turn into a huge debacle. It was done quietly, efficiently, and we did not get bogged down there. We also got Noriega.

A stark comparison with the problems in Iraq. Perhaps some would say it was an unfair comparison, but the point is that there are many deployments - the Marshall Plan, the pacification of Japan, the colonization of the Phillipines, and even Korea that despite arguably more serious problems went much better.

Sigh. I just wish they'd get a clue up there in the big white house on Pennsylvania avenue before we all pay the price because they can't get their act together.

posted by: Oldman on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

The Reagan Administration comparison is appropriate concerning the disputes between Schultz and Weinberger, but consider one thing:

They, and we, won.

It is possible to do worse.

The Reagan Administration destroyed the USSR and won the Cold War. The Bush 41 Administration arranged for the final take-down to happen pretty much peacefully.

Intra-mural feuding is not necessarily a bad thing. Outcomes are more important.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

"No sort of trumpeting about the improvement via opening of schools can hide the disappointment of the comparison to the way things *could* have reasonably been expected to go."

Disappointment? Have you ever studied history? Our actions in Iraq have been very successful! It is downright amazing what we have already achieved at such a low price. This defeatist rhetoric is simply absurd. It is not a rational line of argumentation.

posted by: David Thomson on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

These paragraphs are remarkable, in light of last night's Senate vote:

Late Tuesday, in a brief, brusque arm-twisting session with nine senators, the President made it clear that he was not there to answer questions or debate the merits of his $87 billion Iraq and Afghanistan aid package. He demanded that the aid to Iraq be in the form of grants, not loans, as some of the senators have urged.

Present at the session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House were Republicans Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine; Saxby Chambliss of Georgia; Sam Brownback of Kansas; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and John McCain of Arizona. Democrats Maria Cantwell of Washington and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana also attended.

At one point, as he discussed the question of providing some of the money as a loan, Bush slammed his hand down on the table and said: "This is bad policy."

When Collins tried to ask a question, the President replied: "I'm not here to debate it."

Perhaps he should have.

posted by: Californian on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

This was a very stupid vote. It now allows an opportunity for our foes to claim that we invaded Iraq for its oil. Furthermore, the grand total is petty cash in a national economy of our size. I'm also perturbed that my senator, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, lacked the guts to stick with the President. Oh well, let's just hope that it does not cause too many problems.

posted by: David Thomson on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

While I enjoyed the laugh as much as anyone, the last paragraph somewhat frightened me. Can the President be that out of touch with the infighting within the administration and the "scorched earth" approach his administration takes towards its critics?

posted by: Da Fish on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

Ugly ugly ugly. Constructive disagreement between senior officials is fine, but things get bad when positions ossify, and especially when each guy's staff (who tend to be more protective of their boss's ego than the boss himself) feel they have free rein to promote their boss's position at the expense of the overall mission.

posted by: Ray on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

"Can the President be that out of touch with the infighting within the administration and the "scorched earth" approach his administration takes towards its critics?"

I am very concerned about last night's results. The President's case was an easy one to make:

1.) We do not want the Arab world to think we are merely after their oil revenues.

2.) The money in question is pocket change considering the circumstances.

Something is indeed wrong when a number of Republicans panicked over this issue. They are obviously too focussed on the short run, and fail to comprehend the bigger picture.

posted by: David Thomson on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

A couple of points: yes, the vote went the wrong way. The administration was right, the Senate is wrong, and the damage will have to be repaired in conference somehow. But ideas do not sell themselves. Saxby Chambliss has been quoted as saying that Bush and his people did not do much arm-twisting, but this was a vote that clearly called for it. The Cabinet official best able to explain the need for grants rather than loans -- Rumsfeld -- has gone out of his way to avoid developing relationships on the Hill; the official with the best relations on the Hill -- Powell -- has been shut out of postwar Iraqi administration; and the President does not know enough to discuss the merits of his own proposal. Who exactly is supposed to sell the administration's plan?

On the Schultz-Weinberger comparison: the differences between Schultz and Weinberger were personal as much as they were substantive, and became such an issue because Reagan refused to choose between them. One product of the feud, incidentally, was that Schultz and Weinberger failed to join forces to stop the Iran-contra initiative coming out of the Reagan NSC, which they both thought was a terrible idea.

The situation now has personal elements, but is founded on immediate policy differences to a much greater degree. We are not looking at a dominant senior official carrying out the President's policy, as we were with Kissinger and Nixon, or competing officials feuding over what the President's policy meant as in the Reagan administration. Instead, we have a President who has mostly gone along with his Defense Secretary's policy, urged on by his Vice President with Powell and his other officials trailing along behind. Reagan, in theory, could have dealt with the Schultz-Weinberger feud either by ordering the principles to desist or by replacing one or both (the latter actually happened when Frank Carlucci was moved to the Pentagon after the Iran-contra scandal broke).

Bush can't do that. Confronted not by quarrelsome Secretaries but by warring departments, he doesn't know enough to articulate his own policy or enforce its implementation and is too dependent on Rumsfeld to replace him. Moreover his priority now as it has been since inauguration is domestic politics and the 2004 campaign. This is not Nixon worrying about the political impact of his foreign policy; this is a guy resentful of the idea that foreign policy might take time away from fundraising and campaigning. In this respect Bush resembles Bill Clinton more than he does any of his Republican predecessors.

posted by: Zathras on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

Dear Thomson,

Despite our differences on several issues and your somewhat knee-jerk responses, you are right on the point that the vote was a disaster for Iraq. The Republican senators clearly paniced. However I disagree with the notion that they are failing to see the bigger picture when they paniced. My contention is that they lost their sand and bailed because they lost confidence in the Bush Admin's handling of Iraq and started thinking like all politicos - to cover their own backsides.

There are many conservatives and Republicans who for sound geopolitical, strategic, military, and historical reasons are becoming increasingly concerned about the handling of Iraq. There was every reason from a historical perspective to expect a much better outcome than what has occurred. Going after Noriega afterall was handled like a snap compared to this.

Because of the fumbling, we are getting into deeper and deeper water - we lack the credibility to take on Iran. Iran is a country whose people truly are yearning for freedom, has an international consensus that they are trying to produce nuclear weapons, and is strongly linked with Alqueda. But because the Bush admin spent its credibility on Iraq that will be left to fester or become poisonous.

NK is worse even than Iran, and poses an even greater geopolitical risk for destablization. Yet pinned down in Iraq we cannot take them on, and our being over-stretched may yet prove our undoing there.

No, the Republican Senators are panicing for a simple reason. They can see all the above and unlike the programmed partisan robots who pass for Republican party members nowadays, they recognize the red alert alarm signals when they see it.

posted by: Oldman on 10.16.03 at 05:41 PM [permalink]

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