Tag: bureaucratic politics

The Academic-Policy Nexus: a few more thoughts

Regarding my previous post and the very useful comments, first the matter of what do we do once we realize that a policy problem in search of a policy solution is the equivalent of a social scientific puzzle in search of an explanation, for both the solution and the explanation are outcomes. In other words, Step One is to identify the policy problem in question.  Step Two is to search the academic literature for a published study (in book or article form) whose puzzle is essentially identical to the policy problem. For example, the problem of how to end a civil war in Country X is equivalent to the puzzle of how to do so in an academic study.

The explanation of the study is the academic hook to hang the policy solution on. In other words, if there is a published study that explains the outcome of bringing civil wars to an end, this means that the study contains the cause of the outcome and has the evidence to back up the argument thereby matching the cause to the outcome.  Once a study is found it is on to the next step.

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Is Victory Bad for Business?

All wars end. Or do they?

Rather too often, we are being reminded that the ‘war on terror’ against the Al Qaeda terrorist network is far from over, in fact that it will never end and even, that it can never end. One military analyst, for example,

a former employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the US, states OBL and his closest circle in Pakistan were hardly influential to AQ franchises and affiliates. In his last few years as AQ’s leader, OBL was never concerned in the operational aspects of AQ. This perhaps means that the death of OBL, though a great success for counterterrorism, will not greatly affect AQ and its operations around the world, for example, AQ in the Arab Peninsula has been permitted to operate against the Gulf rulers without any open meddling from AQ’s inner leadership.

Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies states AQ has had ten years to attain another leader, has formed strong and international cells and superfluous networks, and has found alternative sites throughout the world. AQ is still a large threat and the US and its allies still have a long way to go in the war against terrorism.

Really? Firstly, the body of evidence uncovered from Osama Bin Laden’s hideout contradicts these  statements.  He was far more than a figurehead or ‘rock star’ icon of dark charisma. He tried to maintain an intricate bureaucratic chain of command while realising that there were franchises that were semi-autonomous. OBL was still influential, he was giving orders, he took great interest in the operational side of his movement, and he did have resources at his disposal. And in the cases where he was not fully in control, OBL recognised what some Western observers don’t, that the loosening of the structure came at a high price, enabling the counter-productive behaviour of Al Qaeda affiliates, imitators and franchises and leading to a crisis of legitimacy for the network, from Algeria to Iraq. Indeed, in their own audits and self-assessments, Al Qaeda Central were more willing to entertain the idea of their own failure than many Western analysts.

Secondly, how is AQ still a ‘large threat’ to the security of the United States and its allies in any measure? Against Western targets, it has failed to pull off a complex, mass casualty assault of the 9/11 variety in over ten years since 9/11, and since 2003-2005, none of the lesser scale of a 7/7 or Madrid bombing. It has become wildly unpopular and suffered violent blowback in lands it regards as sacred to its cause, like Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Its attempts at even low-tech attacks in the West have been disrupted and/or ineffective. Third-order nuisance maybe, non-trivial concern in places like Somalia and Syria perhaps, downright lethal still in its car bombings occasionally in Iraq, but ‘large threat’? When its brand is at best marginal amongst most protesting masses in the Arab Spring, how dangerous is it, in terms of translating violence into political results?

The killing of Bin Laden removed one of the networks most skilful, iconic and seasoned players. The regular killing of his subordinate commanders has also drained it of hard-won skills. Terrorism isn’t an instant capability that anyone can acquire at the click of a mouse. It takes experience, group cohesion, a high level of political will, operational security and a range of intellectual and technical abilities.

No doubt violently draining the network of talented folk can produce blowback and have ‘martyring’ effects. But to announce that Bin Laden was just a figurehead, a borderline irrelevance, and that this World War must continue as though the adversary is just as potent as it was on 10 September, is to perpetuate one of the most serious errors of the War on Terror, the failure to measure risks and costs soberly.

There is also a more unfortunate side to this debate: the refusal of professional experts at times to acknowledge not only that AQ has taken hits to its credibility and cohesion, but to acknowledge that it even could. Is it bad for business to recognise when the object of one’s intellectual fascination is fading in importance?

