How to mismanage a superpower

How to mismanage a superpower
: The accepted wisdom of the 9/11 Commission hearings has been that the President should have known more and met with more people about the threat of terrorism.

The stupidity — and danger — of that just sunk in.

The last thing I want is for the work of government — the most urgent work: protecting its citizens — to depend upon one man at the top.

That would be mismanagement on a criminal scale.

No, when and if government employees find a threat against America, they should go and with dispatch stomp it out.

The last thing we need is for them to have to go meet with the President. They are and should be empowered by the law to take action.

So all this blather before and around the commission about who met with whom when and who asked for meetings they didn’t get is all a crock of crap; on its fact, it’s nonsensical management.

The issue isn’t whether another meeting in the Oval Office would have stopped an attack. The issue is why and how the structure and communication of appropriate agencies is messed up and needs to be fixed (far faster than Tenant’s five-year timetable!) to prevent the next attack.

  • Doctor Slack

    Jeff, the people at the top are not there to micromanage every small detail. They’re there to provide direction, make sure inter-agency cooperation is happening and set the general tone and urgency of government. To pretend the Oval Office has no role in this — that it can be simply passive and lounge around waiting for everyone else to take the initiative — is an evasiveness so blatant that it’s hard to think you seriously believe it.
    If you’re honestly having trouble wrapping your head around this, though, here’s a little thought experiment: try thinking about how you’d react to such reports if they were coming out of a Kerry White House.

  • Doctor Slack

    Fred Kaplan goes into some more detail, basically saying why “Commander-in-Chief” is not a metaphor, and why it’s a Bad Thing for a President to not be around when big things are happening.

  • http://www.theglitteringeye.com Dave Schuler

    What appears to be emerging is a picture of a bureacracy doing what bureacracies do: surviving. While we’re engaging in thought experiments try this one. Let’s imagine what happens when we change an organization solely by revising the organizational chart. Titles change, some people report to different people than they used to, but all the people remain the same.
    My guess is that everybody would keep doing what they’d been doing all along. And that’s what we’ve done. And that’s what they’ll do.

  • Doctor Slack

    You’re right, Dave. This means Presidents can have no effect whatsoever on anything their governments do while in office, so they might as well spend the time vacationing. You hit the nail on the head.

  • http://www.bopnews.com MattS

    The accepted wisdom of the 9/11 Commission hearings has been that the President should have known more and met with more people about the threat of terrorism.
    This is at best a simplification, and at worst a willful misrepresentation the conclusions of a commission you just don’t like.

  • TXBueller

    Those who try to find fault with whom the president did or did not meet are either those prefer total centralized governmental control (read: Socialist-leaning Democrats) and complain that it wasn’t employed or they are simply desperate to pin reponsibility on Bush so they imply that he already had complete control and screwed up wielding it.
    Either way they get to blame Bush.

  • Prim

    Jeff, I don’t see how your post can be read as recommending that the President “be simply passive and lounge around waiting for someone else” to do the job. I think what you were describing was leadership in providing the strategic impetus, in contrast to execution of policy. Bush’s frequent meetings with DCI, VP Sec of Def, Sec of St and Nat Secur Advisor seem to be a sensible way to carry out his responsibilities in the national security arena. I also want my Commander in Chief to take some vacations.
    The increasingly partisan effort to place responsibility solely on Bush becomes even more breathtaking as we learn of the irreconcilable conflicts of Commissioner Gorelick. It’s bad enough that she avoids sitting in the witness chair. But by hiding her 1995 memo from the other Commissioners she engaged in a continuing scheme to deceive them and us.

