The bureaucratization of U.S. foreign policy

The NSC [National Security Council] was established in the 1947 National Security Act, which named the members of the council: president, vice president and secretaries of state and defense. The function of the council “shall be to advise the president with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security.” The law required regular meetings…

Mr. Kissinger grew the council to include one deputy, 32 policy professionals and 60 administrators. By my count, alumni of his NSC include two secretaries of state, four national security advisers, a director of national intelligence, a secretary of the Navy, and numerous high-ranking officials in the State, Defense and Treasury departments as well as the Central Intelligence Agency.

But the NSC has only continued to expand. By the end of the Obama administration, 34 policy professionals supported by 60 administrators had exploded to three deputies, more than 400 policy professionals and 1,300 administrators.

The council lost the ability to make fast decisions informed by the best intelligence.

Here is more from John Lehman (WSJ).

Comments

Well to be fair it takes enormous effort to lose an 18 year campaign against a bunch of inbred goat herders. Especially if you have at hand the most powerful military imaginable.

No one could ever accuse them of being lazy. It is exhausting work.

As the Soviets discovered last century. And when it came to dreams of global conquest, and the KGB to purge laziness, the Soviets were no slouches either. Turns out, just like the British discovered in the century before, it is exhausting work.

Quit while you are behind seems to be the only successful historical strategy, it turns out. As will be again demonstrated in the 21st Century.

Only 18 years ago? The Soviets couldn't reign in those same inbred goat herders. That's two superpowers in a row that can't knock out the home team. Afghanistan reminds of 20th century Vietnam. They kicked out the Japanese, the French, the Americans, and the Chinese. Home court advantage is very important.

Likely much worse then the Vietnam fiasco.

As near as I can tell, Trump and his 4,000 man army declared war against three mideast nations, some 1.5 million fighters armed to the teeth and all surrounding his little troop patrols. Then, to show a little hubris, we declared war against Russian via NATO.

So, when Trump gets splatted by a 2,000 dollar hunter killer UAV we will have to put up with a bunch of Hillbilly senators clamoring for war. As near as I can tell, we are headed for a 500,000 Yank troop vs three nations, 1.5 million soldiers armed to the teeth with a Russian land support bridge.

What i worse, the three nation he suddenly declared war against were our allies in the fight against Al Queda, so he has left the home front subject to another bombing, likely from hi new allies, Al queda. An, if i m not mistaken, every single Repub president pulled off the same bonehead rick resulting in the towers bombing, the embasy bombing snf the Cole bombing.

Now we are rigged, eventually the Iranian kids with their foam UAV will splatter the guy, and we are stuck. Half of us don't care, the NSA warned the bonehead. This is LBJ screwing up on steroids. Folks o9n tyhei log know I called this a month before the bonehead starts the wr. The cause? Another brain dead Repub doing yet another oil deal with Saudi Arabia.
I gave the warning, starting about a year ago, the NSA picked up on the issue and raised the issue publicly. So, I am off the hook, go ahead and splatter the guy, he was warned officially an unofficially. Our Iraqi embassy is rocketed on a weekly basis, the Iraq government wants us out, the 4,000 troops remaining are stuck hiding underground until this gets sorted out.

California is not putting up one dime to send a half million man army back into the middle east.

This was quite the rant, put down the bottle, turn off CNN and come back to reality.

" That's two superpowers in a row that can't knock out the home team. Afghanistan reminds of 20th century Vietnam. "

As Walter points out, it's three superpowers in a row -- the Brits couldn't conquer and hold Afghanistan as well. An entire army of 4,500, plus 12,000 civilians, was annihilated trying to retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad (except for Dr. Bryson riding a wounded pony):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1842_retreat_from_Kabul

The Brits came back and re-conquered Kabul and declared victory and departed from Afghanistan ... until they came back for the Second Anglo-Afgan War, which they pretty much won ... only to lose Afghanistan again the the Third Anglo-Afghan War.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Afghan_War

There are certain countries that are like a hot potato to try to conquer and hold. Afghanistan. Vietnam -- even the Chinese have learned that they can harass but not conquer them. Chechnya, where the Russians have arguably co-opted the leader rather than conquering the country. Israel for sure. Maybe Switzerland, although their best defense has probably been to alter the cost-benefit calculation so hugely in favor of leaving them alone to do their thing that there's no point in invading them.

Turns out getting the consent of the governed is both much more practically (not just morally) important and much more difficult than it seems.

Because there is a mismatch at the strategic level. To go to war against terrorism, you need counter-terrorists not a regular military. You can play tennis with a ping pong paddle and you'll be exhausted for trying but you won't win.

