Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Anti-Lincoln

Here is a rather interesting headline: President moves to rein in 2 agencies. I guess that's one way to put it.

After years of finger-pointing and tension within his foreign policy agencies, President Bush is moving aggressively to tame the two most unwieldy agencies -- the CIA and the State Department -- by installing reliable allies at the helm with instructions to clamp down on dissenting career officials, advisers to the president said.

I suppose no one will disagree witht he basic facts and basic interpretation of the facts in that statement, but the evaluation of those facts and interpretations will vary widely. Joshua Michael Marshall, for example, offers a somewhat different slant than the White House insiders quoted in the Globe article:

There has been a running battle along these 'political appointees' versus 'the professionals' lines at the Pentagon, the CIA and, to a much lesser degree, the State Department for more than three years. And by and large the Bush administration's 'political appointees' have been wrong almost every time. There are a few exceptions at the Pentagon -- the early stages of the Afghan campaign being the best example. But at the CIA it's really been pretty much a shut-out. And a number of those screw-ups have been ones of catastrophic proportions.

* * *

And the upshot of all that we've seen, the result of all those struggles over the last three years is that the 'appointees' are purging the 'professionals'. Another way to put it is that the folks who were always wrong and often catastrophically wrong are rooting out the folks who were often right and sometimes somewhat wrong. The answer to politicized intelligence, it turns out, is a more thorough politicization of intelligence and the elimination of those who resisted political pressure.

Given that -and it seems pretty much the truth - it's hard to read about the President "reining in" anyone without a feeling of dread.

(Should I explain the title? I may. The north during the Civil War was plagued by politically appointed generals. On the whole, they may not have been any worse than the regular army generals and various volunteers who rose to power, but at the top, they were a disaster. A few of them - some purely political, some regulars who were in the politicians' pockets - held real power, and made hash of it. Benjamin Butler - John C. Fremont - quite a few more. The story of Lincoln winning the war was the story of the political generals being replaced by professionals. So - Bush - compared, in some circles to Lincoln - follows roughly the opposite track. For while the balance of competence is about the same in the civil war - political generals are incompetent and dangerous to our cause, professionals (while they cover a range of abilities, and are often an unimaginative lot) more or less do what they are supposed to do - the direction and results are the opposite. The story of Bush losing the war is the story of Bush purging the professionals for the politicians.

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