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Catfish and Cod
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Ideologies run rampant.
(Link path: Washington Monthly; USS Clueless)

Josh Marshall sez:

Many pundits have mocked these constantly-shifting rationales as though the administration is somehow confused. But they only seem confused if you assume that the problem needing to be solved actually called forth the policy solution aimed at solving it. Once you realize that the desire for the policy is the parent of the rationale, and not the other way around, everything falls into place.


What the public wants is its problems solved: terrorists thwarted, jobs created, prescription drugs made affordable, the environment protected.

When the opposition -- moderate Republicans or Democrats -- points out that the Administration has a pre-determined agenda and thus is not really trying to solve anyone's problems but their own, then the mood will shift against Bush. Bush has nothing to offer but promises and excuses. His agenda is ideological, not practical. What good the Administration has done in the last few years -- and it's done quite a good bit -- has come about despite their intentions, not because of them. The Bush Administration and its backers have a vision of a certain type of American government, and they intend to form it no matter the cost. In the middle of a job-loss economy and a war, this is an unacceptable policy. It is likely that the Administration will be called to task for this in 2004. They will be unable to respond, because they can't. They are unable to enact necessary policies because their ideology forbids them to even consider an entire galaxy of policy options. This mindset is crippling America and cannot stand -- nor will it.

Den Beste says that the culture of the State Department (like many government and quasi-governmental agencies lately) is out of control:
It seems that there's a culture now inside of State which thinks that it actually makes the policy, and that policy should flow up to the President instead of down. Instead of offering alternatives so that the President could make choices, the top bureaucrats at State seemed to want to make those choices themselves. As time went on, Bush more and more bypassed State entirely and implemented essential foreign policy decisions via resources associated with the Department of Defense or the National Security Council or through the White House staff, often over the objections of State, which were even publicly voiced a few times.

In other words, State has become ideological. This may well be true; I, for one, agree that State has its own policy ideas, isn't taking orders, and is too friendly with the UN, NGO's, and the EU nations. (This friendship, it should be noted, is due to the State Department's long-term task of building and nurturing all three institutions. Mother hens naturally feel protective for their chicks.) But the problem isn't just that State is ideological and won't listen to outside input. The White house is also ideological, and part of the reason State hasn't made anywhere near as much headway at reform under the Bush Administration is that competing ideologies are at work. This is a far more serious conflict than competing policies; if the Administration were proposing radically different ways of working with the UN and the EU, State would resist but wouldn't be nearly so recalcitrant.

The State Department needs to learn two lessons. First, it is out of touch with the American people. Americans want more co-operation, but not at the expense of sacrificing leadership or effectiveness in the international arena (the UN/NGO/EU transnational progressivists have often stated that hamstringing America is a priority). Second, it is ideological and needs a housecleaning. The Administration's own opposite ideology does not exonerate them from the need for flexible and adaptive thinking in these troubled times.