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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 18 October 2004

Topic: Political Theory

Say what? Who are you going to believe - me or your own eyes?

Okay then - the week starts out with more and more web logs and commentary sites each now proclaiming to be a "Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community" - in reaction to the New York Times Sunday magazine item Without a Doubt by Ron Suskind (October 17, 2004) -a discussion of how George Bush makes decisions. (One such site is here.)

What's that about? Suskind gives us this -
... In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
And we're off to the races.

Examples of reality weenies of no faith misunderestimating the power of knowing what should be and isn't so but ought to be?

We are doing well in Iraq and our troops get just what they need and ask for. Bush says he has given his generals in Iraq just what they asked for. Remember what Bush said in the second debate -
I remember sitting in the White House looking at those generals, saying do you have what you need in this war? Do you have what it takes? I remember going down to the basement of the White House the day we committed our troops as last resort. Looking at Tommy Franks and the generals on the ground. Asking them do we have the right plan with the right troop level? And they looked me in the eye and said, yes, sir, Mr. President.

Of course, I listened to our generals. That's what a president does. A president tests the strategy and relies upon good military people to execute that strategy.

Note this:

General Reported Shortages In Iraq
Situation Is Improved, Top Army Officials Say
Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post, Monday, October 18, 2004; Page A01
The top U.S. commander in Iraq complained to the Pentagon last winter that his supply situation was so poor that it threatened Army troops' ability to fight, according to an official document that has surfaced only now.

The lack of key spare parts for gear vital to combat operations, such as tanks and helicopters, was causing problems so severe, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez wrote in a letter to top Army officials, that "I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations with rates this low." ...
Sanchez doesn't get it. The man is obviously far too reality-based.

Then the Associated Press reports this -
The militant group led by terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be behind many deadly attacks in Iraq, has declared its allegiance to Osama bin Laden, citing the need for unity against "the enemies of Islam."

The declaration, which appeared Sunday on a Web site used as a clearinghouse for statements by militant groups, said that al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group and al-Qaida had been in communication eight months ago and that "viewpoints were exchanged" before the dialogue was interrupted.

"God soon blessed us with a resumption in communication, and the dignified brothers in al-Qaida understood the strategy of Tawhid and Jihad," said the statement, whose authenticity could not be confirmed.

The statement said al-Zarqawi considered bin Laden "the best leader for Islam's armies against all infidels and apostates." ...
Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, comments - I've not yet heard the official administration response, but only imagine it will go something like this: "You see? We told you so!"

Yep - making our own reality by how we conduct our fight on terrorism - and we always said there really were ties between the two, really, there were. We made the reality happen. As our friend Joseph, the expatriate guy in Paris writes us -
If this isn't positive proof of the wrong-headedness of GWB's foreign policy, I don't know what is....

Who knew when Bush promised to be a "unifier" he was talking about unifying our enemies?
Ah well, the world became what we imagined it would become.

There are, of course, more reactions to the Suskind article on the Bush epistomology. Kevin Drum here dives deeper into what's up with this scorn for and contempt for reality.
[T]he record of the past four years doesn't leave much doubt that Bush has little use for inconvenient data and disdains anyone who fails to immediately see the things that seem so obvious to him -- often with disastrous results. More interesting, though, is why Bush acts this way, and to understand that you have to read Suskind's piece pretty carefully.

At first glance, Suskind seems to be saying that Bush's character is driven by an almost unnatural, faith-based confidence in his own instincts -- a sort of Mao-like faith, as Juan Cole puts it. But he's actually saying just the opposite: that Bush's actions over the past four years are those of a person with a startling lack of self confidence, someone who's afraid that even a fleeting contact with an opposing idea will deflate him completely. Deep down Bush knows perfectly well that the facts don't always back up his instincts, and that's why he avoids them. He's afraid he might change his mind.

