Day By Day

Thursday, October 20, 2005

More Mid-level Bureaucratic Complaints -- Wilkerson's Conspiracy Theories

The Financial Times has an explosive story about Bush's diplomacy. It charges:

Vice-President Dick Cheney and a handful of others had hijacked the government's foreign policy apparatus, deciding in secret to carry out policies that had left the US weaker and more isolated in the world, the top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed on Wednesday.

In a scathing attack on the record of President George W. Bush, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Mr Powell until last January, said: “What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.

“Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences.”

Mr Wilkerson said such secret decision-making was responsible for mistakes such as the long refusal to engage with North Korea or to back European efforts on Iran.

Do say!

It also resulted in bitter battles in the administration among those excluded from the decisions.
Well that certainly is true. In fact,

Mr Wilkerson said his decision to go public had led to a personal falling out with Mr Powell, whom he served for 16 years at the Pentagon and the State Department.
Wilkerson attributes that to Powell's determination to be a loyal soldier, but there seems to be more to it than that.

Read the article here.

It seems more likely that Secy. Powell has a much broader view of the whole diplomatic process than does his deputy, and sincerely holds a much different view on the matter.

Note, for instance, this article from AP:

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday the United States is "not doing bad at all" diplomatically, despite anti-American sentiment over the war in Iraq.

"If you stand back a bit," Powell told an audience at the University at Buffalo, "you might see we have done very well in most parts of the world."
Powell, a guest in the university's Distinguished Speakers Series, outlined strides made in Europe, China and Asia, and predicted nuclear disputes with North Korea and Iran would be solved diplomatically.

Read it here.

Powell has a point -- an excellent one. The contest with western European powers over the Iraq war has turned out to be an overall plus for Bush. It is the French and Germans, not the US, that were isolated by the controversy, and revelation of the Oil-for-Food scandal has tarnished their standing, not Bush's.As Powell has noted, the US has made major diplomatic strides with regard to Europe, China, and Asia in general, and has led the way in addressing the problems of Africa. The US is also promoting needed reform at major NGO's like the UN and the World Bank, and has three stupendous successes on its record. Five years ago the world was on the brink of nuclear warfare as Pakistan and India went eyeball to eyeball over Kashmir. Bush defused the situation so successfully that we are now close allies with both powers and they are cooperating on a wide range of problems. The denuclearization of Qaddafi's Lybia is another major triumph that is too little noted, and the management of the Korean crisis has turned out very well. Bush rightly refused to engage in bilateral talks and insisted on Chinese involvement in the solution. He achieved that and now China, not just the US, has its credibility on the line if Korea misbehaves again.

There is something known as the "Colonel's Fallacy" that refers to the inability of mid-level managers to see the big picture. They focus intensely on the small part of the puzzle that is their responsibility, but fail to see how that relates to the larger whole. Col Wilkerson's critique of the Bush administration, which by any fair assessment has had a stupendously successful record in foreign affairs, is an excellent example of this principle, as was Richard Clarke's earlier critique of intelligence gathering.

Mid-level carping is probably inevitable, and occasionally valuable, but usually should not be taken too seriously. Col. Wilkerson's complaints are one such case.

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