Motivated Reasoning and the Launch of Vox.Com: An Ongoing Discussion
Live from Caribou Coffee CXXXVII: For April 9: Media Advisory: Neighborhoods of Concentrated Poverty, with Paul Jargowsky, Patrick Sharkey, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sherrilyn Ifill at the Economic Policy Institute

Wednesday Hoisted from the Archives: Me on Tim Burke on "Exactly How Do the Cossacks Work for the Czar?": For April 9, 2014

Brad DeLong (2008) This Is Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality...: Do the Cossacks Work for the Czar?: There is an awful lot in this post by Timothy Burke: John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History. But let me, for now, focus on one issue and one issue only. Tim writes:

Easily Distracted » Blog Archive » One-A-Day: John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History: [I]n Zimbabwe... there is first a disconnect between what imperial leaders did and what actors on the colonial periphery did, and that the actions of the latter sometimes drove the former, and that decisions made at either (or both) levels often were internally contradictory, improvisational as well as pre-determined, based on fragmentary or patchwork kinds of knowledge, and frequently opaque to the actors themselves....

I’m perpetually skeptical about whether we ever ought to talk about individual intentions in an atomistic way... assign proportionate value to different components of intention, and equally skeptical about whether we can ever atomistically describe the relationship between intention and result. That’s just with one individual, but it’s even more so once we talk about how a decision actually is made by small groups of advisors and is then transmitted to larger institutional networks....

[O]ne of the interesting bits of information to come out of the Iraq War so far has to do with why US intelligence was so off about Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. People who want to argue that intelligence was purely concocted for political purposes are too simplistic, people who want to reduce it all to the will of Dick Cheney or a few neocons are too simplistic, people who want to make it a sincere mistake are too simplistic. Some of what strikes me as actually involved includes....

[A]ctors inside the Bush Administration made it known that they, even more than their predecessors, would not welcome intelligence which blatantly contradicted beliefs or assumptions that they were inclined to make. No one ever sends an order down that says, “Here’s the casus belli we need, please write it up! kthnx.” This kind of pressure gets exerted when someone like Cheney says in a conversation that includes key advisors and heads of executive departments that intelligence has been “too timid.”... Cheney (or various neocons) could believe that statement as a reaction to some factual understanding of the history of US intelligence... and could not entirely know themselves why they say it, or how that statement is likely to be received or interpreted....

Another thing at play: how the movement of information through institutions is rather like a game of telephone, that there is a kind of drift and transformation which has less to do with intentionality and more to do with processes of translation, reparsing, repackaging and repurposing as information travels from office to office, up and down hierarchies....

I could add more, but it seems to me that this is what a social history of state or institutional action at the top of hierarchies might begin to look like. I wouldn’t want someone like Gaddis to take this sort of thinking on board so far that it messes up narrative and explanatory clarity, but I do think traditional political and diplomatic history sometimes mirrors a flaw of a lot of social science. Some social scientists confuse explanatory models for empirical reality; some political historians confuse explanatory narratives about decision-making for the messy processes that shape intentions and translate intentions into action and event.

I think that Tim Burke is both right and wrong. He is right: courts are the natural habitats of deceitful courtiers who tell the princes exactly what the princes want to hear, the people on the spot who control implementation matter in ways that the people around polished walnut tables in rooms with green silk walls do not, and the movement of information through bureaucracies does resemble a game of telephone with distortions amplified at every link.

But.

Those with sufficient virtu to become princes in this modern age are well aware of all these deficiencies of bureaucracies and courts.

When Lloyd Bentsen became Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, he scattered his--loyal--senate staff throughout the Treasury Department at all levels, and used them as a second, separate, parallel web of communication in order to gauge the distortions that were being introduced into the paper that crossed his desk by the game of bureaucratic telephone. When Kangxi became Emperor of China, he scattered the--loyal--hereditary bondsmen of his Manchu clan throughout the imperial Chinese bureaucracy at all levels, with instructions to write to him regularly through secret channels to tell him what was really going on, as a second, separate, parallel web of communication so that he could gauge who was telling him what he needed to know and who was telling him what they thought he wanted to hear.

It is reasonable to suppose that fifteen or twenty-five year olds raised by hereditary right to posts of especial distinction are bureaucratically unsophisticated--people who don't understand that pieces of information that come up through five layers of the hierarchy have been shaded a little bit at each level. It is reasonable to suppose that twenty-five or thirty-five year olds raised by hereditary right to positions of special ditinction are psychologically unsophisticated--do not understand that if they are pleased by and reward lies, they will ultimately be told nothing but pleasing lies.

