Monday, April 24, 2006

Outsourcing Foreign Policy

I came across several articles today on the Bush administration; each was interesting by itself, and together I found them fascinating.

First, the latest CNN poll shows the president's approval rating is at 32%. The article notes that the poll "was one of four conducted within the past ten days that have yielded similar results: a Pew Center poll carried out April 7-16 gave Bush a 35 percent approval rating; a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll carried out last Tuesday and Wednesday gave him a 33 percent approval rating; and an American Research Group poll carried out Tuesday through Friday gave him a 34 percent approval rating."

The second article was an op-ed, "Dissident President," by Natan Sharansky in the in the Wall Street Journal. I think you need a subscription to the journal to read it, but here's a link.

Sharansky's strong defense of Bush seems focused on the president's character, or, to put it another way, on the president's intentions: "He is a man fired by a deep belief in the universal appeal of freedom, its transformative power, and its critical connection to international peace and stability... With a dogged determination that any dissident can appreciate, Mr. Bush, faced with overwhelming opposition, stands his ideological ground, motivated in large measure by what appears to be a refusal to countenance moral failure."

Sharansky does offer some criticisms, all focusing on the external expression of Bush's character -- that is, on Bush's execution of his intentions: "I believe that too much focus has been placed on holding quick elections, while too little attention has been paid to help build free societies by protecting those freedoms -- of conscience, speech, press, religion, etc. -- that lie at democracy's core."

Sharansky's op-ed, appearing as it did on the same day as the CNN poll, made me wonder... are the 33% or so of Americans who approve of Bush focusing more on what they see as his character and intentions, while the 67% or so who disapprove are focusing more on his performance? The CNN asked respondents whether they approved of the president's performance, but I'm not sure how important the wording was. When you trust someone's intentions, you're inherently willing to give him or her some benefit of the doubt on performance.

The third article, and the most interesting of all, is a report in the New York Times that "Baker, Bush Family Fixer, Will Advise President on Iraq." Apparently, the president has asked former Secretary of State and family confidant Baker to head a congressionally funded project called the Iraq Study Group and to advise the president on what to do about Iraq.

As someone who is fascinated by the increasing tendency to outsource formerly government functions to contractors, my first thought was, "By the gods, now they're actually outsourcing foreign policy!" But my good and insightful friend, The Slugg, had a slightly different take on the matter: He says they're outsourcing the presidency.

Slugg's thesis, which is only speculation, is that Bush Sr. gave his son a good shaking that finally got through to the lad. "You've been living in a bubble," the imagined conversation went, "and Iraq is dragging your presidency down. Worse, it's dragging the Bush family name down. You need help, and I'm going to tell you who will be helping."

The article reports leaks to the effect that Secretary of State Rice opposed Baker's appointment, which is hardly surprising (the public story is that Rice welcomes Baker's involvement. My experience and take on human nature tell me the leaked version is the one to believe). And given Baker's warm relationship with Brent Scrowcroft (Bush Sr.'s best friend), who in an interview with the New Yorker said, “The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney... I consider Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore,” what can we infer about Cheney's continued influence on Iraq policy?

Many political commentators have been advising Bush to shake up his team more than he already has. I wonder if outsourcing policy is a compromise in that direction: Bush keeps the nominal team in place, but bypasses it by appointing outsiders to advise him. It'll be fascinating to see how this turns out.


Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Well since it appears that the majority of Americans don't like the way Iraq policy has gone so far, I would say that the administration is trying to change that by bringing in new blood.

If outsiders can come up with better solutions than the ones we have, I'm sure the country would be more than happy to listen.

But the way I'm reading things... Bush is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't! So how can he win?

Barry...I'd be interested to know what you would suggest in this situation?

David Terrenoire said...

Wow, Barry, when you write something, you give us our money's worth.

OK, polls. I once helped rename a financial service and by the end of the 6-week campaign the research showed 86% of the people were aware of the new name. As the researcher said at the time, "Remember, only 94% can name the president."

So these numbers are even worse than they look. This is down to Bush's hard core base, ultra loyal GOP voters and those who naturally support whoever is president during war, which is a sizeable figure.

