Putting Iraq in Perspective

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Columnist, novelist, and soldier Austin Bay in this column puts Iraq in historical perspective, over a span of 4,000 (!) years. He revisits his own arguments for military intervention:

"In January 2003, I argued that toppling Saddam's tyranny in Iraq would do two things: begin the process of fostering political choice (democracy) in the Middle East and bring al-Qaida onto a battlefield not of its choosing. Moreover, that battlefield would be largely manned by Muslim allies, exposing the great fractures within Islam and the Middle East that al-Qaida's strategists tried to mask by portraying America as "the enemy.""

And he concludes that in fact we have achieved both those objectives. The terrorists responded:

"Unable to defeat coalition soldiers or dim liberty's appeal, Zarqawi and his terror clique chose Iraqi civilians as their target. They concluded that an Islamic sectarian war between Shia and Sunni was the only way al-Qaida would avoid defeat. That might entail temporarily placing a secular Saddam-type tyrant in power–hence the short-term cooperation with thugs from the former regime. Al-Qaida and the Saddamists bet their bombs would break the Iraqi people. That has not happened. They know their resiliency is a stinging rebuke of terror and tyranny."

For America to leave under these circumstances would be, in Bay's view and mine, a horrific blunder, an "own goal" in British football terms.

The editorial writers of the Washington Post seem to agree. They do the House Democrats the favor of seriously analyzing the current "Pelosi plan for Iraq." They note that the restrictions on war funding that the House Democrats are preparing to impose have something–including some pork–for everyone in the Democratic Party. But:

"The only constituency House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ignored in her plan for amending President Bush's supplemental war funding bill are the people of the country that U.S. troops are fighting to stabilize. The Democratic proposal doesn't attempt to answer the question of why August 2008 is the right moment for the Iraqi government to lose all support from U.S. combat units. It doesn't hint at what might happen if American forces were to leave at the end of this year–a development that would be triggered by the Iraqi government's weakness. It doesn't explain how continued U.S. interests in Iraq, which holds the world's second-largest oil reserves and a substantial cadre of al-Qaeda militants, would be protected after 2008; in fact, it may prohibit U.S. forces from returning once they leave."

There seems to be a feeling among many Democrats who want to end our military involvement in Iraq that everything in the region and the world will be just peachy if our troops leave. We won't have television reports of Americans killed by IEDs or RPGs, and the Iraqis will live in the kite-flying paradise Michael Moore showed them living in when Saddam Hussein was in power. Islamic fundamentalists will cease hating us, and the Middle East will enter an era of comity and peace.

I get a whiff of this from a press release from the antiwar group Code Pink, which sponsored a group of "Self-appointed Personal Shoppers" in Pelosi's office this morning. As the press release puts it:"Pelosi's Self-appointed Personal Shoppers (PSPS) arrive in Speaker Pelosi's Cannon Office to advise her that she looks SO MUCH better sporting healthcare, education and fully-funded domestic programs, not war and occupation!...

"We're hopeful," says Gael Murphy, "that Speaker Pelosi's intuitive sense of style and justice will prevail over Bush's poorly designed and completely outmoded ready-to-war Supplemental that will allow this conflict to drag on for years, wreaking havoc that will spread throughout the Middle East. The mark-up is criminal and there are no returns!" In this view, it is America's military intervention in Iraq that is "wreaking havoc that will spread through the Middle East." If it weren't for America, things would be fine in this peaceful region. There's no recognition here that Iraq has held democratic elections and has an accountable government. There's no recognition that if we leave the terrorists alone in Iraq, they may be free to operate there and, from there, elsewhere.

It's interesting that Code Pink uses the personal shopper motif for its event. I doubt that most Americans know what a personal shopper is. A personal shopper is a salesperson at a high-end store like Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue who picks out clothes that she thinks her clients would like and, often, brings them to her house and apartment for inspection and purchase; they are careful not to sell the same outfit to two women who are likely to work or socialize together. The job requires a high level of sensitivity to a client's taste and, as I gather from reading an article about the subject, pays a lot of money. I don't know whether Nancy Pelosi employs personal shoppers, but she might very well; she has lots of money, she doesn't have much time for shopping, and (here I agree with Code Pink) she does have an "intuitive sense of style" and wears beautiful clothes. (I wouldn't ordinarily bring this up–I feel a little awkward commenting on female politicians' clothes when I never comment on male politicians' clothes–but Code Pink raised the issue.) It tells you something about what part of society Code Pink comes from that it uses the personal shopper analogy. These folks apparently know a lot about high-end clothes. But they seem not to have given a moment's thought to what happens in the world if their policy recommendations are followed.