But by the time anyone

  1. possesses sufficient virtu,
  2. is forty-five or fifty-five or sixty-five, and
  3. has seen the world, there is no excuse for not understanding that as a czar your cossacks respond to the incentives you set them, that you can change those incentives, and that you are responsible for the behavior that your incentives elicit.

By the time you are forty-five or fifty-five or sixty-five, you know very well that when you say that "intelligence has been 'too timid' in the past," what they hear you saying is "don't tell me what you think, tell me what I want to hear." George W. Bush--the feckless and virtu-less hereditary prince--may well not have clued in to the fact that Condi Rice had decided that if she told him what he needed to hear she might get fired, while if she told him what he wanted to hear she would get promoted. But Colin Powell knew damned well what the flow of "intelligence" from George Tenet to him was worth unverified just as the Kangxi Emperor or Lloyd Bentsen knew about what was reaching him through channel, and Colin Powell knew damned well that taking care not to try to verify it was a way of preserving his own options for the future. And Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld knew damned well--unless they are much farther into their dotage than I believe--that their confidence in Saddam Hussein's WMD program was based not on intelligence but on their judgment that they would have active WMD programs if they were Saddam Hussein.

The frictions and distortions of the bureaucracy and the court exist. They are, however, counterbalanced by the intelligence, the sophistication, and the energy of the principals at the top. If the czar wishes, the cossacks do work for him. And if the czar doesn't want to take the time to make the cossacks work for him--well, that is his decision and what happens is his will just as well.


And Henry Farrell and commenters then got into the mix:

Henry Farrell: Robust Action in the Topkapi Palace: "Brad DeLong disagrees with Timothy Burke on the practical consequences of the inscrutability of motivations among key figures in the Bush administration.

Not only do I think Brad is right on this, but his arguments (with the addition of a healthy dollop of economic sociology) help elucidate what’s happening in this post by Marty Lederman. First Tim:

One of the consequences of the perspective I’m taking is that I’m perpetually skeptical about whether we ever ought to... break down what an individual meant to do and assign proportionate value to different components of intention, and equally skeptical about whether we can ever atomistically describe the relationship between intention and result. That’s just with one individual, but it’s even more so once we talk about how a decision actually is made by small groups of advisors and is then transmitted to larger institutional networks.… One of the interesting bits of information to come out of the Iraq War so far has to do with why US intelligence was so off about Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. People who want to argue that intelligence was purely concocted for political purposes are too simplistic, people who want to reduce it all to the will of Dick Cheney or a few neocons are too simplistic, people who want to make it a sincere mistake are too simplistic.…

So at one level of action and knowledge, you can get a very granular, nuanced understanding of the extremely limited value of a source like “Curveball”, but a process rather like genetic drift starts to mutate that knowledge into something else by the time it reaches the layer where ultimate decisions are made.… I do think traditional political and diplomatic history sometimes mirrors a flaw of a lot of social science. Some social scientists confuse explanatory models for empirical reality; some political historians confuse explanatory narratives about decision-making for the messy processes that shape intentions and translate intentions into action and event.

Now Brad:

Tim Burke is both right and wrong. He is right: courts are the natural habitats of deceitful courtiers who tell the princes exactly what the princes want to hear, the people on the spot who control implementation matter in ways that the people around polished walnut tables in rooms with green silk walls do not, and the movement of information through bureaucracies does resemble a game of telephone with distortions amplified at every link. But. Those with sufficient virtu to become princes in this modern age are well aware of all these deficiencies of bureaucracies and courts.… Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld knew damned well—unless they are much farther into their dotage than I believe—that their confidence in Saddam Hussein’s WMD program was based not on intelligence but on their judgment.... If the czar wishes, the cossacks do work for him.

As I said, I’m with Brad on this, but I want to go one step further. The very fact of ambiguous motivations and uncertainty about what the people at the top really want can be a crucial source of strategic power for those people. By combining ambiguous information about the motivations of those in power with implicit incentives to please them, powerful people can strategically shape the things that underlings do and do not do, without ever specifically demanding that they do anything. This is a point that John Padgett and Christopher Ansell develop in their classic article on ‘robust action’ in the court of Cosimo de Medici.... This concept of robust action is one in which the actors at the center of the network never want to disclose their absolute interests and desires, because this would limit their options. Instead, they prefer to make others disclose their desires....