Good intentions. It's a curse to have a long memory in America. I remember Rush Limbaugh railing against liberals for thinking good intentions were everything. Sure, it's fine to want to end poverty, but if you can't, then the intentions mean nothing. Unfortunately, Rush was right but with the wrong administration.

I believe Bush honestly sees himself as a big thinker. He wants to boldly reshape the world and as the CEO president, he expects those around him to make it so. But he wants to do big things on the cheap and other people pay for the shortfall. Future generations will be handed the bill and the only Americans making any real sacrifice in this war are in the military.

A good way to judge how deeply we're committed to Bush's vision is counting how many representatives of either party have children in uniform. Last I checked it was less than ten. That's out of 535.

Lots of people want to write a novel, but few people are willing to put in the time.

I preferred the candidate George Bush, who promised he would govern with humility, refrain from using our military for nation-building, and spend only what we take in.

Outsourcing. I don't think it's a secret that Bush is more comfortable with photo ops than policy meetings. He doesn't have the patience or temperment to sit for long sessions of debate. He wants the summary.

So he's outsourced quite a bit of his presidency and that wouldn't be a bad thing if he'd outsourced to competent people. Our problem is, he outsourced the war to the neocons behind PNAC and the shareholders of Halliburton. Now he's outsourcing, if these stories are true, to his father's foreign policy crew.

Remember, as good as these people look in retrospect, this is the same crew who embraced Saddam, inadvertently gave him the green light to invade Kuwait, then after the war allowed Saddam to brutally put down the uprising they had encouraged. A stunning record, indeed, but not one of glowing success.

As to Bonnie's point about what do we do now, I'm not sure anyone really knows. Zinni apparently has suggestions in his new book, but I haven't read it. Murtha has another take, but I haven't heard his strategic redeployment seriously discussed. The GOP dismisses it, falsely, as "cut and run."

Now, when the house is on fire, you have just a few options for putting it out. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't hold accountable the guy who set the fire.

Sorry this is so long. It's your fault for putting up such a jam-packed post.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm being simplistic here, but is there really a way to "fix" Iraq? And does Afghanistan need "fixing" too? For me, sadly, Bush's vision neglects too many small things, not the least of which is the sacrifice of American lives to bring a quick fix democracy to those who just might not want the interference. Also sadly, my daughter's (and possibly her daughter's or son's) generation will indeed have to deal with the aftermath.


Anonymous said...

I've often thought of Baker as "The Wolf" in Pulp Fiction - he's the guy they call when they need to get rid of the dead body in the back seat.

Loving the blog, Barry.

David Terrenoire said...

I'd not heard of Mr. Abshire before. Thanks for that. It was amazing that Iran-Contra didn't scuttle Reagan's second term. I had always attributed it to Reagan admitting he didn't know about the arms to Iran and money to the Contras, and that we believed him, he sounded so sincere.

Now I know better.

I hope you're right about this. As an American, I hope you're right.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Thanks Slugg, that was an awesome snynopsis of those articles!

I didn't know how to do it as succinctly!

As I stated above. Even when Bush tries to repair the damage, he's always going to be construed by a portion of the general public, as wrong

Anonymous said...

Slugg, I really enjoy your comments, and the reading references look to be very much worth further investigation.

If the President is acknowledging that he needs better help than he’s getting from his current group of advisors, well, rock on, especially if it’s a bipartisan group with good credentials on both sides of the political divide. And Slugg’s take on Cheney’s and Rice’s opposition to the formation of the ISG makes sense to me. I have to say, though, I’m not sure I think of it as outsourcing. I’m not a student of the history of Presidential commissions and panels, but isn’t it a long standing tradition for Presidents to form ‘blue-ribbon’ advisory groups to work on various issues (and to serve various political purposes)?

I’m very interested in the op-ed piece about Bush’s intentions. I don’t think much at all of Bush’s intentions (not surprising, since I didn’t vote for him). And I don’t think they’re as benign as Sharansky portrays them. But, that aside, it’s the execution of one’s intentions that gives them substance, especially in politics and government. This, in my opinion, is a prime reason for Bush losing support from some people in his own party. They voted for the intentions, and the execution just isn’t working for them.

