Barone Reports on Risen

Barone analyzes EU think in the midst of US policy. Unfortunately, our constitution weights the power of the elected heavily, which gets in the way of bureacratic expertise. To best implement this

Elected officials like the president and vice president and top presidential appointees should sit quietly in their chairs. They should not meet, at least not very often. They should wait for career government employees—”the experts who understand the region”—to “forge a consensus.”

Thanks to Instapundit.

Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice – three know-nothings if there ever were. They may well have gotten some things quite wrong, but we might expect some little humility from the “experts” whose declarations about the Arab streets, etc. have also proved fallible. But that’s the nice thing about being a bureaucrat – you are less likely to be grilled about what happened on your watch than asked to do some Monday morning quarterbacking. No wonder they develop unrealistic beliefs in their own abilities. (Listen to Joe Wilson for a while.)

Instapundit credits Right Wing Pundit with the mention; that blog notes:

Entrenched bureaucracies cost money and are part of why we failed to anticipate an event like 9/11. Risen’s sentiments are undemocratic, and frighten me much more than any wire-tap ever has.

16 thoughts on “Barone Reports on Risen”

  1. If you really pin them down, you’ll find that most leftists don’t really believe in democracy. They believe in autocracy, rule by an enlightened elite (themselves) who should be granted power because of their wisdom and good intentions.

    The problem with democracy is that “the people” won’t listen to their betters and vote how they’re told.

    That shines through very clearly when you read the EU constitution (if you can stay awake). The structure of it contains elections, but those who are elected are so removed from the people who actually wield power and do things as to insulate the wielders-of-power almost totally from any accountability to the voters. It’s really quite scary. If the EU constitution ever gets ratified, the resulting system will be about as democratic as the USSR was — and that won’t be the only resemblance between the EU and USSR.

  2. The thing that’s so ironic about protecting EU policy-making ability from the rabble is that they are much more likely to encourage the kind of political extremism that Europe made itself famous for in the last century.

    When the respectable rulers refuse to talk about controversial but PC-related issues like immigration, the people who see these issues as important will gravitate to unrespectable folks, like Le Pen.

    It also means that it is much harder to turn the ship of state away from the disastrous socialistic policies the EU currently employs, meaning that things will continue to get worse until the Europeans again turn to their tried-and-true answer in a crisis: the strong man on a horse.

  3. Den Bestes comment:
    ‘The problem with democracy is that “the people” won’t listen to their betters and vote how they’re told.’

    reminds me of Mark Twains:
    “The people have spoked – the bastards!”

  4. I don’t think the problem in Europe is the bureaucratic elite.  On the contrary, I think the problem is the electorate.  The French and the Dutch did not reject the EU constitution because it was too socialist or bureaucratic, they rejected it because it was not socialist enough.  They were outraged at even token attempts at reform.

    When the people rose up in Spain, after the Madrid bombings, it was to install a government that would retreat, appease, and capitulate.

    And these attitudes are not unique to the Europeans.  A majority of Americans in the last presidential election voted for the quintessential European elitist candidate.   In fact, it’s likely he would have won, were it not for an anti-democratic mechanism:   the Electoral College.

  5. A majority of Americans in the last presidential election voted for the quintessential European elitist candidate. In fact, it’s likely he would have won, were it not for an anti-democratic mechanism: the Electoral College.

    George W. Bush is “the quintessential European elitist candidate”??? I thought that described Kerry.


  6. George W. Bush is “the quintessential European elitist candidate”??? I thought that described Kerry.

    Mea maxima culpa, James.  Thanks for correcting my misinformation.  George Bush, not John Kerry, won a majority of the popular vote in 2004 by a margin of approx. three million votes.

  7. I read this and it reminded me vividly of that BBC TV show “Yes, Minister” and its followup “Yes, Prime Minister.” The logic follows exactly. The writer thinks that the elected officials can’t be trusted to do the right thing and so must be ignored. We are even getting a little of it here with the spying stories in the NY Times and the rendition. The bureaucracy runs it all.