  • James Stephenson

    What people do not realize is, by complaining about the President doing nothing or little on so little information and then turning around and blaming the President for taking a Pro-active role on so little information is just plain stupidity.
    So do you want the President to do nothing, vis-a-vis Iraq, but do something Vis-a-Vis Al Quada on little information?
    That Aug 6 PDB had little real information on it. However, every intelligence agency in the world thought that Iraq had WMD. Richard Clarke thinks Iraq had something to do with the first WTC bombing according to his book.
    Will any of you bitch if we invade Syria or Iran? Both of which have been fighting a Proxy war against the US. I mean that would be taking a Pro-active stance and insuring that neither have the means to attack us in the Future. Or should we wait for a Mushroom cloud over New York, La or Tel Aviv?
    Those bitching about the Aug 6 memo, please explain the differences to this poor dumb southerner.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Of course, the President has a vital role in setting the strategy and direction and priority. I hope that’s obvious.
    What I’ve been hearing at the hearings is the idea that if he’d had one more meeting, that would have somehow been the key to stop the attack. And even if that were possible, that would be a terribly tenuous way to live: But for the want of a meeting at the very highest level of government, there’d be no action? Of course, that’s ludicrous. This is why we have thousands and thousands of law-enforcement officials out there doing their jobs, I hope, and not depending on a meeting at the White House.
    But it’s what I’m hearing at the hearings.
    Sorry, Matt, that’s not a willful distortion. It’s what I’ve been hearing.
    Finally, all this goes for Clinton as well as for Bush. It’s not up to one man — thank goodness — stop the bad guys. That’s why we have the FBI.
    But, of course, the FBI is a friggin’ mess — and that, leadies and gentlemen, is the real and bipartisan lesson of the hearings so far.

  • Doctor Slack

    Of course, the President has a vital role in setting the strategy and direction and priority. I hope that’s obvious.
    I hope so too. But when I see people summarizing the questions coming out of the commission as “if he’d had one more meeting, that would have somehow been the key to stop the attack,” it doesn’t look to me like that point has really sunk in at all. I mean, come on, just take Richard Clarke’s testimony alone: any attempt to boil that down to “just one more meeting” looks wildly inaccurate from where I’m standing.

  • Doctor Slack

    Those bitching about the Aug 6 memo, please explain the differences to this poor dumb southerner.
    I doubt the honesty of the question. If you really don’t understand the difference between a briefing that’s the climax of a constant drumbeat of imminent attack and “pre-emptive” action against this or that country based on general ideological principles or vague suppositions, then you’re either not paying attention or you don’t want to understand.

  • James Stephenson

    So Slack, the fact that Clarke Said he thought Iraq had something to do with the first WTC bombing. Is this not a little proof they may do it again. Or the fact that every intelligence agency in the world knew Saddam had WMD. Or the fact that he had already attempted to assinate an Ex-President of the USA.
    Surely, we should have taken care of AQ after the OK city bombing, again according to Clarke’s book, the number 2 AQ man gave him the info needed to build a bigger bomb. But instead we had people blaming talk radio. Which in hindsight, looks pretty damned dumb to me.
    Or after their hand in Somalia, taken him out then and there. Or after the Embassy bombings, I mean we had all of this intelligence. What was the first date in that briefing, 1997. Why the hell did it take us 4 years to attack Afghanistan and hit at the big AQ man himself. Oh yes, now I remember because the loons would have been spouting off ridiculus theories about an Oil Pipeline through Afghanistan. Which people actually discussed and believed was the reason we were in Afganistan. Idiocy.
    We know Iran would love to attack us here in the States. They are attacking us in Iraq. By your own statement, does this give us the right to invade them?

  • Doctor Slack

    James: thanks for demonstrating your inability to differentiate vague speculation from focussed intelligence. That you don’t understand the distinction between “we have intelligence that this guy is about to attack us” and “we think so-and-so might one day do such-and-such” is illustrative of exactly the kind of thinking that landed Bush in his current pickle.
    Unfortunately, most of your talking points are woefully out of date or just plain inaccurate. “Every intelligence agency in the world” did not believe Saddam had WMD — many did believe, erroneously, that he may have reconstituted his programs, but almost none believed an invasion was needed to verify this, and it turns out they were right. Repeating nonsense like this reflects poorly on you; even more so that you buy barrel-bottom freeper conspiracy theories about the Nichols-Yousef “links.” And I’m betting you “know” Iran is “attacking us in Iraq” the same way Bush “knows” the WMDs will eventually be found.
    Spare me.

  • Mike

    Slack,
    Do you or did you once work with some intelligence agency? Curious why you can distinguish between vague speculation and focused intelligence, and James can not? I read the Aug. 6 PDB and would hardly categorize it as a “climax of a constant drumbeat of imminent attack”.
    Once again you stand on your soapbox and try to talk down others who do not agree with your point of view, or more importantly agree with George Bush.