Why is he afraid to change his mind? I don't know. But he sure does go to nearly neurotic lengths to avoid hearing anything that might cause him to doubt his own beliefs. That's hardly the sign of a man with genuine confidence in himself, is it?
Ah yes, reality is scary stuff. And Bush is scared, and we as a people are scared. So avoid it at all costs. You can win an election that way.

Joseph again points out where this is leading -
I saw an amusing thing on CNBC last week.

The reporters were set up at a local greasy spoon in Backwater, PA (pop 890) and getting the customers' takes on Bush, Kerry, and the debates. One man favored Bush because Kerry goes around getting other peoples opinions, getting a consensus. "And consensus," the fool went on, "is the absence of leadership".

Is this guy reading "Leadership secrets of Attila the Hun?"

What is wrong with US, as I've suggested before, is that it's been so long since we've seen real leadership we no longer know what it looks like.

This man's statement is at odds with 5000 years of management theory from Sun Tzu to Jack Welsh. What did Hitler do, if not build consensus? He certainly did not impose it. Doesn't work. Churchill, Ike, whomever else you want to name? Same answer.

And yet, this is how many people feel.

Once again, I invoke the evil gang leader in "The Magnificent Seven" explaining to the cornered seven why the townsfolk conspired to let the bad guys back into town.

"You give people too many choices. They don't like that. With me, it's simple."
Reality? Complexity? Who needs it? Leadership has nothing to do with that? That idea is in the air - Bush will make things simple and clear. And often wrong. And far from the reality of events. But simple and clear...

Is that enough?

Okay, to switch metaphors, another reaction to the Suskind item is to think in terms of simple management theory, as Mark Schmitt does here (my emphases) -
What interested me most about the article was that it resolved a puzzle about the administration that seems to have come up in a half-dozen conversations recently. I've tried to expand on the managerial argument for the profound domestic and international failures. Based on no knowledge at all except what I've read in Suskind, Woodward, etc, I have always imagined that the president is one of those bad managers who is so focused on making the decision ("I'm the one who decides") and on short, conclusive meetings that he doesn't allow a full airing of information to come out, or to hear disagreements. The meeting that in the Clinton White House would have stretched into two hours, blowing the entire day's schedule but ultimately leading to a smarter result, is in the Bush White House "resolved" when the CEO speaks, and everyone leaves the room, most of them a little doubtful about the choice but loyal to the commander-in-chief. A lot of people I've talked to think that managerial analysis is short-sighted: "It's religion. It's got something to do with religion and fundamentalism," they respond... Suskind's article largely confirms my speculation about Bush's managerial style: Doesn't ask many direct or penetrating questions. Limits sharply the number of people who have access to him. Reaches decisions abruptly, and then treats doubts or alternative views as disloyalty, etc. And as a result, he has wound up way, way over his head....

So that's the answer: It's the bad CEO, first, but his solution for the crisis he's created is a turn to an ever more absolutist religious certainty. Religious faith is not a constant anchor in his life, as it was for Jimmy Carter and to a lesser degree Clinton and I think also, based on his fascinating answer the other night, Kerry. Rather, it is a quick fix for an untenable situation, with one piece of religion -- Calvinist certainty -- pulled out of the whole and used to deal with a secular problem. I don't sleep better knowing that, but I'm a little less confused.
Yep - and then there's this -
Bush's belief that he is literally God's instrument is periodically denied yet far more often asserted, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle. In fact, Bush's approach to governance is virtually impossible without this belief. When you don't ask for facts, for understanding, for knowledge - indeed, when these things become your enemy - you can only proceed if you believe that your instincts are beyond questioning. If God is working through you, then your every whim is divinely sanctioned. In June 2003, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Bush told then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, "God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

In Suskind's article, we hear yet more quotes from Bush supporters who assert without embarrassment that God installed George W. Bush in the White House, and Bush is merely acting out God's will. There are doubtless many people, perhaps millions, who agree. So here's my challenge to them: If John Kerry wins this election, will you have the courage to proclaim that God now has decided that John Kerry should be president, and George W. Bush should not? Will you devote yourself to aiding Kerry in his work, since if he wins it is God's will? Or do you only believe God has intervened in American elections when you like the result?
Now THAT is an interesting question.