"To go to war against terrorism" was never the US plan - how the hell can you fight a war against a tactic? To go to war against the Wrong Sort of Terrorists might have been.

That's not a great comment. It's not that we don't have the technical or strategic ability to win.

It is the well-established contradiction that we would have to destroy the village (or country) to save it.

It's why we should have never occupied those lands. We should have practiced a little airship diplomacy, punished backers of terrorism, and then just gone home.

And I believe the correct reading is that the US military and intelligence organizations knew this. The invasion of Afghanistan and the second invasion of Iraq failed Schwarzkopf's criteria. We got mired in the end without an achievable military objective. Everything had become political and unwinnable.

George W. Bush invented a parallel intelligence organization to give him the answer he would want.

Doug "Feith was criticized during the first term of the Bush administration for creating the Office of Strategic Influence. This office came into existence to support the War on Terror."

And any attempt to blame this on Obama is a historical bullshit.

"George W. Bush invented a parallel intelligence organization to give him the answer he would want." No, and he's on record as being sceptical of the CIAs wanting to go to war. All the other nations' intel communities backed up the CIA though.

"And any attempt to blame this on Obama is a historical bullshit." Right after your historical bullshit. lol.
Obama bears no blame in Afghanistan, but it was a major FU to pull out of Iraq and leave the vacuum that gave ISIS so much power. Both Dems and Reps told him not to. Iraq was looking pretty good in 2008.

Iraq was looking much better in 2002 than 2008 though.

"lose an 18 year campaign"

The original campaign was to eliminate the country as am Al Queda refuge. That succeeded.

Then we undertook "nation building". That failed because its never been a "nation", just a loose collection of tribes. No amount of military power can change that fact.

The collected wisdom of the responses are that
1. it is impossible, no one has done it before

Our problem here is we don't make a living off of it. If we made a living off of the continuing war (18 years. Another 12 and I can retire) we would find every justification for wasting time money and lives there.

And anonymous, Obama made one of the most stupid mistakes imaginable. Iraq was difficult and probably hopeless, but it was in open country in the desert. His solution was to take a difficult and probably hopeless war and move it into the mountains of Afghanistan. Any US Military general who didn't resign over that decision can be reliably ignored as having profound misjudgement. And his solution to the difficulty was to move day to day decisions and management to Washington. Another blitheringly stupid decision.

The Iraq withdrawal agreement was signed by George W. Bush. Obama tried to get an extension to the timetable specified in that agreement but the Iraqi government did not agree.

It's ironic that Obama critics wanted him to "magic away" the problem GWB created, and don't expect easy solutions from Trump now.

As I say, insert bullshit.

Hyper-partisan bs shuts down critical thinking, exhibit #1,294.

GWB deserves 100% of the blame for the incredibly stupid decision of invading both countries.

Obama deserves 100% of the blame for the incredibly stupid decision of the surge in Afghanistan, made even more stupid by pre-announcement of the troop withdrawal.

They share equal blame for the lying cover-up exposed in the Afghanistan Papers which ran through both administrations.

Which apparently no one cares about since neither sides’ idiot brigade can use as a tool to bludgeon the other.

Both the USSR and the US failed in Afghanistan because you can't bomb a people back to the stone ages, who already live in the stone ages.

”I was there when they blundered into Paris."

Dude, don't low-rate the ability of goat-herders to stymie the imperialistic flounderings of over-fed Anglo shop-keepers.

bureaucracies always seek to expand...Parkinson's Law...

It goes to show how tough the road would be for Trump, even if he were intelligent and level-headed and brought the best of intentions. No political novice/outsider is ever likely to have anywhere near the number of personal contacts necessary to remake the institutions.

But think of how many more resumes have NSC experience listed on them. It is an awesome contribution to our human capital.

It is incredibly valuable experience. If you fail in the Middle East, you can fail anywhere.

Hard as it may be to believe today, Americans were against entering World War II until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Then, FDR worried he would not be able to enter the European theater, except Germany then declared war on the United States.

After World War II, America demobilized its citizen-soldier military.

But the globalists have been gaining power ever since, involving the US in a string of losing Wars in too many entanglement to count.

Although the National Security complex has its own imperatives, it has also largely become a hyper-mobilized mercenary global guard service for multinationals and has little to do with preventing a military attack on the US today.

I would not call those guys globalists. I'd call them war-mongers. Globalists usually say they are in favor of peace, if you ask any around the world.

The containment of Russia was what got the globalist military machine going, and once that ended the inertia kept it going. It may finally be fading some.