I’m also really intrigued by Scowcroft’s comment about Dick Cheney. Does anyone have any further insight into that? Has Cheney behaved in ways that are causing him to lose support from his own network of political allies?

Randy McFab said...

I wasn't going to post again, but you've driven me to it. I'm going to try my best, however, to not be sarcastic as I know Barry is very sensitive.
"Slugg" (who refuses to use his real name and gets a free pass while others, such as Broker, are attacked for not having a Blogger profile), is an ex-Special Forces officer, that's all. You people are so eager to suck up to the military that you actually thank him for sharing his opinion on imaginary conversations between ex and current Presidents. Christ Almighty, why not just ask him what the meaning of life is, or who killed Kennedy? I mean really, if the man is all-knowing, I could think of better questions than what the Bushes may or may not be talking about.
Yes, I'm sarcastic, because I find overly-serious people like Barry amusing. He loves to "grapple" with sweaty men and obviously has a thing for Slugg, and if I were gay I could understand that. What I cannot understand is nazi-like military worship masquerading as legitimacy. If your opionions are correct, you don't need an SF guy to back them up, especially one who contributed what reads like an eighth-grade term paper.
I have friends in the military, but the "in the military" part is just coincedence. I'm not a homo fanboy like Barry.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Randy, didn't try hard enough...your post came sarcastic and venomous!

I see no "nazi-like military worship, and if you really want to know how our military men, both active duty and retired, go to

and blog with some military men who can tell you how the guys on the line feel.

And I would like to ask you about your repeated references (here and before) about Barry's manhood...but I won't because it is not a talking point of the post.

But I must tell you that it makes it look like you are either seriously homophobic or jealous!

Sorry Barry for going off topic! Mea Cupa!

Anonymous said...

randy, we need views from both sides, but not in that vein.

Anonymous said...

No one touched on the validly of polls. Remember that the majority of the people polled can’t place Africa on a world map.

I. Michael Koontz said...

When did the foresight to obtain outside help for a tremendously difficult problem become an 'outsourcing' (a term usually used derogatorily) of presidential responsibility?

Heck, I'm all for it, if it gives the administration some insight into how to resolve this mess! The fact that persons outside the President's immediate comfort zone are being asked to weigh in on this subject seems to be the tonic most Americans want, short of Bush simply turning the whole shebang over to the Democrats to fix, as Republicans fear may happen next election.

Naw, it's a great idea, and Bush Sr. should be applauded for his efforts in it. But of all the things in Barry's blog, the one that sticks in my craw is the idea that Cheney is not the Cheney of old--does Bush Sr. currently have a relationship with the man? Or is Cheney grown simply too powerful (read: arrogant) to consult with, or listen to, those he previously served?

I don't know. But I do know this: when something isn't working, and the person in charge realizes it and decides to get some new ideas, it's NEVER the wrong thing to do.

The first step to getting better, they say, is to admit that you have a problem.

Barry Eisler said...

Bonnie -- I agree that for some people, it doesn't matter what Bush does; he'll always be the incarnation of evil. But even if improved performance wins him few political plaudits, at least we'll have the substantive benefits. So I'm glad to see some outside, bipartisan assistance here.

What would I suggest for this situation? Do you mean how I would substantively (as opposed to politically) handle Iraq? That could be a long post, but I'm game if you are...

Here's something I wrote on a related topic a while back. I think it's going to be relevant for a while to come:

David -- yes, Rush Limbaugh. I don't listen to his show, but is it true that not so long ago he was also saying that all drug abusers should be incarcerated? Oops...

Maryann -- agreed, "fix" might not be the right word. But there are ways of making a situation worse, and less worse... hopefully the administration will choose the "less worse" course.

Jim, great comparison on The Wolf! I love that whole sequence. "So pretty please, with sugar on top... get some fucking rags..."

