“–wilfullness, self-righteousness, wishful thinking”

I agree that Hayden’s testimony is momentous and shows how presumption and emotional predisposition to believe and thing to be true and then scuttle around to heap up facts to support what is mainly a desire results in disastrous intelligence collection.

There are certain steps required to produce good intelligence no matter what the enterprise or what the issue is at hand. The chief difference between failure and success is not how much you know but how much you know about the right things. And figuring out the right things to know about  –which is to say the things that will help you directly reach a particular objective –is one of the trickiest, least understood, most underrated jobs in the world. What’s required to do this job is not expertise in one or another specific subject or issue but rather to recognize what factors will most influence that specific subject or issue. Anyone who knows how to determine what need to be known to reach one objective can also determine what needs to be known to reach any other objective.

In other words, the question in intelligence that matters is, what do our policymakers need to know to achieve their stated objective?

The incredible misjudgments of the Bush administration shows clearly that there is some kind of moral error –willfulness, self-righteousness, wishful thinking — that lies at the basis of even our  intellectual mistakes.

Richard Sale

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to “–wilfullness, self-righteousness, wishful thinking”

  1. jonst says:

    Mr.Scale wrote: “In other words, the question in intelligence that matters is, what do our policymakers need to know to achieve their stated objective?”
    Fair enough and wise enough. But what if one asks the question: “what are their UNSTATED OBJECTIVES?”
    The Italians have a term for this kind of thing: ‘dietrologia, Italian for, essentially, “the things behind view that make things happen”. “The wind blows over the surface of the lake. In this way, the effects of the invisible are made visible.” – I Ching.
    As I have noted before in this forum, there is, seemingly, a willful desire to create chaos in Iraq; and quite possibly, the surrounding region as well. It is immediately pointed out to me that I am being too conspiratorial. That it all, or mostly, is to blame on incompetence. Then the usual suspects of light hearted ridicule are lined up. Do I think it the Masons or the Knights Templer behind it all? Or the Elders of Zion or such rot designed to end all serious discussion. Things like that are offered. A good laugh is had by all, and I write that in a good natured way.
    Yet I watched Gen Battista on TV last night too. He, nor anyone else that I have heard, so far, have explained why all the plans on the occupation of Iraq were ignored. He was at a total loss to explain it. He simply said, in the end, “I don’t know why?”
    I read the article, as did many, I’m sure, in last Sunday’s NYTimes, chronicling the imbecility of the training ‘plan’ (if the word “plan” can be associated with what was described in said article) for the Iraqi police. And so on and so on. All is incompetence I’m told. All is arrogance. I did not, automatically, buy when it was first proffered as an answer and I do not, automatically, buy it now. Tis method to their madness perhaps. Though madness it be.

  2. john pfeifler says:

    Historians are going to have a marvelous project in interpreting the Bush-43 administration. The Iraq enterprise alone will have them scratching their heads for years. Jonst makes a good point about competence versus unstated objectives. I too reached the conclusion that more is going on than meets the eye. But, then Occum’s Principle of Parsimony reels me back to the incompetence assertion. I think the difficulty with Mr. Bush’s policies lies in disbelief. It is just so hard to believe that anyone sitting in the Oval Office with the full resources of the federal government at his disposal can be so utterly and absolutely mistaken about virtually everything. Thus, there must be another explanation.
    Then I look at his other policy initiatives and actions. Pick any initiative or action and somehow incompetence, arrogance, or both creeps in–Social Security Reform, Department of Homeland Security, 911 Commissions, Intelligence Reform, Katrina recovery, Iran, Immigration Reform, CAFTA, budget deficits, domestic spying, torture, rendition, internment, etc. He is either single-mindedly destroying the U.S., or he is in over his head. William of Occam forces me to accept the latter assessment because of the scale of his mistakes. Simply, I cannot believe he wants to destroy the nation. So, what exactly is Mr. Bush doing? Well, the worse attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor happened on his watch. I think he would go to any extreme to make sure that another attack does not occur while he is president. A second attack would define his presidency. Of course, the first attack and Iraq have already defined his presidency–shhhhh, don’t tell him.
    To return to jonst’s point, just because Mr. Bush is incompetent does not mean those around him are not manipulating events behind the scenes to lesser or greater effect. The president, even a gifted one, cannot be everywhere or see everything. Much has been made of the neo-conservatives, VP Cheney’s obsession with lost presidential power, Rumsfeld’s sleek military, Norquist’s bathtub drowning of the federal bureaucracy, and corporate America’s never-ending quest for high profits and no taxes or regulations. I’m not even going to delve into the culture issues. The combination of Mr. Bush and our compliant, corrupt Congress has given free reign to many of these other actors. The chaos in Iraq represents one manifestation of these specific interests; others are the faux framing of the immigration issue, FEMA’s feeble response to Katrina, and the relentless dismantling of environmental regulations. Such would seem to be the inevitable result of weak leadership.
    The intelligence community has been a convenient scapegoat for many of Mr. Bush’s mistakes. The silent service appears to have chafed under the constant barrage of criticisms and reforms. But, it seems to me, the problem goes even deeper. Those who dedicate themselves to the intelligence business, even if only for a little while, are vetted. They promise to safeguard classified information. They go home at the end of a sometimes very long shift and leave the day’s business in the vault. Fear of prosecution does not motivate their actions; love of country, duty, and honor motivate their actions. Now, however, they learn that the president declassifies information to discredit political critics (and apparently without notifying the originating agency). The president protects the divulgers. The president gives the public spurious if not false information despite (as the press has revealed) countervailing intelligence. The leaking of classified information has reached the point where the president has decided (he’s the decider) to prosecute journalists. The apparent abuses of classified information at the top of the executive branch trickle down through the layers of the federal bureaucracy. Classified information becomes political information. A fish rots from its head.
    Richard Sales’ makes an important, albeit obvious, observation. The ultimate use of intelligence in policy decisions is political. The question remains, was it incompetence or was it intentional, or, was it both?