But in modern contexts, robust action helps the powerful in other ways. It allows the powerful to evade responsibility for their actions. If you never issue a direct order, instead allowing inferiors to infer your desires from what you don’t explicitly forbid, you make it extremely difficult for others to hold you accountable for what your inferiors end up doing. This is most likely what happened in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. There likely never were any formal orders to torture and humiliate inmates – instead, there was a diffuse understanding, encouraged by those at the top of the hierarchy, that torture and humiliation were appropriate and acceptable tools of interrogation. The same thing seems to have happened with the destruction of the CIA waterboarding tapes, as per Marty Lederman:

when the Commission closed up shop, mid-level CIA lawyers Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger told Jose Rodriguez that the destruction would then be lawful. (This advice was probably equivocal and might well have been mistaken. In light of the potential breadth of the broadly worded federal obstruction statutes, and the warnings that had been repeatedly given to the CIA not to destroy the tapes, it is unlikely that good lawyers could have advised Rodriguez that the coast was clear with any degree of confidence.) Rodriguez knew that if he asked anyone else, he might get conflicting legal advice, or even a directive not to destroy. And if Rodriguez didn’t ask for a direct order one way or the other, no one was eager to give him one.…

CIA General Counsel John Rizzo “advised” against the destruction. And then-CIA Director Porter Goss “recommended” against it. These are the verbs of officials who hope their advice goes unheeded: Notably, no one actually instructed Rodriguez not to destroy the tapes, or that it would be illegal to do so. Rodriguez therefore interpreted the repeated failure of his superiors to require retention of the tapes as an implicit green light to destroy—and he may well have been right about that, as a practical (if not a legal) matter.… Personally, I think it would be unfortunate to point the finger exclusively at Rodriguez and others at his level and below. The obvious wrongdoers were those in the CIA and White House who implicitly or expressly condoned the destruction by repeatedly failing to say “no.” But it is, of course, much more difficult to establish criminal culpability for such willful blindness. As the many at the CIA feared all along, the political folks who pushed for the program have left the career officials holding the bag

Marty may be right on grounds of fairness to say that Rodriguez shouldn’t be held entirely accountable, but there is an incentive problem for the future in letting mid-level people like him go. If underlings have well-grounded reason to fear that when they are prosecuted for their actions, they will be hung out to dry by their superiors in the absence of any explicit orders, then they are likely to demand explicit orders so as to protect themselves. And often, those superiors aren’t likely to want to give those orders explicitly, for all the obvious reasons.

More generally, the problem of ambiguity, reflects, as Brad says, to a very considerable degree the desires of those at the top. Moreover, it may be a crucial source of power for them. It allows them to blur lines of accountability and responsibility, by making underlings guess what they want, while never having the comfort of explicit instructions. Hence decisions by underlings over torture, to destroy tapes, to skew intelligence in the one way rather than another, that are based on well grounded inferences about the preferences of those above, but which don’t allow others later to reconstruct clear chains of causation and responsibility that lead from those at top to those who want to implement their wishes. That motivations may not be unambiguously discernible from context doesn’t mean that their motivations don’t exist, or that beliefs about those motivations aren’t important. Moreover, precisely that ambiguity over motivations allows for all sorts of strategic actions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

I think what Tim is doing is to over-emphasize the epistemological consequences of this ambiguity (we can never be entirely sure that Porter Goss wanted those tapes destroyed, and almost certainly we can never prosecute him for it), and under-emphasize the strategic consequences (that we can never prove what Porter Goss wanted, allows Porter Goss to get away with a lot of stuff that he couldn’t get away with otherwise). There may be contexts in which the epistemological consequences are more important than the strategic consequences, but I strongly suspect that the inner workings of the 2000-2008 Bush administration isn’t one of those contexts.