The War on Terror provided many people with a chance to build an industry around worrying about terrorism and warning that the threat is dire and almost never-ending. The last thing they would want would be to admit that the death of OBL and his subordinates has been a serious blow, or the policy implications flowing from it, that we can scale back our global efforts to conventional, day-to-day counter-terrorism. That would be bad for business.

But for those who disagree, please consider this: what would defeat, or marginalisation, look like? If you are saying that Al Qaeda is still a large threat worthy of an ongoing, top-priority war, what are your criteria for our success and their failure?


Politics, Intelligence, and Academic Analysis

Writing in Foreign Policy, Paul Pillar makes the case that most so-called “intelligence failures” stem from bad leadership rather than problems with the US intelligence community. He touches upon a number of cases, but Iraq looms large:

Had Bush read the intelligence community’s report, he would have seen his administration’s case for invasion stood on its head. The intelligence officials concluded that Saddam was unlikely to use any weapons of mass destruction against the United States or give them to terrorists — unless the United States invaded Iraq and tried to overthrow his regime. The intelligence community did not believe, as the president claimed, that the Iraqi regime was an ally of al Qaeda, and it correctly foresaw any attempt to establish democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq as a hard, messy slog.

Pillar’s discussion of proliferation is a little more nuanced. He writes:

The intelligence community was raising no alarms about the subject when the Bush administration came into office; indeed, the 2001 edition of the community’s comprehensive statement on worldwide threats did not even mention the possibility of Iraqi nuclear weapons or any stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons. The administration did not request the (ultimately flawed) October 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraqi unconventional weapons programs that was central to the official case for invasion — Democrats in Congress did, and only six senators and a handful of representatives bothered to look at it before voting on the war, according to staff members who kept custody of the copies. Neither Bush nor Condoleezza Rice, then his national security advisor, read the entire estimate at the time, and in any case the public relations rollout of the war was already under way before the document was written.

I can’t speak to all of these claims, but the evidence seems pretty overwhelming that “intelligence failures” — understood as erroneous conclusions produced by the intelligence community in which Bush administration pressure played no role — cannot be blamed for the catastrophic decision to invade Iraq.

This discussion provides a nice pivot to something that’s bothered me for quite some time. Robert Jervis wrote a scholarly book on intelligence failures that, inter alia, places responsibility for the WMD-debacle on the CIA. In response to a negative review in the New York Review of Books, Jervis wrote:

Powers’s other point is that the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence, Jami Miscik, threatened to resign unless the White House stopped pressuring her. But her complaints were about the CIA’s refusal to affirm links between Saddam and terrorism, not about its WMD findings, which was the topic of my analysis. This is a key point. If politicization explained intelligence assessments, we would find them converging with administration preferences. But on Iraq and terrorism, they never did.

This line of reasoning strikes me as a classic “academic logic” blunder, one that I’m surprised that Jervis, as a former scholar-in-residence at the CIA, would make. Bureaucrats and officials pick their fights; they are much more likely to fall on their swords (or threaten to) over battles they believe they can win than over battles they see as losers. Whatever the truth of the matter, Miscik’s behavior is in no way inconsistent with the claim that politicization drove intelligence analysts to overstate the threat of Iraqi unconventional-weapons proliferation.


The Individual Utility of Incompetence

There are many reasons why organizations (government, businesses, etc) grow dysfunctional and stagnant.  One major reason lies with the promotion and retention of less capable workers.  There have been a number of studies that explored this dynamic (for example, The Peter Principle, which theorizes that people are promoted as long as they are competent, which means at some point they reach a position of incompetence).  In general, though, the promotion and retention of incompetent workers would seem to run counter to the rational interests of the larger organization.  So why does this behavior persist?  Why are less competent workers able to retain their positions and, in some cases, obtain promotions?

One potential reason is that it is their very incompetence that is valued.  Incompetence acts as a credible, costly signal that they can be trusted by superiors looking to accumulate a power base.