  3. jonst says:

    John P,
    You hit the nail on the head, “I think the difficulty with Mr. Bush’s policies lies in disbelief. It is just so hard to believe that anyone sitting in the Oval Office with the full resources of the federal government at his disposal can be so utterly and absolutely mistaken about virtually everything”. It is less that I have hunches or answers as to what their “unstated motives” may be. Its is just hard, well nigh impossible, to believe they are this clueless and this arrogant, at the same time. This combination, perhaps best personified by the last few years of the Hapsburg Monarchy or something like that, is rare. And these guys make the Hapsburgs seem effective wizards.

  4. lina says:

    “This combination, perhaps best personified by the last few years of the Hapsburg Monarchy or something like that, is rare. And these guys make the Hapsburgs seem effective wizards.” Posted by: jonst | 23 May 2006 at 11:39 AM
    I was going to say Henry VI. But upon further reflection, that would be a disservice to that monarch’s legacy.

  5. ikonoklast says:

    This is nutball and maybe off topic, but I sometimes suspect the willful self-righteous thinking Mr. Sales alludes to goes deeper than politics.
    From Wikipedia: “[I]n the social constructionist strand of postmodernism, the concept of socially constructed reality stresses the on-going mass-building of worldviews by individuals in dialectical interaction with society at any time. The numerous realities so formed comprise, according to this view, the imagined worlds of human social existence and activity, gradually crystallised by habit into institutions propped up by language conventions, given ongoing legitimacy by mythology, religion and philosophy, maintained by therapies and socialisation, and subjectively internalised by upbringing and education to become part of the identity of social citizens.”
    Now, picture a subset of society, i.e. the current administration, consisting of persons not interacting in any meaningful way with the larger world. Instead this group is self-isolated, becoming increasingly involuted. All information that enters their sub-world either serves to reinforce their worldview or is modified to fit. Policy actions are enacted in accordance with this filtered dataflow, which in turn alters the information state of the larger society. Updated results flow back into the “bell jar” and new decisions are enacted for implementation outside. A recursive loop, each iteration increases divergence from mainstream perceptions of people directly involved in the “real world” events – on the ground in Iraq outside the Green Zone for example. This disconnect is strengthened by media whose main interests lie in disseminating and bolstering the viewpoint coming from the jar, growing this reality outside.
    By this theory we actually have dual realities in an uneasy state of coexistence which allows the simultaneous but contrary “facts” such as 1) “the insurgency is in it’s last throes, we’re turning the corner, this new legislature shows we’re successful” and, b) “Iraq is in a state of civil war, falling apart, a bottomless pit of misery and incompetence.” (Maybe we could take a control group at random from the streets of Mosul and let them live in the White House for a few months, see if they change their thinking? Taking a group of WH staffers and dumping them in an alley over there would doubtless provide them with a fresh viewpoint …)
    So is this strictly “cooking the evidence” – moral error, as Sales says? Neither side is capable of perceiving what the other sees. It goes farther than mere public opinion. Two paradigms are moving side-by-side into the future and vying for primacy. There is no common ground; observers and participants have to choose which version to accept. Whatever crisis point needed for reconciliation has yet to be reached.
    (Or maybe I’ve finally lost my mind … thanks Colonel, and to all, for your indulgence.)