"The council lost the ability to make fast decisions informed by the best intelligence."

Is slow decision making the number one thing that needs to be fixed? A faster NSC with less checks and balances could be another kind of hell. I'm always leary of solutions when the problems are ill-defined.

No, no. We just want whoever the president is to make quick, rash decisions about foreign engagements. But more seriously, whether we have millions on the NSC or no one, it’s still the case that the president can launch nukes whenever they want unless someone down the chain actively refuses to follow orders. Not sure a large NSC is relevant to whether those nukes get launched for good or bad reasons.

You guys need 1800 people to make a decision? At 1% of that it'd take a month for them to figure out what to have for lunch.

You're replying to a bot. In the last week I've noticed these Mikebots showing upon on the site.

Give me a T!, etc.

(Bots don't make simple typing mistakes like gas for has - unless they are using small keyboards, of course)

Calling someone racist automatically wins the discussion, establishes a line that separates good and bad

You are doing it wrong, which is all one expects from a Mick anyways.

The result of a combination of globalization and the disintegration of a bi-polar (the U.S. and Soviet Union) world. Today, every economic region, every conflict region, must have its own experts to advise the president. Let's not forget that GWB's secretary of state was an expert on the Soviet Union, with little knowledge of the middle east and the sectarian and cultural conflict there. Let's not forget that the middle east was viewed as a primarily a struggle between Israel, on the one hand, and Muslim countries (and not just Iran) on the other, rather than a conflict between Muslims and the deadly resistance to modernity. Throw in the emergence of the China economic juggernaut and the rising military belligerence of North Korea. Yet, time and again I read articles about the relative peace of our time. Does that mean the foreign policy establishment is doing a good job or does it mean that our definition of peace is antiquated? And then there's Trump, a president unable or unwilling to accept expertise of any kind including in international affairs, a president who prefers chaos over order. One might ask what's the point of all those experts to advise the president. I've asked before whether the considered views of experts is better or worse than the gut of Trump (who says he makes decisions based on the feeling in his gut at the time of the decision)? Former advisors to Trump have stated that they tried to limit Trump's options by presenting only two, which at least provided a 50% chance Trump's decision would be the right one. What's the percentage that the advice of the experts is the right advice?

I don't think speed of decision making is the issue. It's that with 400+ talented, ambitious "policy professionals", there's huge competition for visibility, access, influence, etc. People need to fight hard to stand out as a "star" -- in contrast with a small group, especially one of "all-stars".

This "tournament" means that people necessarily take a very careerist approach. As a result, their high-level collective domain expertise (which is probably quite high) tends to be muddled by individual short-term bureaucratic concerns, whether that's 'push highly visible new initiative' or 'cover your a-- consensus'.

At a smaller compliment, you'd also get fewer little assholes running around thinking they make foreign policy.

If there are 1,300 administrators, it's an indication that they have someone to administrate and each of them has a number of inferiors that require guidance and instruction. The total number of bureaucratic bozos is probably far in excess of 1,300 and must include contractors as well as federal employees.

I think our problem today is that the perfect number of foreign policy decision makers is greater than one and less than a thousand.

We are further from the sweet spot than we once were.

Why is less than 1,000 the sweet spot? Why not have a team working on each country? I don’t see why any of this is problematic especially when it’s still the case that the president has a blank check to commit troops to conflict for 90 days or to launch nukes on a moment’s notice whether he checks with the NSC or not. Size of NSC seems really orthogonal to this.

You are right, when I said less than a thousand "decision makers" I understood that there could be many more researchers than that.

And I don't know if you follow the news, but apparently Trump is trying to get the number down to like five.

Eliminating federal jobs is NEVER a bad thing.

CDC to cut by 80 percent efforts to prevent global disease outbreak

The CDC has about $150 million remaining from the one-time Ebola emergency package for these global health security programs, the senior government official said. That money will be used this year and in fiscal 2019, but without substantial new resources, that leaves only the agency's core annual budget, which has remained flat at about $50 million to $60 million.

That seems like small money for a significant threat.

Is Ebola still a threat?

I very much doubt that the Ebola virus has become extinct.

Allen Drury wrote a few books about this, including A Thing of State.

Genghis Khan and Tamerlane never had any problem with Afghanistan: they simply killed everyone who opposed them and enslaved their women and children. Western nations (and even the USSR) are simply too civilized to conquer such primitive people. Of course if all those insurgents lived in NY or CA we'd be much more brutal, of course then they would no longer be primitives. Because then there would be something to fight for. Most expensive military training exercise in the world.

Comments for this post are closed