Sociologist Diego Gambetta is a pioneer in the study of signaling.  In his 2007 book Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, Gambetta uses the extreme case of cooperation amongst criminals to tease out more general dynamics of trust, signaling, and communication.  The Mafia can be considered a “hard-case” for theories of signaling trust; given the extreme incentives for criminals to lie and the lack of credibility they wield given the very fact that they are criminals, how is it that criminals manage to coordinate their actions and trust each other at all?  By understanding how trust works in this harsh environment we learn something about how to signal trustworthiness in broader, less restrictive environments.

Gambetta theorizes that one way that a criminal can signal their trustworthiness to another is through their own incompetence:

The mobsters’ henchman, so often caricaturised in fiction as an énergumène, epitomizes the extreme case of this class. If he were too clever he would be a menace to the boss. Idiocy implies a kind of trustworthiness.  […] One way of convincing others that one’s best chance of making money lies in behaving as an ‘honourable thief’, is by showing that one lacks better alternatives.  […] Incompetence is one way of telling people “You can count on me for even if I wanted to I would not be able to cheat.”

Through this mechanism, lower-level criminals can signal their trustworthiness to their bosses, since they are essentially dependent on their bosses for their economic gains given their lack of independent skill and intelligence.  This pervasive logic means that criminal organizations are likely to employ mostly incompetent criminals and that leaders will likely surround themselves with less competent lieutenants over time.

It is not hard to see this same logic play out in businesses, schools, and government.  If organizations are set up in such a way where the accumulation of loyalists is incentivized instead of performance, we should expect to see a greater number of incompetent employees relative to competent ones.  Additionally, we should see more incompetent employees advance as their “sponsor” advances.

[Cross-posted at Signal/Noise]

Bad Week for the USAF

Certainly not a winning week for the Air Force. Already reeling from the high-profile dismissal of both its uniformed and civilian leader, the USAF was slammed again in two major stories this week.

First, the GAO slammed the Air Force’s procurement procedures with a stinging rebuke of its decision to award its major tanker contract to the Northrup-Grumman. The USAF has been looking to upgrade its tanker fleet for years but the entire process has been clouded by scandal. There was the ill-fated sweetheart lease deal for Boeing. There was the criminal interference by senior Boeing leaders and a senior civilian AF official, where the official steered contracts to Boeing in return for a job after retiring from government (this led to actual jail time). Supposedly this competition for the tanker contract would move beyond the dysfunction, but alas, no. The Boeing team cried foul after it lost the contract, and as it turns out, the GAO found substantial problems with the process and recommended the Air Force scrap the existing contract and start all over again.

The Post quoted one analyst:

“We’ve not seen a document as scorching as this from an independent, nonpolitical agency,” he said. “They are essentially saying there is either incompetency in the Air Force or there was political interference that led them to bend over backwards to benefit one competitor because they feared the power of the purse strings. Either way, the Air Force procurement system has gone horribly, horribly wrong.”

Given that they were bending over backward to avoid the political interference given the outcome of the previous tanker debacle, I’d lean toward incompetency.

On top of that, we learn from the NYT that the Army, fed up with the Air Force, recently stood up its own air unit to provide UAV surveillance in Iraq.
Since the days of the Key West Agreement, the Army has only maintained rotary aircraft (helicopters) while the Air Force took care of all fix-winged air assets. This has led to years of inter-service tension, as the Army must depend on the Air Force for transport, close air support, and recon/surveillance. The Air Force has long focused on its strategic role (nukes), with an emphasis on fighters and bombers, leaving the help-the-Army portions of the service to play second fiddle.

This overall attitude certainly played a role in Gates decision to fire the top AF brass. Note the discrepancy in assessment of the USAF in today’s active combat zones:

Army and Marine Corps officers in Afghanistan have complained that Air Force pilots flying attack missions in support of ground operations do not come in as low as their Navy and Marine counterparts. Instances of civilian casualties from bombing and missile attacks have increased tensions among local populations, which have to be eased by ground commanders, adding to their burden of winning hearts and minds in the counterinsurgency efforts.