C. L. Ball 01.18.08 at 12:44 am: Padgett & Ansell describe a far more nebulous process and one more contingent on the network in Florence than the process and network identified by DeLong, Lederman and Henry. Cheney and Rumsfeld did not engage in “robust action” but established alternate intelligence analysis and policy-making fora that made them “boss” rather than “judge” to the hierarchy. They delegitimized themselves within the bureaucracy. Their real accomplishment was getting Congress to grant conditional authorization for war in Oct. 2002 without any claw-back provision....

joel hanes 01.18.08 at 2:16 am: By combining ambiguous information about the motivations of those in power with implicit incentives to please them, powerful people can strategically shape the things that underlings do and do not do, without ever specifically demanding that they do anything. And this is exactly how Reagan evaded responsibility for Iran-Contra, through “plausible deniability” — he never explicitly said “Guys, I want you to set up an independent paramilitary force with its own sources of funding, not under the control of Congress. Why don’t you try selling some of our armaments to our supposed enemies the Iranians (and see if you can swap some for those hostages while you’re at it). Then, we can have our boys really take the gloves off in Central America — raping a few nuns and mass murder of a bunch of peasants will really show those very liberal Comunists who’s boss in this hemisphere.” And since he didn’t actually come right out and say it, he wasn’t responsible for the fact that those treasonous plans were in fact carried out by Ollie “Higher Power == POTUS” North and his little cabal of conspirators. Even though it’s probably what Reagan wanted, or what his underlings thought he wanted.

rea 01.18.08 at 2:30 am: powerful people can strategically shape the things that underlings do and do not do, without ever specifically demanding that they do anything. “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”...

Anderson 01.18.08 at 3:10 am: "Even though it’s probably what Reagan wanted, or what his underlings thought he wanted." Reagan scarcely wanted any nuns raped; his Hollywood vision of “freedom fighters” excluded anything so sordid. He was simply unable to imagine what his trite slogans amounted to on the ground. In this respect (as in so many others), he was not out of the American mainstream. Au contraire....

seth edenbaum 01.18.08 at 4:11 am: You seem to have forgotten the major difference between Cheney et al and the Medici: the US is a democracy and Cheney is an elected representative of the people. “One of the consequences of the perspective I’m taking is that I’m perpetually skeptical about whether we ever ought to talk about individual intentions in an atomistic way.” In dreams begin responsibilities. The beauty of the the rule of law is that if it says you’re legally responsible then questions of absolute responsibility are rendered irrelevant. Law simplifies: you cover your ass or do the time. You don’t have to go into the metaphysics of the logic of the Miranda decision, you just have to know why it was the logical choice.

Timothy Burke 01.18.08 at 5:01 am: What I’m mostly meaning to do in that entry is suggest that there’s a modest problem with the way that some kinds of political history shorthands “decision-making”, in which intention-decision-action are all combined within the persona of a single leader, and there’s a simple noun-verb description of the decision. “Cheney did this-and-that” and so on, whereas intention-decision-action strike me as more institutional, more social and in some ways more indeterminate even when there’s a very decisive figure who is absolutely certain what he wants. (Which I agree describes Cheney.)...

Martin Wisse 01.18.08 at 7:50 am: This post is interesting, but it’s things like this… "People who want to argue that intelligence was purely concocted for political purposes are too simplistic, people who want to reduce it all to the will of Dick Cheney or a few neocons are too simplistic," …that get my goat. The reality of why the intelligence was bad was precisely because Cheney and his neocon friends had a preconcieved opinion, wanted to achieve a certain outcome and made sure that they got it. No need to create complicated theories about this. Just knowning about recent American political history, where Cheney and Rumsfeld et all came from, knowning how they had tried to pull exactly the same trick with the USSR as they did with Iraq (massively overestimating their capabilities to ensure a more hawkish policy), is enough. Because then you’ll also understand how much these people mistrusted the established bureaucracies, from State to the CIA and Pentagon, how obsessed they are with second guessing and knowing better than the professionals and how much they want to be in control, by either establishing new power centres or using informal groups of advisors....

Doug 01.18.08 at 10:12 am: “If you never issue a direct order, instead allowing inferiors to infer your desires from what you don’t explicitly forbid, you make it extremely difficult for others to hold you accountable for what your inferiors end up doing.” Wannsee, for instance?

Dave 01.18.08 at 10:27 am: Never was a thread in more legitimate need of a Godwin, this is exactly how most historians now understand the inner workings of the Third Reich… Which, to be honest, only makes Hitler an outstanding example of the workings of unaccountable power, rather than the vile counter-example to all things good he might more prissily be seen as….

