Action now for damage control 2007-8 and enable post-Bush recovery
By Hill Kemp
“Establish unto thyself principles of action; and see that thou ever act according to them. First know that thy principles are just, and then be thou.” Akhenaton (King of Egypt, 14th century BC)
Congress can act now to change the way the United States is being run and do so well within its constitutional authority. But it will not be by opposing proposals coming out of the Bush administration on prosecuting the war in Iraq, the burgeoning deficit, immigration or any other specific proposal. Congress first needs to shift to talking about general principles we all can embrace instead of the current stuck arguments about specific things like troop surge, taxes, budget levels and troop withdrawal dates. An example of a general principle would be “We will maintain a full, robust diplomatic engagement with every country with a stake in any conflict involving the US.” General principles evoke our actions and can be used to screen specific proposals for legislation or action.
The dysfunctional leadership style of George W. Bush is cursed with a flaw I first observed when he became Governor of Texas. The problem that plagued him in Texas is now tragically roiling events in Iraq and around the world. The administration’s core values - their organizational equivalent of DNA - impossibly seem to change over the short term. The sea changes in Bush administration principles are not even acknowledged, much less explained. This anomaly is explained by an unprecedented style in leadership that can leave our citizens, the Congress, our friends and our foes dangerously confused about who we are as a country.
In early 1995, newly elected Governor Bush set up his first administration with the help of key advisors Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. I worked that Regular Session of the Texas Legislature as a lobbyist for a group of businesses. It was my knowledge of the legislative process combined with twenty years experience as an organization redesign specialist that gave me a unique perspective of Bush’s fledgling administration. The variability of core values I saw played out in the early weeks of 1995 was both surprising and alarming.
This same behavior has shown in the Bush team ever since. This leaves the US leadership rootless and adrift as to underlying principles – a condition I call “principles du jour”. That’s how we’ve had four or five (one loses count) VITAL, CORE reasons for invading Iraq – all with no rational explanation between. Think of the shift starting in the fall of 2006 on global warming, again with no supporting rationale for the shift. Then there is the rehiring of Ambassador Timothy Carney to head Iraq rebuilding in January, 2007 after his ripping and accurate indictment of the Bremmer ideological debacle in June 2003. The list of examples goes on and on.
Congress can address this rootlessness by changing the Washington conversation from programs to principles. An example principle would be “We support our troops and we will make keeping them trained, adequately rested, safe and supplied a required condition as long as they are in harms way.” That is a principle the administration could either agree with or offer an alternative. Agreement on the above principle would have tremendous impact at the troop deployment and strategy levels. The current plans to put troops in harms way with inadequate training, equipment and support would violate that principle. Such ill-conceived plans would open a conversation to determine if the general principle has been changed and whether a new principle is proposed. That is the start of a process to seek agreement on the new principle or return to the agreed principle. The list of principles would need to cover all aspect of governing.
Shifting from the action level to the principle level is a classic strategy in conflict resolution. It can be especially helpful when the parties are stuck in disagreement. In the situation the US finds itself in today, that shift can further introduce a consistent set of principles where virtually none exists now. That would be a major step in damage control for the 2007-08 period and enable recovery in the post-Bush era. The whole list of principles would need to address not just the war and foreign policy, but also domestic policies, spending, deficit control, immigration and the like. The vital change is a shift from the program/legislation/implementation level to establish the PRINCIPLE level in order to move out of our current dilemma. Congress can start that conversation tomorrow.
HILL KEMP is a former Texas State Representative and the author of Capitol Offense, a political thriller and literary caricature of George Bush as Governor of Texas. He is author of three other published titles and A Lone Star Special, the sequel to his first novel, is due out in 2007. Kemp lives in the lake and forest country of northwest Louisiana.