“We are supporting the Army as best we can,” Michael W. Wynne, the departing Air Force secretary, said Friday.

Its pretty clear that a large part of the defense establishment has concluded that “as best we can” is not good enough.


Meet the new cabinet, same as the old cabinet

Putin has named his new cabinet. Despite heated speculation in the media, the changes are fairly small. Almost all the ministers kept their jobs. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin kept his post, but has also been elevated to deputy prime minister. Minister of Economic Development and Trade Germain Gref is out, replaced by his former deputy Elvira Nabiullina. Gref’s departure was widely expected, so no big surprises there. Dmitri Kozak, former envoy to the South Federal District (southern Russia and the Caucasus), has been appointed minister of regional development. Lastly, Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Golikova takes over as minister of health and social development. Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov retains his position, as Putin refused to accept the resignation he tendered last week (due to his familial relationship with incoming Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov).

Both Kozak and Kudrin are old Putin colleagues from his St. Petersburg days, and are thus identified more with the “liberals” than with the “siloviki” (the men of power). Elvira Nabiullina is also generally viewed as part of the liberal faction. Their new positions could suggest that the star of the liberals–and thus, potentially, Dmitri Medvedev–is on the rise. At the very least, it helps to keep things balanced–and everyone guessing, two primary goals for Putin these days, it seems.

It is also worthwhile to note that Putin’s new cabinet includes two women. Despite Soviet-era official protestations of gender equality, Russian politics have remained a resolutely male preserve.

Kommersant, however, draws our attention to the growing importance of familial ties within the government: nepotism is alive and well in contemporary Russia. Not only is Defense Minister Serdyukov the son-in-law of Prime Minister Zubkov, but Tatyana Golikova is married to Minister of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko. Kommersant’s quick investigation shows multiple instances of familial relationships that might violate Russian laws against supervisory relationships between close relatives within Russian government entities.


Have fun storming the castle…

The Senate held hearings the other day to confirm Lt. General Douglas Lute to be President Bush’s “War Czar”– a special assistant to the President directly overseeing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.* Remember, this is the job that 3 or 4 (to our knowledge) retired Generals turned down. Lute, on active duty in the Army, could hardly say no.

I wonder– how on earth is he going to be able to do anything in this job? In the report on his confirmation hearing, Lute offered a “dour assessment” of Iraq:

President Bush’s nominee to be war czar said yesterday that conditions in Iraq have not improved significantly despite the influx of U.S. troops in recent months and predicted that, absent major political reform, violence will continue to rage over the next year.

Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, tapped by Bush to serve as a new high-powered White House coordinator of the war, told senators at a confirmation hearing that Iraqi factions “have shown so far very little progress” toward the reconciliation necessary to stem the bloodshed. If that does not change, he said, “we’re not likely to see much difference in the security situation” a year from now.

As the president’s point man on Iraq, Lute would be charged with helping to ensure that Iraqis can achieve those goals. But he expressed doubt about whether the Iraqis have the ability to change and whether the United States has the ability to force them to do so. “I have reservations about just how much leverage we can apply on a system that is not very capable right now,” he said.

Reservations. But look where’s he’s going to work! If they have reservations, they’re for a different restaurant.


In our briefings in Iraq in these last few days, General Petraeus underscored the fact that the enemy tactics are barbaric … that we can expect more violence as they try to destroy the hopes of the Iraqi people. But they told me as well of the progress that’s been made in fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, seizing weapons, and getting actionable intelligence. The job now is to persevere in every area of operations – from Baghdad, to Anbar Province, to the border areas. And I think General Petraeus’s own words put it best: “We cannot allow mass murderers to hold the initiative. We must strike them relentlessly. We and our Iraqi partners must set the terms of the struggle, not our enemies. And together we must prevail.”

Cheney again:

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I have to rely on reports like everybody else does, obviously. I’ve spent today here basically in our embassy and the military headquarters in the green zone, so I can’t speak from personal experience in terms of what’s going on all across Iraq.