John Emerson 01.18.08 at 1:05 pm: In my own political discussions I’ve bumped up against versions of Burke’s point of view several times, the gist being that neither organizations nor individuals ever act intentionally, but that actions and decisions just emerge from within complex psychological and social processes, with no one responsible for group decisions, and with there being no real moment of truth or moment of decision for individuals. Popular philosophical theories apparently make this interpretation of any decision formally necessary, or at least, irresistably tempting to sophisticated thinkers. I’m more of the view (Henry’s, I think) that “The Cossacks work for the Czar”*, even though the Czar retains plausible deniability. By vagueness the Czar keeps multiple options open, and by vagueness the Czar is able to wash his hands of responsibility. It’s true that sometimes the choice of a specific action at a specific time is forced by events, but that doesn’t mean it “just happened” — the action was a prepared response to an anticipated eventuality. The application of this model which has met general resistance is in the area of the media, above all once-respected the New York Times and the Washington Post. My understanding is that Czars Sulzberger and Graham (and the others) have thrown in their lot with the neocon / antitax / anti-labor right (without committing themselves on any of the other conservative issues), and that individual bylined reporters and columnists (except Krugman) have figured out what’s expected of them. (My guess is that Krugman, who was quite hostile to the left of the Democratic Party at the time of his hiring, was a hiring mistake). The Somerby-DeLong school of media criticism always focuses on the visible and doesn’t seem to want to look higher up the chain of command. This explanation is old hat among left media critics, of course, but liberals don’t talk to them. At DeLong “Bloix” explained that the Time, the Post, and the Wall Street Journal are competing to become the house organ of the ultra-conservative super-rich, and that makes sense to me. For an advertising salesman, a single high-end reader buying big-ticket items is worth ten low-end readers....

Timothy Burke 01.18.08 at 1:16 pm: I don’t mean to say that organizations and individuals never act intentionally. But it seems to me that there is a style of writing about politics that makes it sound as if they always do. That’s why we’d need a “social history of the decision”: to sort out the times where they do from the times where there’s something a bit messier going on....

aimai 01.18.08 at 3:22 pm: Forgive me for throwing my two cents in here. Its not my field but I’m very interested in this discussion. What it boils down to is that our model of the bush/cheney white house is essentially that they are exploiting the ambiguity of power by issuing some of their more egregious orders in the form of vague questions like “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest” or “man, I love me some Jack Bauer shit…don’t you?” But there are other models of power and organization–I’m thinking specifically of the model that I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) to the Captain of a ship who is considered personally responisble and liable for everything that happens on his ship even if he is not present and some lower level officer is actually in charge of the ship–for example if the captain is not on the bridge during an incident? Perhaps we should be agitating for either pro forma prosecution of all top officials at the end of their term (as the Romans did with their provincial governors) or some kind of strict liability for top officials in which the showing of a written order or demonstration of a verbal order is a “get out of jail free card” for all subordinates as long as it is accomplished by the instant jailing of the top administrators?...

Dan Nexon 01.18.08 at 4:07 pm: I’m having trouble forming my thoughts on this, but I think, building on Chris Ball’s comments, there’s a danger of conflating two dynamics here. One is the manipulation of a central location in a segmented network through ambiguous & multivocal signaling, such that other actors impose their own (favorable) interpretation of the central actor’s disposition onto him or her. Because the segmented network precludes lateral communication, other actors fail to communicate their disparate understandings of the central actor’s dispositions, thus enhancing his/her capacity for robust action. The other involves the manipulation of delegation to maintain plausible deniability. In this case, a subaltern carries out unpopular policies such that the head of the hierarchy can say “that wasn’t my fault.” Here, the manipulation of ambiguity stems not from the lack of lateral communication across the network, but the opacity of the relationship between the central actor and the subaltern. Indeed, there may be active or tacit collusion on the part of relevant actors to hide the central actor’s responsibility for the policy outcome. I’m not sure that we have much evidence of the former occurring within the Bush administration, but a good deal of evidence about the latter. The latter, in turn, contributed to its ability (now basically dead) to engage in multivocal signaling across different audiences outside of the Executive Branch, such as those in the American Electorate. (See here and here). Now, I admit that my own views on Padget and Ansell’s seminal article are inflected by the ways that I’ve modified their argument in application (PDF), so caveat emptor....

