Do Our Votes Touch Policy?

We may feel continuity in international relations is good. But a continuity defined by a weighty (and arrogant) bureaucracy makes our votes meaningless. Surely, that is not good. A&L links to Richard Perle’s “Ambushed on the Potomac” in The National Interest.

Perle’s argument is motivated by a desire to distance himself – and neoconservatism in general – from Bush. He is critical of Bush’s inability to force the policies enacted at State and CIA to match his rhetoric (despite speeches Perle describes as often eloquent). The early speech that moved me and made me sense Bush’s vision – partially because it so clearly had its roots in the vision of Winthrop’s “On Christian Charity” from 1630 – is one Perle discusses:

Perhaps in one of the most egregious examples, consider Bush’s radically new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. His speech of June 24, 2002, put forward a new American policy, pledging for the first time to support a Palestinian state provided the Palestinians elected “new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror” and built “a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty.” In only ten months this was neatly transformed by the State Department into yet another version of its preferred, well-worn “land for peace” policy. It is not clear whether the president understood that the “road map” substituted for, and effectively killed, his push for a new policy.

Of course, the Palestinians did not seem to understand: how could they, when so few Americans did? Bush’s refusal to deal with Arafat was of a piece with that vision. But he did not make that clear – he didn’t seem to try, but if he did, he didn’t succeed. It certainly wasn’t understood in (or by) the press. If Obama’s words, delivered with the power he honed by listening closely to his mentors but which are neither as eloquent nor historically rich as Bush’s, are empowered by his charisma, an admiring press, and an agreeable bureaucracy, policy may match rhetoric. But, we might ask, is the bureaucracy motivated by Obama – or Obama by the bureaucracy? And in the end, do our votes count?

2 thoughts on “Do Our Votes Touch Policy?”

  1. Bush’s inability to explain his ideas to the public has made him something of a tragic figure. He gets credit for nothing, blame for everything, and the officials who have relentlessly and disloyally subverted his policies escape most criticism.

  2. “FOR EIGHT years George W. Bush pulled the levers of government—sometimes frantically—never realizing that they were disconnected from the machinery and the exertion was largely futile. As a result, the foreign and security policies declared by the president in speeches, in public and private meetings, in backgrounders and memoranda often had little or no effect on the activities of the sprawling bureaucracies charged with carrying out the president’s policies. They didn’t need his directives: they had their own.”

    The bureaucracy makes its own foreign and domestic policy and this policy often conntradicts the policy of the President. The only way to change policy is to replace the bureaucrats with people loyal to the new President. But this is impossible because the civil service laws and the public employee unions prevent replacement of any one bureaucrat for political reasons, let alone wholesale replacement of all bureaucrats for political reasons.

    This bureaucratic disease is not limited to the US. The first occurence of this disease was in China about 2000 years ago. Marco Polo brought the disease to Europe.

    A charismatic leader, like Hitler or Mussolini, can persuade the bureaucrats to follow the Leader – although it helps to have a gestapo or some sort of political secret police to ensure the bureaucrats remain loyal.

    Alternatively, revolutionaries simply kill off the current bureaucrats and replace them with loyalists – eg, Castro, Nassar, Stalin, Mao, et alia.

    In the US, FDR, Johnson and Clinton obtained bureaucratic loyalty by simply creating new Departments and staffing them with loyalists.

    Revolution and war are the two time honored ways for removing bureaucrats from power. Unfortunately, revolution and war are messy. The best solution is not to have bureaucrats, or to have very, very few. This is called small government.

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