I can say that based on the conversations I’ve had today, and most of those conversations were with Iraqis and Iraqi leaders – some of them in the government, some of them not – that they believe the situation has gotten better. They cite specifically the statistics on sectarian violence, Sunni-on-Shia and Shia-on-Sunni violence that they think is down fairly dramatically.

I think everybody recognizes there still are serious security problems, security threats; no question about it.

But the impression I got from talking with them – and this includes their military as well as political leadership – is that they do believe we are making progress, but we’ve got a long way to go.

Lets not forget who he’s working for. Bush’s idea of the victory that Lute should coordinate:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You say you want nothing short of victory, that leaving Iraq would be catastrophic; you once again mentioned al Qaeda. Does that mean that you are willing to leave American troops there, no matter what the Iraqi government does? I know this is a question we’ve asked before, but you can begin it with a “yes” or “no.”

He cannot…

THE PRESIDENT: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.

Q — catastrophic, as you’ve said over and over again?

THE PRESIDENT: I would hope that they would recognize that the results would be catastrophic. This is a sovereign nation, Martha. We are there at their request. And hopefully the Iraqi government would be wise enough to recognize that without coalition troops, the U.S. troops, that they would endanger their very existence. And it’s why we work very closely with them, to make sure that the realities are such that they wouldn’t make that request — but if they were to make the request, we wouldn’t be there.

So what do we have now?

Yes, I’m — there’s — certainly, there’s been an uptick in violence. It’s a snapshot, it’s a moment. And David Petraeus will come back with his assessment after his plan has been fully implemented, and give us a report as to what he recommends — what he sees, and what he recommends, which is, I think, a lot more credible than what members of Congress recommend. We want our commanders making the recommendations, and — along with Ryan Crocker, our Ambassador there — I don’t want to leave Ryan out.

And so it’s a — you know, to Axelrod’s point, it’s a — no question it’s the kind of report that the enemy would like to affect because they want us to leave, they want us out of there. And the reason they want us to leave is because they have objectives that they want to accomplish. Al Qaeda — David Petraeus called al Qaeda public enemy number one in Iraq. I agree with him. And al Qaeda is public enemy number one in America. It seems like to me that if they’re public enemy number one here, we want to help defeat them in Iraq.

This is a tough fight, you know? And it’s, obviously, it’s had an effect on the American people. Americans — a lot of Americans want to know win — when are you going to win? Victory is — victory will come when that country is stable enough to be able to be an ally in the war on terror and to govern itself and defend itself.

One of the areas where I really believe we need more of a national discussion, however, is, what would be the consequences of failure in Iraq? See, people have got to understand that if that government were to fall, the people would tend to divide into kind of sectarian enclaves, much more so than today, that would invite Iranian influence and would invite al Qaeda influence, much more so than in Iraq today. That would then create enormous turmoil, or could end up creating enormous turmoil in the Middle East, which would have a direct effect on the security of the United States.

Failure in Iraq affects the security of this country. It’s hard for some Americans to see that, I fully understand it. I see it clearly. I believe this is the great challenge of the beginning of the 21st century — not just Iraq, but dealing with this radical, ideological movement in a way that secures us in the short term and more likely secures us in the long term.

THE PRESIDENT: — that’s really the crux of it. And — let me finish, please, here. I’m on a roll here. And so now that we have, does it make sense to help this young democracy survive? And the answer is, yes, for a variety of reasons.

One, we want to make sure that this enemy that did attack us doesn’t establish a safe haven from which to attack again. Two, the ultimate success in a war against ideologues is to offer a different ideology, one based upon liberty — by the way, embraced by 12 million people when given the chance. Thirdly, our credibility is at stake in the Middle East. There’s a lot of Middle Eastern nations wondering whether the United States of America is willing to push back against radicals and extremists, no matter what their religion base — religious bases may be.

And so the stakes are high in Iraq. I believe they’re absolutely necessary for the security of this country. The consequences of failure are immense.

And Lute is to make all this happen. So, again, tell me how Lute can going to be at all effective in doing these things?

