Those Dastardly, Omnipotent Bureaucrats

The Washington Post runs a strange, self-contradicting account of the Bush administration’s failure to implement its professed democracy-promotion policy.

The headline and opening few paragraphs leave the impression that President Bush himself is a victim of bureaucratic intransigence.   But later on, the article reports that Bush’s budget cut funding for democracy-building projects.  It also quotes a government official describing Vice President Cheney’s office as having a “little-girl crush on strongmen.”

And who is in charge of this democracy-building business?  The Post article identifies Elliot Abrams as “perhaps the most forceful advocate of democracy promotion within the administration.”  All we learn about him from this article is that one line of info.  Well, doesn’t he sound like a real humanitarian.  The Post fails to mention his support for, and covering up of, massacres in Latin America during the Reagan administration.

(That, incidentally, is one of the main reasons why I was wrong at the time to support the Iraq invasion.  I allowed myself to believe the assurances of people like Donald Rumsfeld and  Elliot Abrams that we’d learned our lesson, and now we’d only support good people and do honest things.  But there was no contrition from Saddam’s erstwhile supporters in the administration.  Back then I thought that the US learned lessons of what not to do from its mistakes; now I know that our mistakes are a constant reminder of what the government will do if we fail to engage in vigorous oversight.)

And the statement of a “bureaucrat” that “Policy is not what the president says in speeches, policy is what emerges from interagency meetings,” is hardly a show-stopper.  Did President Reagan ever give a speech saying, “I pledge to you, my fellow Americans, that we will trade arms for hostages, support any murderous regime group or regime that claims to be anti-communist, and run up the biggest deficits in our nation’s proud and storied history”?  Of course not, but the first two were Reagan administration policy, and the third was a result of its policies.  Presidential speeches are not the first place to turn when it comes time for implementation.

But as incoherent as the article is on its face, it also manages to avoid examining essential issues.  Saudi Arabia goes unmentioned.  That’s rather a relevant country to investigate, when it comes to our professed ideals running up against our short-term interests– and against longstanding US policy and Bush family custom.   Pakistan is referred to once, in the context of an interagency meeting determining how the country should be designated.

Decisions as to US policy toward these countries will be made at the highest levels.  If the policy hasn’t been changed, it’s not the fault of the bureaucracy, it’s the fault of the president for failing to change the policy to fit with the ideals he expresses in speeches.

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One Response to “Those Dastardly, Omnipotent Bureaucrats”

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