  • Doctor Slack

    Mike: How can I distinguish between vague speculation and focussed intelligence? A basic command of the English language and a grasp of logic is a good place to start. It isn’t rocket science to figure out that when you have a series of warnings that include a message that the FBI is “conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related” and that there are “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks,” you have something rather different from a speculation that because Saddam once tried to assassinate your dad, he must be up to something.
    I don’t pretend to be an intelligence professional. I do, however, try to listen to and honestly assess the perspectives of people involved in the field, and to learn from them. Given the choice between the interpretation of someone who has spent years working in the counterterrorism field and the ever-changing RNC spin point of the moment, I’m likelier to trust the former than the latter unless the latter is backed up with something very solid and convincing indeed.
    I’m not, OTOH, likely to give much credence to people parroting Bush’s party line and then whining when this isn’t instantly convincing to their opponents. You’re just going to have to get used to the fact that Bush’s credibility right now is somewhere between strained and nonexistent, and that a growing number of people are not willing to simply take his word or that of his administration on just about any topic.

  • http://www.bopnews.com MattS

    Jeff,
    I’d like to see where the commission recommends that ‘the President should have had one more meeting.’ Come on. Bipartisan commissions on security failures don’t conclude things like that, and nor will this one.

  • Mike

    So then Slack,
    What’s your frame of reference? How do you know 70 is a large number or a small number? How do you know that number isn’t abnormal? You seem to be just towing the anti-Bush line, no matter what is placed in front of you.
    I find it hard to believe there’s anything honest behind your accusation that there was “speculation that because Saddam once tried to assassinate your dad, he must be up to something.”

  • Carl in N.H.

    Slack, you are posting here in the presence of any number of people who understand English and are at least as honest and logical as you ;) and who do NOT see anything in the August 6 PDB that gave a clear indication of where and when some attack would occur.
    I would like to hear how you are able to deduce from that memo the specific actions necessary to stop 9/11.
    Careful, it’s a trick question; even Dick Clarke said it would not have been possible to prevent 9/11.

  • onecent

    Slack, as per Condi Rice’s testimony, Clarke never once requested a meeting with Bush regarding his growing concerns about terrorism. Clarke fit the profile of the beaurocratic toad until he had a book to pander.
    Also Slack, stand back from this comment thread and any others you have ruined, ask yourself if your jackhammered one-themed 24/7 postings aren’t wearing thin. You confuse dialogue with ambush. You are so pathetically agenda driven.
    I do, however, try to listen to and honestly assess the perspectives of people involved in the field, and to learn from them.
    List your syllabus. Inquiring minds want to know(except mine). I rest my case.

  • Doctor Slack

    First of all:
    I find it hard to believe there’s anything honest behind your accusation that there was “speculation that because Saddam once tried to assassinate your dad, he must be up to something.”
    The post I was replying to specifically brought up that speculation. Are you even reading the bloody thread?
    How do you know 70 is a large number or a small number?
    A comparative frame of reference is hard to establish, given that FBI criminal statistics weren’t geared toward tracking terrorism before 2001, and in many ways they still aren’t, and that much of the relevant material isn’t public. Given the larger context of the PDB, however, which included multiple threat reports from multiple sources indicating a severe threat from an individual who had already carried out attacks against American assets, it’s fair to say that seventy ongoing investigations related to such an individual deserve a red flag.
    Like any layman, in this situation I’m obviously in the position of trying to assess expert testimony without actually being expert. However, when professionals in the field give more consistent accounts than the Bush administration or its supporters — and especially when the administration is reduced to stunts like selectively declassifying the odd document to attack political opponents — the word of the professionals carries a lot more weight with me. Frankly, they’re just more credible to me than you are, or than Bush is. (I guess that’s just one of the consequences of having been caught misleading your electorate.)
    I’m not saying that Tenet or Freeh or Clarke should be believed uncritically. But they’re part of a larger pattern of interlocking and mutually confirming accounts of the Bush Administration’s conduct, and I have trouble dismissing that as an “anti-Bush” conspiracy. I’m surprised you’re able to do so.
    Well, scratch that. I’m not surprised. Neither am I impressed, though, when you try to accuse me of “toeing a line.” Have a look in the mirror, dude.

  • Doctor Slack

    Ah, I see the chorus is starting to chime in. Groovy. I have to dash for a few hours — will try to reply to the remaining posts later.
    (And believe me, onecent, no-one knows better than I about your lack of an inquiring mind.)

  • onecent

    I have to dash for a few hours — will try to reply to the remaining posts later.
    Don’t get too excited, folks. He’s just testing us.