Although senators from both parties praised Lute and made clear they plan to confirm him, Democrats took issue with Bush’s decision to create the post more than four years into the war. Lute would serve as an assistant to the president who would brief Bush every day and manage the U.S. government’s civilian and military efforts in Iraq.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) also questioned Lute about Vice President Cheney’s role. Lute responded that Cheney is “an important participant in policy development” and that “I’ll be working with the vice president and his staff.”

“Well,” Clinton replied, “I wish you well. Because certainly that’s turned out to be a difficult situation for many.”

To say the least.

Good Luck General, i think you’re really going to need it.

*Normally, presidential aids do not require Senate confirmation. However promotions and new assignments for active duty flag officers do require Senate approval, and since Lute is a Lt. General in the Army, his new job requires Senate approval.


The Other Shoes Drop

Yesterday I wondered what was going on with the reports that Negroponte was leaving the DNI post to take over as Deputy SecState. Well, I awoke to NPR reporting that this is part of a much larger reshuffling of Bush’s Iraq team–and yes, you really do need a program to keep up with who is going where.

Negroponte out at DNI, in as Deputy SecState, to handle Iraq issues
Mike McConnell to be nominated to be DNI
Khalilzad out as Ambassador to Iraq, in as UN Ambassador
Ryan Crocker to be nominated as new Ambassador to Iraq
Gen. Casey out as commander of troops in Iraq
Gen. David Petraeus in as commander of us troops in Iraq
Gen. Abizaid out as CENTCOM, Adm. William Fallon (from PACOM) in as CENTCOM
Harriet Miers out as White House counsel
And, lets not forget Rumsfeld out and Gates in as SecDef.

With the President set to announce a new Iraq policy this week, the Post reports that:

President Bush is overhauling his top diplomatic and military team in Iraq, as the White House scrambles to complete its new war policy package in time for the president to unveil it in a speech to the nation next week, officials said….

The White House declined to comment yesterday on its personnel moves, but a senior administration official said the changes are a precursor to revamping policy. “It is appropriate to have the people in place as soon as possible to implement the new policy,” said the official, who declined to be identified because the president has not made his announcement.

Or, as the NYT reported it:

“The idea is to put the whole new team in at roughly the same time, and send some clear messages that we are trying a new approach,” a senior administration official said Thursday.

Beyond a “fresh start,” the Administration also seems to be gearing up for a more substantial fight with the new Democratic Congress on issues across the board. The WP quotes:

Republican advisers have been telling the White House to be ready for war, and many cited Miers as the wrong general. “The White House knew they needed to get a tough street fighter — that’s what this is about,” said one such adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve access to the White House.

As in the Congress will be issuing a lot of subpoenas and the Administration will need a better staff to deal with them.

Already, we’re hearing a much tougher Congressional response to the personnel changes:

Top Congressional officials responded angrily to the news of Mr. Negroponte’s departure.

“I think he walked off the job, and I don’t like it,” said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Now, I don’t see Senate Democrats blocking any of these moves (and all need confirmation, with the exception of the new WH Counsel), but I do see them asking a lot harder, deeper, more difficult questions and extracting a few promises in return for votes.

I also think that these moves signal the last act of the Bush Administration. Its rare, very rare, for senior officials to stay in any one job for a full 8 years. Usually the turn-over comes at the mid-point (and we saw it here, ie Powell out and Rice in), and in the final years, as the President becomes more of a lame-duck policy wise, turning to administrators and career folks to run things instead of the political policy drivers of the first years of the Administration.

When its all said and done, Bush will be remembered for two things– Sept 11, 2001 and the war in Iraq. This is his last chance to have any impact on how those two policies / narratives / events play out, and we’re seeing his big push to get both turned in a more positive direction with new people and maybe a slightly new policy direction.

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Demotion or Intelligent Move?

Reports out today indicate that John Negroponte is planning to leave his job as Director of National Intelligence to become Deputy Secretary of State.

This is a very curious move, one that leaves me scratching my head just a bit. The move is clearly a step down. Negroponte will be leaving a newly created, cabinet-level, highly powerful, high-profile position that is central to the GWOT to be come a Deputy, the number two person in State which, of late, has suffered and chaffed behind DoD and the Intel community under the Bush Administration.

