"Inquiry Provides An Insight Into Messy World Of Governance."

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"Inquiry Provides An Insight Into Messy World Of Governance."

Post by 1916 on Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:07 pm


ANYONE wishing to understand the workings of modern government and the messy, uncertain and highly personal ways in which policy is really made should pay attention to the Iraq Inquiry.

Media interest is almost wholly in the politics. Journalists listened to Alastair Campbell's evidence on Tuesday desperate for a story. But officials have been there first and laid bare pretty much everything that happened in the critical policy exchanges, and there is nothing more to find other than spurious distinctions without a difference in the cautious, measured words of individuals telling the same complicated story.

Much more important, in my view, is the inquiry's spectacular validation of an insight hidden in the Cabinet Office's guide to "professional policy making in the 21st century". That report wanted to include a neat diagram of the "policy process" but could find nothing that bore any resemblance to today's complex reality. The inquiry will address lessons that need to be learned about how to make policy in the real world of the 21st century.

My interest is also partly personal. Many of the witnesses were once colleagues of mine in the Foreign Office. I want to understand how it came to pass that so many brilliant individuals of such high personal integrity wound up on the wrong end of one of the most damaging foreign policy decisions of recent times.

There are no simple answers. According to Sir David Manning, for example, Blair's foreign policy adviser, internal divisions were rife on the US side. There were hawks at Defence, doves at State, and almost all shades of opinion in between – all clamouring for the President's ear.

In the circumstances he cannot provide categorical answers to questions like 'what was US policy?' or 'when and why did it change?'. We might as well ask how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

More revealing, for me, is the poignant tone running through some of this evidence of highly competent professionals becoming aware that the system they operate is no longer fit for purpose.

Sir David Manning's evidence makes clear that for all our professional talk of analysis, assessment and government "machinery", we are still dealing with a human system. That is easily forgotten.

He reminds us that the top players in Washington felt the 9/11 attacks personally. Bush went to the site of the twin towers soon after the attack; Rumsfeld was in the Pentagon when the plane hit. The load inevitably fell on a relatively small group, partly because of the high level of security clearance needed to participate.

Manning calls it "the ring of secrecy". He concedes that, while the machinery of government worked well during the crisis (every witness so far has said this), fatigue soon set in.

Finally, Sir Christopher Meyer, the British Ambassador in Washington at the time, tells a story that speaks volumes for another aspect of the prevailing mindset. It was a heady time: "It was wonderful stuff being applauded wherever you go and having your name up in lights on the scoreboard at a big baseball match in New York."

Struggling to get out from these stories is another tale. The fact is that the tight "ring of secrecy" – that excludes the public, that undermines "legitimacy" even as it secures technical legality, that places intolerable pressure on a few individuals and risks that they see themselves as Gods – is no longer sustainable.

The talents these officials displayed must now be contributed in a very different process, one that is more open, messy and chaotic. One in which we the public – not least through the openness and immediacy of social media – have become an important actor, not an afterthought. That is the context Alastair Campbell describes in his evidence. But he found a Whitehall mindset out of step with "the modern media age".

This is a world full of uncertainty, not susceptible to tight control. Policy will be informed by evidence, but cannot be determined by it. Perception and plausibility are as powerful as truth. In these circumstances having many options available and manoeuvring to keep them open is the highest achievement of strategy.

But in 2002 it slowly became clear there were in practice two strategies running in parallel: a diplomatic strategy and a military one. Alas, for these committed diplomats, in spring of 2003 their time ran out.
The General
The General

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Re: "Inquiry Provides An Insight Into Messy World Of Governance."

Post by chez on Wed Jan 13, 2010 7:40 pm

All I'd like to ask about is the part where you mention Iraq in conjunction to 9/11 I was under the impression that was our apparent logic for Afghanistan?

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Re: "Inquiry Provides An Insight Into Messy World Of Governance."

Post by ronws on Fri Jan 15, 2010 6:29 pm

I think the article makes some good points, though I hesitate to support any notion of conspiracy amongst american leaders to orchestrate things and I say that separate from the fact that I am american. I have seen interviews with people involved in the response of 9-11 and, to put it bluntly, we were caught with our pants down. Jets were scrambled but no one knew anything. Intelligence info was scarce. When the first plane hit Tower I, many thought it was merely an accident. That's why pres Bush remained in the classroom in Florida, reading to children. When news of the second jet hit, by then more intelligence was gathered, including the inadvertant broadcast to air controllers of statements spoken by the hijackers that were meant for the passengers, then the alarm went up. Job number one for the Secret Service is protect the POTUS. As soon as they could, without freaking out the children, they grabbed him up and took off and then landed and shoved him down a hole (supposedly closed military base) in Louisiana.

Many have thought Bush to be a bumbling idiot. So, then, a bumbling idiot is capable of orchestrating this? Or is a puppet of the Club of Rome, another popular theory, since the Club of Rome has been seeking ways to create a one-world government? I've heard the same said about Obama. That the POTUS is just a face for the folks while people behind the scenes do the real management. I don't buy much into that theory. If Bush really were the control freak some imagine him to be, why would he do all this for the Club of Rome or whatever machiavellian scheme? Why "share" power if you can have it all?

But we could have possibly improved our intelligence operations beforehand if they weren't receiving funding cuts. The Clinton admin had a chance to snatch Osama bin Laden. This was after the initial bombing of World Trade Center Tower I, in the parking garage. They didn't do it. I'm not slamming Clinton, I'm just saying there were failures along the way.

But it got our attention.

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