The Opportunity Costs Of Herd Ball
Richard Clarke has an op-ed in today's WaPo that is worth some consideration this morning:
In every administration, there are usually only about a dozen barons who can really initiate and manage meaningful changes in national security policy. For most of 2006, some of these critical slots in the Bush administration have been vacant, such as the deputy secretary of state (empty since Robert B. Zoellick left for investment bank Goldman Sachs) and the deputy director of national intelligence (with Gen. Michael V. Hayden now CIA director). And with the nation involved in a messy war spiraling toward a bad conclusion, the key deputies and Cabinet members and advisers are all focusing on one issue, at the expense of all others: Iraq.
National Security Council veteran Rand Beers has called this the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome" — just like little kids playing soccer, everyone forgets their particular positions and responsibilities and runs like a herd after the ball.
In the end, there are only 12 seats at the conference table in the White House Situation Room, and the key players' schedules mean that they can seldom meet there together in person or on secure video conference for more than about 10 hours each week. When issues don't receive first-tier consideration, they can slip by for months….
As the president contemplates sending even more U.S. forces into the Iraqi sinkhole, he should consider not only the thousands of fatalities, the tens of thousands of casualties and the hundreds of billions of dollars already lost. He must also weigh the opportunity cost of taking his national security barons off all the other critical problems they should be addressing — problems whose windows of opportunity are slamming shut, unheard over the wail of Baghdad sirens.
Clarke lays out a number of issues that he feels are pressing ones in need of attention by this Administration. I think he misses a few — China, repairing our diplomatic ties, and several others, but it's a good list for contemplation this morning — and an issue we would do well to think about in terms of the opportunity costs of the Bush Administration's continued delay on any real decisionmaking and the chaos that rushes in to fill that void in the absence of leadership.
Over the last few weeks, William Arkin has talked quite a bit about the tensions between the overextension of the military, the decisions made (or not made as yet) by the Bush Administration, and the ways in which so many other balls have been dropped. From his December 20th post:
…And America needs a larger non-military. Whether it's Iraq, drugs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa, hurricane Katrina, or the increase in domestic crime it is so clear only Washington can't see that our tendency to see a military solution to everything is not only wrong but has had profound negative effects.
Indeed we do. But creating yet another "Study Group" of intellectual generals isn't going to reset Iraq. As I've said many times here, the Iraqis themselves have got to want the victory there as much as we do. And right now, the majority doesn't seem to want anything close to what we want.
So we'll have a "surge," we'll have a plan to increase end strength — an idea that has already been floated by many Democrats — we'll have new leadership at the Pentagon and in Iraq. We'll have everything except the clarity to see that what we have and want isn't enough. The Pentagon will be left holding the bag, the people of Baghdad and New Orleans will equally suffer.
Please also take some time to go through two of Arkin's other columns — from Dec. 21st and from Dec. 22nd — talking about the hands of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney on the crafting of the public relations messaging for the Administration and the heavy hand of Dick Cheney, still. The neocons, including George Bush, refuse to look their missteps in the eye — and it is other people's children who must pay the price for their cowardice.