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Ready, Willing, ...?

By       Message Richard Hirschhorn       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   9 comments

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Some prefer the term “military-industrial complex” (MIC), others the less “partisan” expressions “defense establishment” or “military.”  The picture is of a partnership where one hand washes the other.  Regardless of whether you deplore or applaud this contrivance you probably make the mistake of thinking it is restricted to the two parties originally defined by President Eisenhower in 1961: the military and its suppliers.

In a democracy such as ours, public approval is required for purchasing half the world’s armaments.  A third leg of the MIC is academia, as indispensable to our modern warfare as flints were to the patriots.  It is these institutions, the universities and think tanks, which create the legitimacy for the policies underlying our military posture.

When Ike warned his nation of the threat to our way of life from the MIC, he was speaking of the lessons learned in the post WWII cold-war era.  It is from that era that we can trace the emergence of a permanent wartime economy and its necessary corollary, the inflated academy.  When our government accepted world leadership, thinkers and policy wonks were encouraged to believe that they were acting appropriately when they drew up plans in their offices or classrooms delineating a reality for millions overseas.  Gone were the days of traditional reluctance to become involved in “foreign entanglements,” and the old adage “good fences make good neighbors” went the way of the wise admonition to mind your own business.

When the national debate on the Iraq occupation was still front and center, Senator Biden was getting some attention for the plan he borrowed from Leslie Gelb.  This “soft-partition” plan got some ink, and there was a “Sense of the Senate” vote taken endorsing its primary thrust.  The plan found additional support among some scholars and in the Washington think tank community.  On one occasion, a lengthy document was presented to the public explaining in great detail how the partition could be implemented.  During the unveiling, the authors explained the mechanisms involved, the feasibility and desirability of the plan, and estimated it had a good chance of success.

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The plan was a block-by-block reorganization of Iraqi society involving the forced relocation of millions.

Both the young authors were clean cut and well spoken.  They made a convincing presentation.  Afterwards, they graciously answered questions from an appreciative audience.

Nobody asked by what right these nice boys presumed to draw up these plans.

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Some weeks later, another well spoken youngster appeared for half an hour on the Charley Rose Show.  Her name was Megan O’Sullivan, and she had just graduated to academia after six years of service to the Bush administration.  When she left, she was Deputy National Security Adviser.  She was the senior director for Iraq.  Like the decent and earnest young men in Washington, she was well dressed, well groomed, well spoken and confident.

Because Charley Rose is one of the best informed of our TV hosts, and perhaps because Ms. O’Sullivan was not quite the diplomatic luminary we are accustomed to finding at “the table,” Mr. Rose pressed his guest more than usual.  His attitude was “what went wrong?"  Her attitude was “don’t be too quick to judge.”  She admonished him that one could not know if one had “paid” too much until the final costs were known, and only then could we see what we had gotten for our money.  He politely brushed aside this stall, and insisted on some explanation for what was plainly a situation no one in his or her right mind could have intended.

At this insistence, she conceded some peripheral points.  She described the situation as “a work in progress”, adding that during her six-year involvement, she had “learned a lot about this part of the world.”  Without conceding failure, and with some aplomb, she casually touched on some “misjudgments” and pointed to “bad implementation” of being “out of synch” and being caught off guard by problems she “didn’t anticipate.”

If we were talking about an artist learning how to paint, a young teacher in a tough classroom, or a geologist trying to figure out how to extract oil from shale, this type of explanation would be appropriate.

Help Wanted: To plan invasion of Mesopotamia and assist in Nation Building.  No experience necessary.  Academic credits will be considered.  Must be politically correct.

There are no qualifications for her job because it has never been done before.  There are no mentors, no blueprints, no standards, and no resumes for an undertaking without precedent.  If this war had been forced on us, as wars often are, we would have had no choice but to make it up as we went along.

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How do we explain the willingness to “wing it” when we are fighting a war of choice?  In particular, how do we explain how that segment of our society that should have been relied upon to bring rigid intellectual standards of analysis and scholarship to bear, to have reference to a scientific method, could have voluntarily and enthusiastically embarked upon on an adventure without data, without any basis to predict success, when the consequences of error could only be of the gravest possible type?

Ms. O’Sullivan, herself, framed the problem perfectly when she summed up by saying, “Its all about making decisions with incomplete information, and not enough time.”

It is this acceptance of a hysterical imperative that best explains the role of an inflated academy in the MIC.  To be seduced by power includes accepting that we have no choice and that we must act.  In this intoxicated state we take on responsibilities for which no one is qualified.  There can be no rational expectation of success.  Indeed, the fatal consequences predicted by experience and true scholarship are subsumed.

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