Sunday, January 14, 2007

Republican Politics American Style

Bush and Iraq Published December 28th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Let’s talk about the Bush Administration and the way they have mishandled US Foreign Policy in Iraq. It might help to understand how America got into its current dilemma in Iraq; if you can set aside any prejudices you may have and try to look at Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Republican Congress as basically decent men who have made some bad decisions, based on flawed strategies and poor judgement. They are not bad men or part of an “evil empire” as some of their opponents in the US and around the world would have us believe. They did not want to see thousands of American soldiers or Iraqi civilians killed as a consequence of their decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime. They did not want to find themselves grappling with a war that has sapped America’s spirit and sectarian violence that threatens to erupt into a full scale civil war among Iraqi citizens. This was never their intention. So how did these well intentioned (for the most part) gentlemen get themselves into such a mess?

There are a number of underlying factors which have contributed to the current situation in Iraq and several of these are not peculiar to this particular Republican administration. One of these factors is a cultural one; American’s bias for action. When we see there is a problem, we want a solution immediately if not sooner. We expect our leaders to do something, anything, but most all, to take some type of action. This is one of America’s greatest strengths as a people and as a country, but it can also be one of our greatest weaknesses. Once an issue gets to the top of America’s problem list, this bias for action often results in positive resolutions to seemingly intractable problems. However it can also result in defective strategies and solutions based on poor planning, faulty assumptions and bad judgements. Such has been the case for the United States in the Iraq war.

Another factor relates to organizational behaviour and is by no means limited to the Bush administration. Many public and privately held business corporations operate in much the same manner. The Chief Executive Officer gathers his top lieutenants and asks them how the company should attack a particular problem or prevail over the competition. He will discuss his vision as regards company’s position following the successful implementation of the plan of action. Failure in terms of strategy or execution is not an option he wishes to discuss. The lieutenants then get together with their respective staffs and employees and tell them “These are our new marching orders from the President. We have scheduled a meeting and I want you to be there to discuss your ideas on how we should go about achieving this objective.”

At this meeting one of the participants questions the wisdom of what the CEO has proposed, or the strategy for accomplishing the task. He makes a number of valid points and has some sound objections. At the next staff meeting to discuss strategy and planning, you notice that the participant with the pointed questions isn’t present. So do your cohorts. You sense that if you want to continue to be a part of this organization, it might be wise to keep your mouth shut unless you have something positive to say that your bosses will want to hear. Unfortunately, this is also a description of what happened inside the Bush Administration with respect to Iraq.

Finally, we have a factor called human nature. When we have undertaken a course of action, then things start to go wrong and we realize that we don’t have an alternative strategy to deal with the reality of the situation, we start circling the wagons. We point the finger at others or complain that we are not getting the support we need to do the job. The more we are criticized or vilified, the more defensive and unwilling to change we become. We won’t admit we made a mistake, no matter how obvious it is to outsiders, because we don’t see a face saving way out. So the situation continues to worsen until a new CEO is brought in to clean up the mess and come up with a new strategy. This is the situation that currently confronts the Bush Administration and its Republican supporters in the US Congress.

Is there any hope that this administration will change some of its positions before they have to leave office in two more years? Maybe. Donald Rumsfeld’s departure and the nomination of Gates as his successor, coupled with the rising influence of foreign policy experts led by James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, of the Iraq Study Group, is a hopeful sign.

If you would like to read some fairly accurate and unbiased, behind the scenes accounts about how the Bush administration got into its current predicament, then I would suggest that the two best books on this subject are Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial” and “Fiasco” by Thomas Ricks.

Rich and Famous Published January 4th 2007 in Metro Eireann
By Charles Laffiteau

In another side-track from US politics, I've been thinking about the rich and famous people I’ve met, both here in Dublin and back in the states. I’ll begin with President Clinton, since I’ve spoken with him twice since that night we partied together in Little Rock, once in Fayetteville Arkansas, just before a basketball game in December of 1993 and the other time here in Dublin, shortly after my arrival from the states.