On the one hand, maybe its a smart move. Negroponte is a diplomat at heart, a career Foreign Service Officer who has held several high-profile Ambassador posts. Given his recent posting to Iraq, perhaps he will be given a wide mandate to run the “new” Iraq policy Bush is set to announce. His high profile and political heft from his previous jobs may allow him to implement a policy across agencies.

On the other hand, maybe its a demotion and bad move. DNI is a very important position, one that needs a strong occupant to define the parameters of the new office. Perhaps Negroponte wasn’t doing as good of a job as needed there. Yet, this move now leaves the DNI without its top 2 officials. The Deputy DNI was Gen. Hayden, he recently left to become head of the CIA, and that job remains unfilled. This leaves a critical gap at the top of the US intelligence community.

At this point, I’m just not sure what to make of it.

UPDATE: Dan Drezner asks the same question and links to some interesting speculation.

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Security vs. morality?

The Washington Post reports today on the recent NATO-Russia joint communique, which among other points stated that “issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including the recent tragic events in Uzbekistan, was also discussed.” According to the Post, this rather bland language papered over an intra-agency dispute within the US government about how best to handle the situation stemming from the 13 May crackdown against a failed uprising in the city of Andijon. The crackdown, which Human Rights Watch has labeled a “massacre,” involved the deployment of armed troops to respond to an antigovernment protest; witnesses reported numerous human rights violations, including a systematic effort to kill wounded survivors of the initial clash.

The intra-agency dispute here is a rather traditional tug-of-war between the State and Defense Departments, with the State Department pressing for an international investigation into the events in Andijon while the Defense Department, worried about preserving US access to Uzbek air bases, is less willing to antagonize the Uzbek government and thus endanger current US military strategy and tactics in the region. Given this split, and the reluctance of Russia to assent to any kind of international inquiry about human rights violations on its borders, the NATO-Russia communique couldn’t very well take a stronger stance.

It would be tempting to regard this disagreement as a case of national security versus global morality, with the Defense Department playing the role of the narrow defender of the national interest and the State Department playing the role of the expansive, idealistic proponent of a normative consensus. But this would be a mistake, I think. Especially given that the Defense Department’s position is intimately tied up with the prosecution of the War on Terror — a project that is certainly some distance removed from a clear-cut defense of the territorial integrity and physical security of the United States.

What we have here instead is a disagreement about conceptions of security, and not a clash between a security orientation and a morality orientation. Defense’s position is that prosecuting the War on Terror justifies paying somewhat less attention to an event that seems very much like an egregious violation of human rights, while State seems to be arguing instead that security is achievable primarily by insisting on uniform standards of conduct for all US countries. The people at State are not starry-eyed idealists, and the people at Defense are not hard-nosed realists; both are acting with a complex mix of ideological and practical considerations at hand.

This ought not to be surprising, especially if we keep in mind Arnold Wolfers’ 1949 observation that

The “necessities” in international politics, and for that matter in all spheres of life, do not push decision and action beyond the realm of moral judgment; they rest on moral choice themselves. If a statesman decides that the dangers to the security of his country are so great as to make necessary a course of action that may lead to war, he has placed an exceedingly high value on an increment of national security.

Appealing to security considerations, as the Defense Department seems to have done in opposing a more thorough and invasive investigation of the Andijon situation, is just as much a value-laden stance as an appeal to human rights. Neither are an ultimate trump card in the debate, and neither should be able to silence their opposition definitively. Unfortunately, appeals to “national security” often have this effect, and lead us to ignore the real moral choices that they obscure.

The point here is that security is one value among others. We have to be careful not to allow that value to supersede all others by fiat, and not to forget that in acting so as to advance security concerns in this case we would be in effect condoning violent repression. I’m not sure whether we should or shouldn’t be pressing harder for an international investigation, but in either case we should be honest about what we are doing. We should take responsibility for the choice, and not hide behind protestations of “strategic necessity.”

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