Posted by Brad @ 5:13 pm on March 31st 2009

Quote of the Day

This is a really, really, really basic point that some of us have been railing about for years now (including Sullivan), but that I have never, fundamentally or really even glancingly, heard addressed. I think it’s at the core of why conservatism, as a philosophy, is so f’ed up right now.

[Barack Obama] has no expertise of the kind needed to run a car company. And this is the core conservative insight here: success is hard; it requires close attention to the details of a business or an enterprise; it takes experience and judgment and practical knowledge that no politician or economist or analyst has. Now I know GM’s management has sucked as well – but that doesn’t mean that government won’t suck a lot more. This is a classic case of a mismatch between what a politician can do and what he is trying to do: an over-reach, a categorical error.

But why, pray, does this not equally apply to running Iraq or Afghanistan? Why does our conservative elite believe that these vast, complex, foreign cultures and countries are somehow more manageable than GM? What expertise does Barack Obama have in running Afghanistan?

All he knows is Chicago, Hawaii and America. If you think of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as essentially foreign government take-overs of failed states, why would a conservative believe that it could be successful? If government cannot run a company within its own borders, why do we believe it can build a nation thousands of miles away? If it cannot control its own borders or balance its own books, what on earth is it doing trying to run or reorganize or pacify parts of the world it knows next to nothing about?

There is at present a massive disconnect between conservative economics and conservative foreign policy. The first is all about the wisdom of markets, or local knowledge, of irreplaceable specific expertise. The second is all about empire, control, liberal hubris and abstract ideology. At some point, conservatives will have to pick.

Of course, one answer is that, at least under Bush, they didn’t have to choose one or the other—they gave them both up, choosing liberalism in economics and in foreign policy, but with enough of a completely ad hoc and cherry picked application of conservative principles to completely muck it all up, getting, quite literally, the worst of all worlds.

But at the heart of it, Sullivan is right, and it has always astounded me how Republicans seem to have a total f’ing lobotomy right at the spot where the ability to generalize core lessons operates. They can very clearly and eloquently elucidate on why the government makes a mess of things when it regulates, say, a local community’s educational standards. But we can administer democracy in the Middle East, somehow. (also, we can regulate local community educational standards if fags or science are involved). And many on the right, even as they’re (thankfully) tacking rightward on the economy, are still essentially Stalinists when it comes to foreign policy.

What we’ve seen in the last 10 years is a computer program running with two mutually contradictory lines of code. In that sense, the Bush years, bleeding into today, were a Systems Failure.

Ctrl, alt, delete.

10 Comments »

  1. If you think of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as essentially foreign government take-overs of failed states

    The neocon advocates of intervention never thought of the operations this way. The plan was to turn the nation over to those who WOULD know how to run it; specifically, the locals.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/31/2009 @ 5:37 pm

  2. Presumably, the liberal advocates of bailing out Detroit don’t intend the government to run that forever either.

    Comment by Brad — 3/31/2009 @ 6:07 pm

  3. It’s also worth noting that most Americans — not just conservatives — believe there is a distinct difference between our military forces and government worker, DMV-type bureaucracy.

    Plus, most Americans don’t see the use of military force by the President as something unprecedented or something that can’t be handled with the help of military expertise, which is readily available. I personally think that part of that is just the American faith and belief in the Office of the President. What they don’t see as precedented or common is the President literally intervening in a company to the point of making what seem like executive decisions for them. It’s not as if his staff is comprised of former CEOs that are helping him learn the ropes.

    Comment by K_Wright — 3/31/2009 @ 9:36 pm

  4. The neocon advocates of intervention never thought of the operations this way. The plan was to turn the nation over to those who WOULD know how to run it; specifically, the locals.

    Sure, the neocons were all for leaving the country in the hands of the locals after the country had been liberalized, privatized, and looted. After the previous collections of civil servants and army had all been dismissed while they held on to their guns. After the elected governments had written legislation leaving occupying forces the right to tamper with their lives and open up their natural resources. After implementing an alien political system in which there was little protection for minority rights nor the security for free debate and electoral process. And after all of this had been attempted through the efforts of ideologically pure incompetents, dismissing the expertise of anyone knowledgeable, then the locals could have at the clusterfuck.

    There is no defending neocons. They and their think tanks yahoos occupy the short bus of foreign policy thought. They are known quantity idiots who earned ostracization.