By the way, for a review of what top management folks think of "the Bush method" see May 9, 2004 - The CEO President (folks are getting nervous) in Just Above Sunset.

Other "Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community" are Mark Kleiman here and Matthew Yglesias with this - a growing movement that has found its motto.

And then there is just straight reporting.

Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel and John Walcott note this regarding the Bush administration's lack of planning for postwar rebuilding. Just before the war started...
Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material -- and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."

... The U.S. intelligence community had been divided about the state of Saddam's weapons programs, but there was little disagreement among experts throughout the government that winning the peace in Iraq could be much harder than winning a war.

"The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious," warned an Army War College report that was completed in February 2003, a month before the invasion. Without an "overwhelming" effort to prepare for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the report warned: "The United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making."

A half-dozen intelligence reports also warned that American troops could face significant postwar resistance. This foot-high stack of material was distributed at White House meetings of Bush's top foreign policy advisers, but there's no evidence that anyone ever acted on it.

"It was disseminated. And ignored," said a former senior intelligence official.

The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency was particularly aggressive in its forecasts, officials said. One briefing occurred in January 2003. Another, in April 2003, weeks after the war began, discussed Saddam's plans for attacking U.S. forces after his troops had been defeated on the battlefield.

Similar warnings came from the Pentagon's Joint Staff, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the CIA's National Intelligence Council. The council produced reports in January 2003 titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq."

Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Iraqi troops were trying to maintain their grip on Kuwait, "they are now defending their country," said a senior defense official, summarizing the Joint Staff's warnings. "You are going to get serious resistance. This idea that everyone will join you is baloney. But it was dismissed."
Think about it. As Kevin Drum puts it -
The Army War College. A half dozen intelligence reports. The DIA. The Pentagon. The State Department. There was plenty of warning. The Bushies just chose not to believe it because....why? Because they just didn't want to, apparently.

Reality based community indeed.
Or as our friend Joseph writes us -
This article details how the monster was made. As many of us noticed at the time, our CEO administration ignored the advice of the best minds at West Point, the Army and the DOD, and the last 90 years of our experience the governance of successful large-scale US military action abroad. They reached for the rulebook, and threw it away. All for a theory.

With leaders like this, who needs enemies?

What's going on? How about this Grand Unifying Theory from Matthew Yglesias:
... the creeping Putinization of American life (the Sinclair incident, the threatening letter to Rock The Vote, the specter of the top official in the House of Representatives making totally baseless charges of criminal conduct against a major financier of the political opposition [shades of Mikhail Khodorovsky], the increasing evidence that the 'terror alert' system is nothing more than a political prop, the 'torture memo' asserting that the president is above the law, the imposition of rigid discipline on the congress, the abuse of the conference committee procedure, the ability of the administration to lie to congress without penalty, the exclusion of non-supporters from Bush's public appearances, etc.)
Okay, you have to follow what's going on in Russia today to get what he means, and follow all the details of current domestic political events - like that cease and desist letter to Rock The Vote covered here - to see what he means. It fits. But it is a bit much for those who don't keep a close eye on the ebb and flow of all this craziness.

All of the loyal opposition proclaiming to be "Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community" is far easier to grasp, as a unifying concept.

And as mentioned in Just Above Sunset here on October 17th, it has come down to the question of faith versus analysis as a basic way of dealing with the world.

This election? This is a plebiscite on whether we choose a leader for this world - with uncomfortable events and facts that are equally uncomfortable - or a leader connected to the next world, the world of Jesus returning and The Rapture. Reality or faith - do we choose to become an Evangelical Christian Theocracy honoring God, or do we work on the problems in the here and now? Time to choose.

Cool. I see where this is heading. Time to leave.

Posted by Alan at 22:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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