Martin Wisse 01.18.08 at 5:24 pm: 'In truth, the intelligence was wrong because it was done badly, and for the most part by CIA. The facts about “Curve Ball” and the aluminum tubes have been made public, but they were only the icing on a deplorable cake. There was a fairly solid consensus across the intelligence community that Iraq had WMDs—near-total assurance of chemical weapon stocks, and high confidence that some sort of nuclear and biological weapon R & D were underway.' I see where you’re coming from, but this is wrong. The fact that the CIA and others had to rely on such weak sauce as aluminium tubes supposedly used for making the nuclear bombs, something that was quickly debunked at the time, shows how little real intelligence there was to justify the invasion. Remember also Colin Powell’s deplorable performance at the UN, which was supposed to show once and for all that Saddam was developing WMDs, but had to rely on pictures of weather balloon support vehicles! That it was all reported as if this all made sense does not mean it did, but the establishment in the US and UK was with Bush and Blair in wanting a nice quick war, so hence criticism was muted. Most people at the time, to the tune of at least 15 million marching against it, knew or suspected better. Moreover, so did experts like Scott Ritter, who had been part of UNSCOM and who was trying desperately to get anybody interested in learning the truth. I do think Timothy Burke has a point with his argument that it is often too simplistic to imagine that the wishes of a world leader determine reality, but with the War on Iraq he has a bad example. And as John Emerson says, at times this sort of thing is used to take away the blame for evil policies or unfortunate events.

Timothy Burke 01.18.08 at 5:34 pm: Yeah, fair enough, Martin, it may not be a good example. I was primarily trying to think aboout the way Gaddis writes about the Cold War in my entry, and use contemporary examples. I also think that Daniel is right that there is a lot more of the “plausible deniability” form of this way of making decisions going on in this Administration than the “indeterminacy” form....

Henry 01.18.08 at 8:12 pm: c.l. ball and Dan – I did try to make it clear in the post that the mechanism that I was talking about was a different one than in the Padgett and Ansell one – but perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough. That said, I do think that there is considerably more robust action going on here than you give credit for. Take, for example, Rice in 2000-2004. She was arguably the worst NSA in a generation, but was extremely successful in the ‘nasty strategic game’ that was the Bush administration. This was in large part because she successfully cultivated an ambiguity as to what her actual views and intentions were, persuading both realists and neo-cons that she was on their side, and priming her for the jump to her new job. Dan’s linkage of the different mechanisms is an extremely useful clarification and something that bears more thought and work (Dan – if you get a paper out of this, you need to say in a footnote that this began in the comments section in CT). And on the Nazi state analogy, yes. I haven’t seen much political science work on this though – mostly what I have seen is historians working in a post-Poulantzasian vein. This work is really fascinating (it corrects for the bias of us IR types to see the state as a unified, or at least rational entity), but I would love to see some proper comparative work to determine whether this kind of mode of governance is replicated to a greater or lesser extent in other administrations, and what seems to explain variation in it....

RW 01.18.08 at 9:45 pm: Perhaps this is the core of the naval tradition that command must bear total responsibility, to cut through the Gordian knot of deniability: Intents and actions are largely irrelevant, the burden of outcome rests utterly upon the captain; to share success as s/he wishes, in failure to sink alone. It would appear that the habit of allowing poor leadership to reward itself for failure and success alike has greater implications than previously appreciated....

John Emerson 01.19.08 at 2:38 pm: I agree with Cranky. I don’t trust the Democrats to undo Cheney’s work, either. The great political strategist of our time is Ariel “Facts on the Ground” Sharon. You screw things up so badly that they can’t be fixed, and then you take advantage of the mess to put your own plan into effect, and if it wasn’t actually legal in the first place, what difference does it make? Though I think that the Bush team really did expect the subjugation of Iraq to be much easier than it was. They were already planning the invasion of Syria or Iran (or maybe Venezuela or Cuba), but they had to postpone everything. But the Iraq war was still a success, in that it closed off a lot of options that the Bush-Cheney team didn’t want to see. Dsquared’s statement needs revision. “Give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics: (i) It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration, (ii) It was significant enough in scale that I’d have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it), (iii) It wasn’t in some important way completely f—-ed up during the execution plausibly could have been regarded as an effort to attain its publicly stated goal....

james woodyatt 01.20.08 at 6:29 pm: Anybody with any personal integrity who has ever found themselves unexpectedly working in an organization where the leadership gives its highest priority directions by not explicitly forbidding to do that which is actually expected has noticed one of the organizing principles not mention in any of the articles above, namely that underlings who demand explicit orders or who ask pointed questions about what the leadership actually intends as opposed to what they are saying are quickly replaced with underlings who are eager to please the leadership by any means available. Having been one of those people (as an employee of Enron Broadband Services from May 2000 to May 2001), I must say that having some besotted academic tell me that I can’t really induce the intentions of the personalities who make such staffing decisions is one of the things that makes me despair for the state of American academia. Shorter JHW: Oh fergawdzakes, don’t you people have anything better to do with your time?...

Comments