  • Prim

    I agree with you often, and disagree with you frequently. But the intellectual level of your posts is always right up there. I consider it a large privilege to be able to post in response. You are a brave and open soul to create, tolerate, and indeed participate, in your Comment section. But I have to say, for such a lofty site, you sure do collect a lot of low-flying insects.

  • Mike

    good come back slack…
    I know you are but what am I?

  • Doctor Slack

    Mike: If that’s all you’ve got, I’m done with you.
    onecent: ask yourself if your jackhammered one-themed 24/7 postings aren’t wearing thin.
    It should be obvious by this point that I find your fear of me delicious.
    Poor onecent also seems to have imagined his challenge to be a showstopper, in the way of those who’ve never got round to reading a book and imagine no-one else has either. Though his request is unserious, I’m nevertheless always a sucker for the chance to recommend reading material, so here goes: starting here (which should be no surprise), moving here, then going here, then moving here. That’s a good starting point.
    (Incidentally, penny, never say “as per Condi Rice’s testimony” as though she can be trusted about a single thing. This only makes you look foolish.)
    Carl in N.H.: even Dick Clarke said it would not have been possible to prevent 9/11.
    Homework assigment: find a direct quote that confirms this. (It’s a trick question: I’m betting you can’t. This is because I’m familiar with the passage you’re distorting.)

  • onecent

    Slack, personally threatening me….” I find your fear of me delicious”…..and, more disturbing, revealing the fruits of your stalking……”penny”(as you’ve found my name not used in any of my comments/email address on this site)……has crossed a line. I take your inferences as a personal threat. Be warned.

  • Doctor Slack

    personally threatening me
    My, aren’t you delicate.
    “penny” is seriously your name? If you’re terrified of people happening upon it, maybe you shouldn’t use such an obviously connected nick, hmmm?

  • Carl in N.H.

    Slack, the quote in question is the response from “counterterrorism chief” Dick Clarke himself, answering a question as to whether the recommendations he, the “counterterrorism chief”, made to the incoming Bush administration, would have stopped 9/11.
    SLADE GORTON: Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25th of 2001 … including aid to the Northern Alliance … assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that that had all been adopted, say, on January 26, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9-11?
    CLARKE: No.
    I, however, am still without your response to my original question to you:
    “I would like to hear how you are able to deduce from (the Aug 6) memo the specific actions necessary to stop 9/11.”
    You can’t even get there by “distorting” anything, you will need to go straight to outright fabrication. I am curious to see what you come up with.

  • Doctor Slack

    Carl, can you really be unaware that in the passage you’re quoting, Clarke is talking about his recommendations for action in Afghanistan, not counterterrorism as a whole? If you are aware of that, why do you imagine that exchange constitutes an admission that 9/11 couldn’t be prevented at all? Looking at that exchange, I see him saying that 9/11 couldn’t be prevented by military actions in Afghanistan.
    I would like to hear how you are able to deduce from (the Aug 6) memo the specific actions necessary to stop 9/11.
    I didn’t answer this because it’s a strawman, Carl. I made no such claim. And the whole “the warning weren’t specific” thing is, viz. the whole issue of White House readiness, a fairly obvious dodge. (As the folks at the Gadflyer rather satirically point out.)

  • Carl in N.H.

    Slack, I am aware that this plan was put forth by Clarke, the “counterterrorism chief”, and as such, presumably it was his best idea for a solution to the Al-Qaeda threat. I note that this same “counterterrorism chief”, coordinator of intelligence both foreign and domestic, had no similar concrete and actionable plan for doing anything about the threat domestically. This is what 20/20 hindsight tells us was necessary to “prevent 9-11″ (postulating that we start trying to do so from the Bush inauguration in 2001).
    So if His Beatitude Richard Clarke didn’t see it coming, I am quite unwilling to acknowledge powers of prescience on the part of any person, or any memo, regarding 9-11.
    I am not convinced by you at all, and I am done.

  • Doctor Slack

    Slack, I am aware that this plan was put forth by Clarke, the “counterterrorism chief”, and as such, presumably it was his best idea for a solution to the Al-Qaeda threat.
    This statement indicates you haven’t even paid attention to the entirety of his testimony before the commission. When you’re aware of any specifics of the domestic issues that Clarke raised, then and only then will you be ready to make a convincing case about the issue one way or another.
    Until then… yep, no kidding you’re done. I did warn you it was a trick question, you know.