Making Government Work

Here is an acute analysis by Capt. Ed Morrissey on the privatization of services at Walter Reed Army Hospital, which seems to have led to the problems that have been so widely discussed. I attended a lunch last week at the BMW office here in Washington at the invitation of BMW's Craig Helsing and columnist Jim Pinkerton for Elaine Kamarck's new book, The End of Government ... as We Know It: Making Public Policy Work. Kamarck is now at Harvard; she ran the National Performance Review in the Clinton White House, and in 1990 she and Pinkerton coauthored an influential paper on "The New Paradigm." Kamarck argues that we have three options of how to deliver government services. One is by the old Weberian bureaucracies, appropriately updated or "reinvented." This is appropriate when the government service can't be routinized and requires a high level of security. A second option is government by network, preferable when you need innovation. Examples include weapons development in the Cold War (we contracted those out to defense firms and didn't produce them within government, as John Kenneth Galbraith recommended) and the delivery of most social services today. The third option is government by market, in which state action creates a market and relies on individuals to act according to market cues. Examples are the state bottle deposit laws and the cap and trade provisions for sulfur dioxide emissions in the 1990 Clean Air Act revisions.

What are the accountability issues and management issues to these three options? With reinvented bureaucratic government, you're replacing bureaucratic norms with a results orientation: You need to measure outputs, not inputs. If you do it right, you'll have high levels of transparency and accountability.

Government by network, on the other hand, is not very transparent and not very accountable. People in government grew up expecting to manage a bureaucracy, but managing networks is a different task; and politics infringes on accountability. Kamarck argues that the Bush administration has done a poor job of managing networks, citing FEMA's performance in Hurricane Katrina and the Walter Reed privatization noted above. FEMA's inflexible regulations, she said, don't work when first responders are victims, as in Katrina and in Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The Bush administration had devised a National Response Plan to deal with this, but it was not implemented in timely fashion. Kamarck thinks the administration has outsourced too much work and managed it poorly; she notes that the Clinton administration, more sympathetic to federal employee unions, tended to outsource less and in her view managed these networks better. People in the Bush administration would presumably take a different view.

Finally, when you have government by market, you can't get much accountability. Some markets go awry: California's electricity market, for example, which required electric power delivery firms to buy power on the spot market daily. Management means watching for gaming and fraud in the marketplace.

Her conclusions: In 50 years we will have the same number of, if not fewer, civil servants; the Clinton administration made much of the fact that the federal payroll had fallen below the level of 1960. But they will be vastly better paid and will have to have much higher skill levels. They will have to be capable of managing complex policy implementation; there will be intense productivity demands on government. This is already happening, she reports, in Singapore.

Other points. We need to give procurement power to the military's regional commanders, rather than centralize it in the Pentagon bureaucracy. Congress needs to restructure its committees to match the restructuring of the executive branch over the past 20 years; the Department of Homeland Security reports to 22 committees or subcommittees (and centralizing that, I might add, is one part of the 9/11 commission's recommendations that the House and Senate Democratic leaders didn't follow). Congress, except on defense, is not doing enough authorizing and oversight; it's just appropriators. The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which gave operational power to regional commands and insisted on joint operations by the different military services, may turn out to be the last government restructuring initiative to originate in Congress rather than in the executive branch. In contrast, Kamarck cited Clinton administration moves to change performance measures–having OSHA safety audits measured by death reductions rather than by number of orders issued, having the Internal Revenue Service judged not on cases closed but by other measures. Maintaining the independence and rigor of government statistical agencies is very important: They enable you to measure government outputs.

Our education system: Most of it is run by traditional, unreinvented bureaucracies; the accountability standards initiated by states and required by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act are an attempt at management by network; charter schools and vouchers are an attempt at government by market, but they are resisted by middle-class people who already feel their children are served well because they buy into what they consider good public school districts by paying premium prices for their homes.

Altogether, a stimulating and bracing way to look at government, and a relief from the hackneyed partisan debates with which we're all too familiar.