  8. If you first read what was said and then turn to Barrone, you will discover that he, and later Glenn of Instapundit, who blogged Barone, were wrong. What waws actually saild was that the advice and experience of experts ought to be consulted before those in charge made decisions…somehow, that got –surprise–distorted by Barrone. There is no need to drag in cliches about liberals. All that needs to be done is careful and intelligent reporting.

  9. Risen evinces a faith very common on the Left, and not just the radical Left, in the competence and incorruptibleness of the technocrat. Unfortunately, history has shown that unless the subject involves real measurement and real math, the opinions of experts are often not more predictive than those of complete novices.

    Experts, well respected in their times, have been dead wrong about every major foreign policy, intelligence and military event of the last 100 years. History is littered with expert failures. Indeed, every event usually has most of the supposed experts wrong at any particular juncture and the same expert can be wrong in one instance and right in another.

    In short, when dealing with complex events, novices may make better decisions because they keep things brutally simple. When dealing with a poorly understood system, a lack of nuance is a positive.

  10. As Nathan observes, I should have put up the source Barone links. Here it is.

    I can understand Nathan’s position, which would be natural to someone who assumes Risen’s judgement & the Times’ policies are sound. The interview begins with his assurance to us of the altruism of these whistleblowers and the purity of the Times’ motives. It would follow that Bush is barbarous and that his advisors are narrow & uneducated. Therefore, the bureacrats’ bitter belief that foreign policy became extreme without their tempering voices is sensible.

    On the other hand, if a reader doesn’t trust Risen’s judgment nor that of the Times, if a reader believes that elections actually mean something, if a reader believes that those bureacrats at State might have been more humble post-9/11, then they are likely to see Barone’s use of quotations and his analysis as accurate.

  11. I think what happened was you–we–the checks and balances that normally keep American foreign policy and national security policy towards the center kind of broke down. And you had more of a radicalization of American foreign policy in which the–the–the career professionals were not really given a chance to kind of forge a consensus within the administration. And so you had the–the–the principles–Rumsfeld, Cheney and Tenet and Rice and many others–who were meeting constantly, setting policy and really never allowed the people who understand–the experts who understand the region to have much of a say.

    I don’t like Risen, mainly because I think he is too political to be a reporter. However, I don’t see much of a problem with what he said here. I think, the post above, and the other posts linked to misinterpret or misunderstand what he said. For example, when he said that the principals met, crafted policy but did not allow the experts on the region to have any input, he is not saying that the principals should not meet and craft policy. Rather, that when crafting policy, which is their job, they need to have region experts look at a policy because it makes no sense to craft it, if it ignores too many of the realities on the ground. Whether you are a democrat or a republican, as president or policy maker, you want to have a policy that will make things better, that will improve on what has come before. To do that, you can’t just have vision, but also an understanding of the region, the issues involved, history and likely problems to be encountered (not too mention allies, or methods that may help you succeed). For that, you need experts. Yes, many times they are wrong, but alot of times they are right. The president is right when he says that we need to promote reform in the Middle East, but sometimes the picture he paints glosses over the more intricate and delicate matters that we will face in coming decades. For example, how do we deal with the Muslim Brotherhood and their likely rise to power in a democratic Egypt? Or Hezbollah, or Hamas? How can we promote democracy, while reducing the support these organizations have, and address the shortcomings of reformist Western oriented, or moderate candidates? These are answers we can get only from experts in the region, people who can tell you about the nuances, the reasons for Hezbollah’s, the MB’s, Hamas, etc.’s appeal. Is it the terrorism against Israel, the rhetoric against the West? Yes and No. One of the main reason they have support from the people is because they have established social programs and organizations that are far more honest and efficient in providing for their needs than the governments in power which are generally too corrupt. Yes, there is anti-Americanism, but if we want to promote reform, we have to provide the moderate opposition with a means to counter Hamas, Hezbollah, the MB or other Islamists. A means whereby they can demonstrate to the public that they too are a viable alternative to the entrenched power interests. The MB, Hezbollah and Hamas have schools, provide housing, food, healthcare and other essential needs for their people and they claim to do it out of Muslim piety. This gives them enough legitimacy to speak out against the corrupt regimes under which the people live, and to blame the US for supporting those regimes (afterall, we do support Mubarak, Abdullah, the Kuwaitis, Saudis, etc.) even when we are encouraging them to reform. The legitimacy they gain from the services they provide allows them to be more believable to the population and that is what we have to address to ensure that the democratic future of the Middle East is more democratic and moderate than it is turning out to be (Hezbollah won many seats in Lebanon, the MB is the only viable opposition to Mubarak following the recent elections there, Hamas is beating out the discredited and corrupt Palestinian Authority, and even the Islamist SCIRI and DAWA are winning in Iraq). Career professionals who have seen dems and reps come and go, can tell you which approaches worked, and which failed miserably, they are a means to avoid mistakes already made. They can even tell you how to improve on the policy you want to implement. True, their are some who might be partisan, but overall they are working for whoever gets elected and their job is to implement the policies of that administration. What Risen is arguing (you can agree with him or not) is that this process where an administration sets a policy and then seeks input for how to make it work (to allow the bureaucrats to reach a consensus on how to make it work) broke down during this administration. I don’t know if it did, or not. I wasn’t there, and all I know is what I’ve read in newspapers and journals and whatnot. You can make your own opinions about it, I won’t give my own.