    But for all their faults and lame excuses, they love and espouse the macho brand of American power and thus they will always have somebody’s ear instead of somebody’s boot to the head.

    Comment by thimbles — 4/1/2009 @ 12:34 am

  5. The top paragraph was a rojas quote which I was sure I blockquoted. I hate not having an edit button. :(

    Comment by thimbles — 4/1/2009 @ 12:36 am

  6. thimbles’ demonizing assessment of neocon motives aside, the point is that the analogy Brad and Sullivan are getting at doesn’t pertain. The inability of the government to manage the tasks of private enterprise doesn’t imply that the government is likewise incapable of overthrowing an overseas regime. It might mean that NATION BUILDING doesn’t work, but what the neocons proposed didn’t involve a prominent US role in nation building; at most we were supposed to be providing training in security.

    I think the more valid conservative complaint here might be the law of unintended consequences. To overthrow a government is an intrinsically anti-conservative act; to expect to be able to predict the precise effects of fundamental change of that sort is even more so. But the flaw in the thinking has nothing to do with the application of government management models.

    Comment by Rojas — 4/1/2009 @ 10:14 am

  7. I’m not talking about their motives. What I described is what they did.

    Their motive might have been something along the lines of “Free markets + time = democracy” and “Democracy + free markets = end of terrorism as freedom blooms in the desert” which they saw as a good thing. They may have seen themselves as the hands of an empire that creates it’s own reality and therefore did not need to heed the voices of experts, detractors, and the impure. They may have been in a rush to move on from from boring old Iraq/Afghanistan and onto Tehran. I don’t pretend to know why they did what they did.

    But they did do all that I listed.

    Which doesn’t prove that governments are bad at nation building, just like the single failure of AIG doesn’t prove big corporations are badly run and should be broken up.

    Japan is a rebuilt nation. Britain built many of today’s modern nations. Nation building is a sensitive process, but sensitive does not equate to impossible.

    Things like this are impossible when the people involved are incompetent, a truth that rings true in both private and public sectors.

    The law of unintended consequences does not apply since many of the consequences were anticipated, though dismissed by neocon idiots. Competent people could have taken those predictions and met their goals in a considered manner. Incompetent people flailed haplessly as the policies they pushed started making them look bad.

    Government is not the problem, idiotic people are.
    And neocons has been a huge source of problems over the last 15 years.

    Comment by thimbles — 4/1/2009 @ 1:08 pm

  8. thimblesí demonizing assessment of neocon motives aside, the point is that the analogy Brad and Sullivan are getting at doesnít pertain. The inability of the government to manage the tasks of private enterprise doesnít imply that the government is likewise incapable of overthrowing an overseas regime. It might mean that NATION BUILDING doesnít work, but what the neocons proposed didnít involve a prominent US role in nation building; at most we were supposed to be providing training in security.

    Wrong.

    From PNAC’s website, an article titled “Statement on Post-War Iraq” dated March 19, 2003 (i.e. one day before the military campaign began):

    Regime change is not an end in itself but a means to an end – the establishment of a peaceful, stable, united, prosperous, and democratic Iraq free of all weapons of mass destruction. We must help build an Iraq that is governed by a pluralistic system representative of all Iraqis and that is fully committed to upholding the rule of law, the rights of all its citizens, and the betterment of all its people. The Iraqi people committed to a democratic future must be integrally involved in this process in order for it to succeed. Such an Iraq will be a force for regional stability rather than conflict and participate in the democratic development of the region.

    The process of disarming, stabilizing, rebuilding, reforming, preserving the unity of, and ultimately democratizing Iraq will require a significant investment of American leadership, time, energy, and resources, as well as important assistance from American allies and the international community. Everyone – those who have joined our coalition, those who have stood aside, those who opposed military action, and, most of all, the Iraqi people and their neighbors – must understand that we are committed to the rebuilding of Iraq and will provide the necessary resources and will remain for as long as it takes. Any early fixation on exit strategies and departure deadlines will undercut American credibility and greatly diminish the prospects for success.

    Comment by tessellated — 4/1/2009 @ 1:30 pm

  9. Sorry for the redundancy in my previous post. I echo thimble’s wish for an edit button.

    Comment by tessellated — 4/1/2009 @ 1:33 pm

  10. Huh. OK, I’m pwned. Good on ya, tesselated.

    Comment by Rojas — 4/1/2009 @ 2:24 pm

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