BUSH THE BUMBLER
Daniel Drezner has a new piece today in Slate entitled, “Bush the Bumbler – The real trouble with the president’s foreign policy”. It summarizes a theme Dan has been hashing out in his weblog for a few weeks: The problem with Bush’s foreign policy is neither evil intent nor even a flawed premise but rather a shoddy process stemming from a president content to let his subordinates work out the not-so-small details.
Dan cites several examples: State-DOD squabbling over Iraq that led to no obvious plan to handle reconstruction of the electric grid and other infrastructure in postwar Iraq, the ill-timed DOD announcement barring non-Coalition states from bidding on major contracts in Iraq, and some issues with regard to gearing the military up for a fight with al Qaeda.
Process criticisms have begun to appear more frequently in the mainstream media. What’s interesting about these critiques is that they come primarily from Bush sympathizers. Prominent Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Charles Grassley have voiced concerns about the proper management of key foreign policy priorities. Writing about the contract screw-up, William Kristol and Robert Kagan were blunt: “[I]nstead of being smart, clever, or magnanimous, the Bush Administration has done a dumb thing.” George Will described the decision as “a tantrum tarted up as foreign policy.” In his Sunday column, Tom Friedman lamented: “I fear we have a president who is setting the broad guidelines, above a squabbling bureaucracy and a divided alliance–and no one is cracking heads.”
In many ways, Bush’s supporters have devised a more powerful critique than anything Bush’s opponents have come up with. Their complaints point to mismanagement and incompetence, never words one wants associated with foreign policy. Given the high stakes that the administration is playing for in Iraq and the war on terror, Bush’s process failures make him far more vulnerable on national security issues than one might imagine.
Dan issues several caveats in a blog entry announcing the piece: there are some leftist critics pointing this out as well, that “process” is a sufficiently boring criticism that it’s unlikely to stick in an election campaign, and the fact that several recent moves by the Administration may fix some of these problems.
These are well-written pieces and I agree with much of them. But, to quote Shimon Peres (via Rumsfeld’s Rules), “If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact, not to be solved, but to be coped with over time.” It seems to me that Presidents have two essential options: They can delegate these things to subordinates, leading to precisely these kind of snafus, or they can micromanage things and create a stultified process. Given the impossibly vast scope of the modern President’s job, I’m not sure a happy medium is really possible.