Friday, April 13, 2007

Good Theory, Shame About The Reality

Foreign policy blogger and 4th generation warfare wonk Zenpundit has an interesting guest-post up at The Democracy Project today. He says that, far from needing a "war czar", what American foreign policy needs is for the various existing czars to get out of the way and let others further down the chain of command get on with their jobs. He proposes a reorganisation of US foreign policy to "through modular networks, which combine the advantages of specialization and control offered by hierarchies with the supple resilience and adaptive capacity of scale-free networks."
These field teams must be financially autonomous, answering not to their departmental hierarchies in Washington but to the NSC collectively, with the National Security Adviser as liason. The current situation, where many have the ability to say “No” with no one person having the clear authority or accountability being able to say “ Yes”, must go. Reforming the foreign policy process by “flattening” it, will yield a number of advantages over the present system:

  • The orientation is on mission task rather than bureaucratic “turf”. Everyone sinks or swims together.

  • Foreign policy problems will be analyzed holistically and decided upon collaboratively instead of in a compartmentalized and adversarial fashion.

  • Most decisions will be made much closer to the problems. And be made by people whose knowledge reflects true depth of understanding.

  • The time required to move from proposing foreign policy options to presidential policy is much reduced.

  • Streamlined information flow, minimizing the ability of senior departmental managers in Washington to spin, edit and water down unwelcome news.

  • Instead of putting State or Defense in charge across the board, as is customary in today’s interagency process, leadership of a field team can be quickly moved to the member whose expertise or skill-sets are most closely related to the problem.

  • Shifting the worldview of an age cohort of officials from a parochial departmental perspective to one that embraces a broader, “horizontal” analytical framework.

  • The system will be oriented to provide career incentives to the collaborative problem-solvers rather than obstructionists and bureaucratic saboteurs.

    In a future foreign policy crisis, “jointness” must exist as much between State, Treasury and USAID and between State, the IC and the Pentagon as it does today between the Army and the Marines. Effecting that kind of cultural change means reinventing the structure of government to the kind of “flat”organizational form we see emerging in the most dynamic areas of our private sector.
  • It sounds great - in theory - and in theory I'm right there with him on this.

    But unfortunately, in practise the current administration would see such modular networks as an anathema to their rigid top-down heirarchy unless the whole process of creating these teams could be politically controlled and biased. Thus, team leaders would inevitably be cronies and yes men rather than actual experts. Or if experts at all would be hand-picked from the ranks of the neoconservative think-tankers favored by the likes of the Democracy Project who have made good use of the revolving door between those think tanks and the Bush administration to push their own failed ideology of American hegemony. Then, of course, the Bush administration's obsessive secrecy would ensure that the operations of these teams, hopelessly skewed in favor of neocon warmongering instead of actual diplomacy, would be shielded from public scrutiny. Neoconservatives like those at the Democracy Project would also see any proposal like Zenpundit's as a heaven-gifted opportunity to seize operational control of the Sate Department and US foreign policy away from senior diplomats and appointees in a way which could survive any change of president.

    In other words, like much that is suggested for American foreign policy, the theory would soon hit the twin realities of the Bush administration and the neoconservative noise machine - and then would spectacularly fail.

    Update Dave Schuler at the Glittering Eye says he reaches the same conclusion from a different direction. He writes:
    I think that Mark’s proposal, while interesting, is doomed. The existing bureacracies will fight any change tooth and nail simply because it is a change, simultaneously insisting that any new institutions be subsumed into their own bureacratic structures, effectively strangling them at birth.

    What I believe will happen is that the emergent network-oriented forces outside of government will route around the existing bureacracies, which will become decreasingly relevant and increasingly detached and surreal.
    Dave suggests "a model for this in the political-military sphere: al Qaeda." However, I would point out that a far better model in the circumstances is the one I've already mentioned - the network of neoconservative think-tanks, pundits, pressure groups and administration insiders. What Dave sees as a possible solution is exactly my main objection.

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