Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 16, 2003
WAR: Neglecting Iraq?
I'm hesitant to push too hard in either direction on the quality of the occupation in Iraq; what we really know is pretty sparse. Phil Carter gave the Army's perspective, and one I respect, that more troops are needed; Carter was particularly concerned about the looting of an Iraqi nuclear facility, which is the one thing in the whole post-war period that genuinely concerns me. Even recognizing that we couldn't shift gears overnight from war-fighting to securing every site in sight, I have yet to hear a good answer on why the nuclear facility was left unguarded.
Daniel Drezner opined a few weeks back that the Bush Administration in general
focuses like a laser beam on a key priority for several months, ignoring any criticism from outsiders. It then achieves its priority, earning plaudits for gutsiness and discipline. Immediately afterwards, however, drift sets in, unexpected complications arise, events beyond the Bush team's control create new obstacles to policy implementation, and things appear to fall apart.
I had a couple of different thoughts on this:
1. It's Perception: Bush's opponents are better able to selectively pick out details that go awry when they criticize his day-to-day management. War with Iraq or the passage of a tax bill is an up-or-down thing, so it's hard to spin his victories as defeats. Rebuilding Iraq will inevitably have both successes and failures, and we'll still be arguing a decade from now which was which. In the interim, small details (even bogus ones like the supposed massive looting of the Baghdad Museum) can be touted to a public that has little reliable first-hand information from which to weigh the evidence.
2. It's Bush's Way: Bush functions best when he can set clear goals and get everyone on his team pushing in the same direction. He functions less well in situations that demand less leadership and more hands-on detail-oriented management. In other words, he has the virtues of a good chief executive rather than a middle manager.
3. It's the Nature of the Presidency: Presidents -- indeed, governments as a whole -- tend to be more successful when they can bend the vast resources of the government to a single, measurable objective, and tend to do less well in managing complex situations. Indeed, I'd argue that this is one of the basic insights of conservatism: governments are good at "linear" objectives like fighting wars and moonshots and less so at things that involve a lot of small daily adjustments to react to changing circumstances. (Charles Krauthammer has made this point repeatedly).