In Fayetteville, after waiting outside the basketball arena with my ex-wife in a long line to pass thru metal detectors, I was in a hurry to get to my seats before tip-off, when I ran into a barrier blocking the passageway to the aisle closest to my seats. I looked up, visibly disturbed about the “roadblock” to my seats, and found myself looking straight into Bill Clinton’s eyes. He offered his hand and as I shook it I said “How are you Governor, if you don’t mind I’m in a bit of a hurry to get to my seats.” He smiled and turned to the Secret Service agent and said “Go ahead and let these folks thru.” Then he turned back to me and said “Should be a great game, I hope you enjoy it” as his Secret Service agents allowed me and my ex-wife past the barrier to our seats.

My ex-wife then proceeded to scold me for addressing him as “Governor” instead of “Mr. President”, saying that I was being disrespectful. I told her that I truly meant no disrespect in addressing him as “Governor”,that I had done so out of habit, not intentionally. At half time of the game, the couple behind us noted that we had been the only people allowed down that particular aisle before the game and that everyone else in our section of seats had to “take the long way around” to get to their seats. I turned to my ex-wife and said “Now see, does that sound like something a man would do if he felt like I was insulting him by addressing him as “Governor”?

At the end of my second week in Dublin, I splurged and got a bite to eat one evening at a restaurant on Henry Street which is in an old church and reminded me of a similar restaurant I once worked for in my home town of Atlanta, Georgia called The Abbey. As I was leaving I ran into Bill-surrounded by a retinue of Secret Service agents-as he was entering and we briefly exchanged greetings. I was quite surprised to be running into him in Dublin and almost said “How are you Governor” again! But this time I remembered my ex wife’s admonishments and stopped myself at the last moment. She would have been proud to finally here me greet him as “Mr. President” (instead of just “Bill” or “Governor”), although I personally think he doesn’t really care how one addresses him, so long as you are being reasonably friendly and respectful.

Other run-ins with the same rich and famous people have also occurred in both the States and Dublin. I am specifically speaking about the band with the 2 in their name. When they were on the first leg of their Zoo TV tour back in 1992, they came to Dallas to perform three shows at Reunion Arena. I was backstage thanks to connections and suggested that Bono and the boys visit a funky local bar called the “Grapevine” if they wanted somewhere to party after hours, since I was friends with the owners Richard and Melissa. They duly did and when Melissa saw us arrive after 1:00am she immediately locked the doors so no-one else could get in (she had seen some customers calling their friends to tell them the band was there) and then shoed her other customers out when the legal closing time of 2:00am rolled around (though the party kept going till 5). I have a one of a kind “Achtung Baby” road crew t-shirt as a memento of that evening. The next time our paths crossed was in May of this year, when Bono spoke at Fair Park in Dallas, on behalf of (an organization I am a member of) and I spoke with him briefly at a private reception for members of the organization.

The next and last time I encountered Bono or the band was not long after, on my first foray shopping in downtown Dublin back in September. It was on O’Connell Street looking for college textbooks when I saw the band emerge from a book signing at Eason’s. I quickly handed my card to Bono’s driver and asked him to give it to Willie, so that he would know where to contact me here in Dublin-if he or the others actually remember our previous meetings in Dallas, that is. I haven’t heard a word from them yet.

I have met and partied with a number of Rich and Famous people back in the States but I doubt my readers would recognize many of the names. Most of them are sports figures, coaches and television personalities unfamiliar to most people outside of the US. I find the vast majority of these individuals to be intelligent, personable and very approachable. I thing most Dubliner’s, like many Americans, are too awed or intimidated by people’s fame to try to approach them and have a normal conversation with them. They are really not much different than you and I.

Since I’ve been in Dublin I've met a few more. I have talked one on one with actors Nev Campbell and David Soul following their performances in the play “Exonerated”, and I also spent some time talking with actor Patrick Bergen about the play and our respective viewpoints regarding capital punishment. Not bad for my first 30 days in Dublin. I wonder who else I’m going to meet or run into here in the future. Roddy Doyle maybe?