Clarke the Policy Maker
Glenn Reynolds points
Boston Herald op-ed entitled, “Skeleton in Clarke’s closet” which reveals something I didn’t know:
We’d like to know how Clarke squares his contention that he was the only one in the Bush administration truly committed to thwarting terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks with this: It was Clarke who personally authorized the evacuation by private plane of dozens of Saudi citizens, including many members of Osama bin Laden’s own family, in the days immediately following Sept. 11.
Interesting. And I agree with this assessment:
By all accounts, Clarke made hundreds of decisions in the days after Sept. 11, many clear-headed and right.
Approving those special flights seems like a wrong one, but it was a judgment call made in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history.
Perhaps it was the best decision he could make under the circumstances. It’s too bad Clarke cuts no one in the Bush administration the same slack he so easily cuts himself.
Dean Esmay makes a rather cogent observation as well.
Clarke seems like a fairly typical career civil servant who is neither appointed nor elected. Such people tend to become fairly narrow-minded, inflating the importance of their own role, and also resentful of the “big vision” folks–i.e. the elected and appointed officials who have to tie together broad policy positions involving far more than one civil servant’s specialty. This is pretty normal, but now, all future administrations are going to have to worry that the career civil servants whose job is to give them information and advice will try to make them look stupid.
If our governing officials can no longer trust the people who work for them, this is not a good thing. Because we’re not talking about blowing the whistle on criminal activity here: we’re talking about policy debates, and a career civil servant deciding he doesn’t like the strategies formulated by the people he works for–and being treated like a hero by partisans who just don’t happen to like the people in office right now.
Very unhealthy, very dangerous in the long run.
While Clarke wasn’t, in the strictest sense, a civil servant–he served at the pleasure of administrations who kept him on–I agree with Dean’s larger point: Guys that specialize on the trees don’t understand when others focus on the forest. That’s true of any level of bureaucracy. To recount one silly example, one of my many collateral duties as a young lieutenant was safety officer for the battery.* I frequently had to drive to Frankfurt to meet with the people at the V Corps safety office, mostly civilians. They honestly believed that safety was the primary mission of the line units, rather than just something to be mindful of when performing their actual duties. I told them, no, if safety were the main thing then we could just have everyone stay home watching cartoons rather than driving very large vehicles and firing those big rockets that go “boom.” That was an alien concept to them.
*Artillery for “company.”