Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Leader in Search of Followers

Two stories from the current American administration at first seem to have little in common, but in fact are collectively very revealing.
The first involves the presidential adviser Rahm Emanuel, as recounted in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:
Emanuel met with Jacob Dayan, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, about two weeks ago, after which Dayan briefed the Foreign Ministry.

According to reports, Emanuel told Dayan the U.S. is sick of the Israelis, who adopt suitable ideas months too late, when they are no longer effective.

The U.S. is also sick of the Palestinians who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Emanuel reportedly said.

The second comes from the President himself, as recounted in a Fox News blog:
The bottom line is this: The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list.

In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had. The information was there, agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it, and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together.

I will accept that intelligence by its nature is imperfect, but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged. That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.

Time and again we've learned that quickly piecing together information and taking swift action is critical to staying one step ahead of a nimble adversary. So we have to do better, and we will do better, and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.

So I made it clear today to my team I want our initial reviews completed this week. I want specific recommendations for corrective actions to fix what went wrong. I want those reforms implemented immediately so that this doesn't happen again and so we can prevent future attacks.

The common theme in the two stories is the belief of the President's chief of staff and the President himself about why bad things happen. The Arabs and the Israelis cannot have failed for over 60 years to come to a mutually satisfactory peace agreement because they have deeply conflicting interests, political constraints, a fundamental unwillingness to make peace given what they have to give up to get it, or anything as discouragingly complicated as that. Instead, the failure lies in the personal shortcomings of Palestinian and Israeli leaders. If only the right men were in charge, peace would flow like floodwaters.

So too with the failure to detect the would-be airline bomber on Christmas Day. Our vast intelligence apparatus was not up to the job until President Obama scolded them and told them to do a better job, as if the intelligence agencies were not already profoundly dedicated to preventing terrorists blowing up airplanes, and merely required a kick in the pants from their boss. Again, the complexities of our world do not seem to enter the picture. That any large organization is going to be prone from time to time to bad decision-making, to an inability to get information flowing to where it needs to go, that we are an open society subject to moral and legal constraints while the terrorists are not, that (as the Irish Republican Army once mockingly told Mrs. Thatcher after barely failing to kill her) terrorists only have to get lucky once while the government has to get lucky every time, these things are foreign to the President.

The belief that a great leader can make progress happen, and can make political systems work better, is deeply ingrained in the progressive mind. While it is true that conservatives are also likely (perhaps even more likely) to subscribe to the great-man theory of history, and lionize people like Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill, their heaviest thinkers are more likely to accept than their progressive counterparts that the world is complicated, that things happen for reasons. The belief in the great man changing history by moving human society forward has led at a minimum to willful ignorance of and frequently to support for some of the most wicked leaders of our bloodiest century, the twentieth. The fetishization, as opposed to the mere admiration, of the great leader (and I am reminded of the presidential adviser who with rarefied ignorance for someone in a position of such responsibility invoked Mao Zedong as one of her heroes) tends to come from the belief that the way forward is obvious, and only stubborn individuals block it. There is no reason based on clashes of human interests, in other words, for politics to be difficult. This article of faith has a childlike quality to it that would be adorable were the issues at stake not so serious.


Post a Comment

<< Home