    Turning to another issue, many of you make much of how Risen wants to subvert the “democratic process” and how he “fears the masses” or his view that the problem is “the people.” However, you all need to remember that our Forefathers had the same fear, that is why they crafted for these United States not a democracy, but a representative republic which is, as Tom Barnett recently put it, “built on laws, not the voice of the masses.”. That is no small difference. That is also why we have that little thing called “the electoral college,” which as someone above stated is an anti-democratic instrument.

  12. I did read the entire transcript before I wrote my own post, and I think it supports the anti-democratic charge.

    There is, for example, Couric’s claim that there was a power grab, which Risen agrees with. And that comes just after Risen had described the conflict between the bureaucrats and the elected officials. As Couric and Risen see it, elected officials were wrongly trying to grab power from unelected bureaucrats.

    (BTW, “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister” are available in book form. The first is the better of the two, but both are fun reads.)

  13. The principals who were crafting the policy never allowed the people who understand–the experts who understand the region to have much of a say.

    I saw that comment as alluding to this situation. The power grab was in removing the policy from the standard process whereby experts on the region are able to have input on it and help to craft to ensure its success. The administration might have been afraid that if the policy had gone through that process, being such a radical departure from previous policies in the region that some of the experts would have opposed it entirely. As I said, Risen is too political to be a good reporter, and I think he is overeaching, but you do see that had the experts gotten a chance to have some input in the implementation and crafting of the policy, then maybe the administration would have avoided some of the missteps it had early on. I don’t see that as being anti-democratic as much as I see it as overtly partisan.

  14. If you see Bush’s position as “overtly partisan” rather than a clash between the elected and the bureaucratic, apolitical core that continues through administration after administration, then you are implicitly making the other side’s point.

    Some of us place less confidence in that group (in your terms, a partisan one) because we are less sure that it understood 9/11 might happen nor are we sure 9/11 led it to rethink, to roll up its sleeves and get to work at something other than covering hineys.

    Bush’s group knew it was in uncharted territories; I suspect they realized this would lead to mistakes. But part of the reason it was uncharted was that those very agencies had not sent explorers to map it out. They might well not have trusted agencies with agendas already in place before Bush came to office.

  15. The “experts” work for cabinet departments that are subject to the president’s authority. I don’t see how it’s a power grab if the president or any other executive disregards advice given by subordinates. The subordinates’ job is to advise. It’s up to the president, as their boss, to consider such advice, which means that he may decide to reject it. The power is by definition his, so the only possible power grab is one that his subordinates might make by attempting to subvert his decisions.

    I am more concerned about unelected career-bureaucrats at the CIA and State Dept. who attempt to subvert the policy of an elected president than I am about whether the elected president is ignoring advice from the unelected bureaucrats.

  16. The relationship between the pres. and the diplomatic corp is (or should be) essentially the same as that of the pres. and the military is it not?

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