Jim W -- good point, the timing probably isn't a coincidence. I can imagine Bush Sr. hearing (probably even before Hersh) about the nuke plans, and saying, "That is it, I am going to intervene and that boy is going to listen to me!"

Slugg, thanks for stopping by; always good to see you here.

Rae, that's a fair point on the similarity between outsourcing vs the usual blue ribbon panel. I'm no expert on such things, but my sense is that the ISG is unusual because of the current, central, ongoing, problem it's been created to deal with. The NYT article mentions Lyndon Johnson tapping former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to advise on Vietnam as probably the closest analog. That sounds about right to me, but there might be others I don't know of.

JH, the majority can't place Africa? If that's right, we really are in trouble... but whether or not the reasons behind the low approval rates are valid, the numbers themselves will be a problem for Republicans in November.

Michael, I didn't mean to imply that "outsourcing" is a bad thing; I would argue that sometimes it's warranted, sometimes not, and here I'm glad to see it. Still, most sensible business outsourcing is of areas that aren't a business's core competencies. Airlines, for example, outsource food preparation. If they started outsourcing the actual flying, we might wonder what's going on. Because I can't think of a matter more critical to the welfare of the nation or to the political fortunes of this administration than Iraq, I do think that, although it's apt to be useful, this turn to outside help is nonetheless stunning.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Yes, Barry, I'd really be interested in how you would substantively (as opposed to politically) handle Iraq?

Because everybody is always saying how much is wrong, but I'd seriously be interested in ideas of how to fix it....go for it...I'm game!

Barry Eisler said...

Okay, you asked for it... ;-)

BTW, all, regarding the previous thread, check out this article on CNN. Does Ahmadinejad sound like someone who's trying to forestall an attack... or to provoke one?

Anonymous said...

Barry, regarding the CNN article: Ahmadinejad makes me think of a little kid going "neener, neener, neener - try to stop me". The problem being, of course, that we're not talking about playground behavior, we're talking about a country with an extremely unstable government developng nuclear power.

To answer your specific question, if his statements are more than simply saber-rattling polemics (and I think that's possible), I don't believe Ahmadinejad is trying to either forestall or provoke an attack. I think he's pounding his chest and bragging about what he intends to do. He may really believe that China and Russia will veto sanctions, and that the US doesn't have the appetite to launch a military strike, given our troubles in Iraq. He sounds like he believes that no one can stop Iran's nuclear plans, and that the US will back down; he appears to think he has nothing to worry about. But that's just my take.....

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Good article Barry!

I pulled two things from it..."The Islamic Republic of Iran"...which tells you their politics are going to remain on a religious footing...for us US 'devils' that doesn't ever leave room to negotiate.

And secondly that Israel just launched a spy satellite from Russia, to spy on Iran's nuclear program...Russia is supposed to be on Iran's side in all of what is that about?

I agree with Rae that this looks like posturing for other Islamic regimes to take notice, but that could spin out of control very quickly and turn into provocation!

Anonymous said...

I don't have a blogger profile either. I hope that's not a problem.

First, to light up the issue, it seems Mr. Bush has outsourced some more in choosing his new White house Press Secretary, or as Tod Goldberg put it:
Apparently, Michelle Malkin was previously engaged, so President Bush has hired Fox commentator Tony Snow to be the mouthpiece of the Illuminati. My understanding is that Bush is about to hire the creative team behind the board game RISK to replace Donald Rumsfeld and that they plan to attack the world from Kamchatka and then, eventually, set up command centers in Western Australia, Madagascar, Northwest Territory and, just for kicks, Siam, provided they get some decent rolls and no one turns the world over just when it looks like were close to victory and after Domino's has stopped delivering pizzas for the night.

(And now I hope I can actually use html here)

As to the topic at hand, I won't judge the administration either way for appointing Baker; let's see what'll come out of it. I can't criticise Bush for doing nothing, and then criticise him again for doing something unless I wait to see whether what he did didn't work.

As for Amahninejad, he's just a mouth piece of the extremely conservative mullah's, a small man given to grand gestures. I really think he hopes to be attacked by the west so that he can earn his place in history. He's a wacko.