Wednesday, January 11, 2006

So much for democracy

U.S. News and World Report writer Michael Barone blogged Here's James Risen, the New York Times reporter who coauthored the paper's December 16 story on NSA surveillance of foreign terrorists, flogging his new book on the Today show. He presents an interesting theory of governance.

Well, I–I think that during a period from about 2000–from 9/11 through the beginning of the gulf–the war in Iraq, I think what happened was you–we–the checks and balances
Checks and balances refers to the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch being equal, and each able to check and balance the other. It does not refer to career bureaucrats being able to check or balance what the elected leaders want.
that normally keep American foreign policy and national security policy towards the center kind of broke down. And you had more of a radicalization of American foreign policy in which the–the–the career professionals were not really given a chance to kind of forge a consensus within the administration. And so you had the–the–the principles–Rumsfeld, Cheney and Tenet and Rice and many others–who were meeting constantly, setting policy and really never allowed the people who understand–the experts who understand the region to have much of a say.
Did they not let you have a say, or did they just not allow you to dictate how they did their jobs?
So, "the career professionals were not really given a chance to kind of forge a consensus within the administration." Evidently, such consensus-building is how government is supposed to operate. Instead, you had folks like "the principles [sic, presumably transcriber's mistake]—Rumsfeld, Cheney and Tenet and Rice and many others—who were meeting constantly, settling policy, and really never allowed the people who understand—the experts who understand the region to have much of a say."

What a scandal! Presidential appointees like Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, and Condoleezza Rice and an elected official like Dick Cheney were meeting together! How dare they? And they were settling policy! Astonishing! What will such people dare to do next?
They were just appointed by the man that had just been elected, after telling the American people what he wanted to do. It is too bad if the bureaucracy did not want to do it that way.
Risen makes it quite clear how he thinks the government should be run. Elected officials like the president and vice president and top presidential appointees should sit quietly in their chairs. They should not meet, at least not very often. They should wait for career government employees—"the experts who understand the region"—to "forge a consensus." Policy should always be kept "toward the center," regardless of what the American people or their elected president think.
That is a stupid idea. The State Department should do what the Secretary of State and the President says, regardless of whether that is they way they have always done something. And the Pentagon should listen to the Secretary of Defense and the Commander in Chief, not just to other Generals.
So that is the New York Times's idea, or at least this New York Times reporter's idea, of how democratic representative government should work. Unelected bureaucrats should rule. If the policies produced by their understanding of the region should produce September 11, they should still rule. Elected officials' jobs are to sit in their chairs, to meet infrequently if at all, and to accept the decisions of the unelected and for the most part unremovable bureaucrats.
That is the problem. They should be removable. That does not say that each time a new administration comes the entire deparment needs to be reformed, but if a career bureaucrat does not want to do something the way the Secretary in charge of his/her department says, he/she should be fired, or at lease reassigned to some place where he/she cannot interfere with the administration's policies.
At least so long as those bureaucrats' policy ideas are considered suitable by James Risen or the New York Times. One suspects that Risen's theory of government would shift completely if the bureaucrats opposed the policies he liked and the elected officials and their top appointees favored them. Then Risen might favor democratic government. But not now, not while George W. Bush is in office. James Risen: for democracy, but only if elections come out his way.

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