Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Just Another Bad Idea

Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize- winning writer, is out with a new book exposing disturbing details of the ramp up to the Iraq war. He asserts that the Bush White House didn’t misinterpret pre-war intelligence, they manufactured it. Let’s face it, Bush-Cheney and the Neo-Cons took us to war because they damn-well felt like it. Na├»ve and patriotic Americans will discount this because they ask themselves the logical question, “Why would the President do such a thing?” The easy answer is that he did it because he could, but there’s a more complicated answer that gets closer to the truth, and this is what I want to write about today.

In 2004, when I was still counting myself among the majority of Americans who favored the war at that time, I spent a morning with Charles Krauthammer in a group discussion about the Neo-Con philosophy as it related to Iraq. The Neo-Cons believed at the time (most of them still believe) that democracy could be forced on Iraq, and it would spread to neighboring Middle Eastern Arab and Shiite countries. Krauthammer cited examples of forced democracy taking hold and thriving in the post WWII countries of Germany and Japan, but he completely missed the bigger picture. The German democracy didn’t spread to the Soviet Union, and the Japanese democracy didn’t spread to North Korea and China, and—in fact—the case can be made that the new democracies imposed after WWII actually hardened the neighboring totalitarian views of China, North Korea, and the Soviet Union. So the question is this, “How did the Neo-Cons get it so wrong?”

The process is known as, “groupthink,” and the mechanism that lubricates the process is known as, “happy talk.” Basically, Bush and Cheney gathered in a room with Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearle and Condi Rice, and they talked themselves into the notion that democracy could be spread around an entire region of the world as though it was some kind of contagious living organism. Nobody in the room acted the part of the naysayer or Devil’s advocate, and pathetic old Krauthammer just sat waiting in the wings to glow with tribute when the Neo-Con plan bore fruit. As far as I know, he’s still waiting. They felt assured of a successful outcome because they wanted it, “real bad.”

This wasn’t the first failure that came from “groupthink” and “happy talk,” and it won’t be the last. NASA managers sent the Challenger astronauts to their deaths because the managers wanted a quick launch, “real bad.” JFK’s military planners talked themselves into the Bay of Pigs invasion because they wanted a victory over Castro, “real bad.” Business managers do this every day with similar disastrous results. Sometimes it happens in failed corporations like Enron, and sometimes it happens in highly successful corporations like Pfizer, and here’s the thing that is truly amazing— every time it happens, the disaster comes as a complete surprise to the managers. Needless to say, the failure in Iraq came as a complete surprise to the Neo-Cons.

More than 4000 American servicemen are now dead, along with untold tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, all because of a bad idea. But when the tragedy is taken down to its essence, the only thing that stands out is the fact that this particular bad idea was hatched by people with immense power, resulting in chaos that is being felt around the world. Other than that, it was just another run-of-the-mill bad idea. This is the new reality in a world where people of limited intelligence who lead entire nations and who command immense military power think they can get by with just applying simple management techniques while they confront global problems with the carelessness of a PlayStation video gamer. There’s an old saying that should be the epitaph for George W. Bush, “for every complex problem there’s a simple wrong solution.”

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