  6. john pfeifler says:

    Ikonoclast, what you describe is a variation of the bubble theory. Hannah Arendt puts forth a similar situation in her onion metaphor of totalitarian governments (“Totalitariasm”). Essentially, the layers of the onion protect the ideologically pure center from real-world contamination. Therefore, the center can operate within the fictitious world of its construction without interference from reality. How much this applies to the Bush administration is debatable. (As an aside, I am not suggesting that the Bush government is totalitarian.)
    Presidents follow one of three decision-making models: competitive, collegial, or formalistic. Mr. Bush, so far, appears to follow the formalistic model. What this means in practical terms is that information reaches the president in a highly-controlled and measured manner. He then takes action with little or no discussion. Mr. Bush’s pseudo-‘Wise Men’ meetings suggest a minimum of discourse on his part. Certainly nothing close to the discussions LBJ held with the “Wise Men” during the Vietnam War. The formalistic model is not a bad system considering the president’s workload. But, it seems to me, the president must challenge the assumptions and assessments that his staff present to him constantly to make sure he is adequately informed. Moreover, he must be aware of anticipated and potential consequences. Thus, based on his past mistakes and miscalculations, Mr. Bush’s intellectual-practical engagement comes into question. Reality can be a party pooper.
    I don’t know if Mr. Bush follows any sort of dialectical process with society. He has a straight-forward thesis of good (politically, culturally, religiously, etc) and its antithesis of evil. However, he does not appear to offer any kind of synthesis. His seems to be more of a proposition: true or false. You are either with me, or you are against me. His looks to be a case of good triumphing over evil–not a lot of compromise, cooperation, or reconciliation inherent in that kind of overcoming.
    I am not familiar with Mr. Sales. But, Mr. Bush is not the first president blessed with self- righteous, willful thinking, and not just in terms of politics as you surmise. The line between confidence and arrogance may be quite thin, as may be the line between steadfast and stubborn. Just depends on which side of the line a person finds himself. Ikonoclast, the incoherence of the Bush administration’s statements regarding the insurgency are beguiling though misleading. As for dumping WH staffers in Mosul, the administration kind of did that. They sent all those earnest young people to Baghdad to work in the CPA. What they ought to do is put them in Army or Marine uniforms and deploy them to Iraq with the next inbound unit.
    “So is this strictly “cooking the evidence” – moral error, as Sales says?” Perhaps, but politicians do not enjoy a positive reputation in the truthfulness department. They are in the persuasion business. Once they get into office a few become statesmen, the rest, well, they are what they are.

  7. Brent Wiggans says:

    The control of incoming information to the President has been on display throughout George Bush’s term of office. We have watched the man on the other side of the glass interact only with other creatures hand-picked for the terrarium. He has been assiduously protected from dissent and spontaneity. We may have put it down to mere clever stage managing; the avoidance of public gaffes, but really, this is a picture of a carefully constructed reality in the White House. There has never been any embarrassment about this. It seems that everyone is just fine with it. As for ourselves, does it matter at this point whether Bush himself set it up this way or if someone else has been controlling the picture? There is no baby (and never was), just bathwater; throw it out.

  8. MarcLord says:

    Here would be their response to your I Ching quote:
    The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John, 3:8)
    They’re not suffering from incompetence. Far from it. In their own words: “We make history. We make the reality. People go back and check into the history while we’re already going forward with the next thing.”
    What we perceive as incompetence is simply indifference to things that are peripheral to a plan, or are acceptable losses. What we don’t perceive is the core of a plan that has worked well thus far.

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I don’t think they are incompetent. I hope I never said that somewhere.
    I subscribe to the alternate universe theory as modfied by the “terrarium postulate.”
    The illusions (ours and theirs) are complete and mutually exclusive in many details and views.
    Unfoprtunately for them, they are in the process of being “mugged” by MY reality which is upleasantly filled with real Iraqis and jihadis. pl

  10. Patrick Henry says:

    “Willfullness…Self`Righteousness` Wishfull Thinking”
    Everything Richard said is True..and Applys..
    One also has to look at Past Administration Speechs and Policy Statements..for Answers..
    One has to Consider the Administrations Theme Song..
    With All the Parade Grounds March Music in the background..
    Self ~Righteous..YES..
    and Worst of All..
    Policys and Decisions Based on “Wishfull Thinking”..
    The Delusional Background
    that Docotored the INTEL..and Started a War..
    Back up with Arrogance and Contempt for Dissent..
    I have the “Political Capitol”…
    “IT’S HARD WORK..””
    Each of them Motivated by thier Various Narcisstic Deams of “Making History” ..Somehow..
    Egotistical..NoT Intellectual..Perceptions..
    Isolated..Each Spoon Feeding the Dream..The Propaganda the other..to Insure “The FIX”..
    “UTOPIA” or
    “U DOPIA..??”
    Bush got His “Revenge”on Saddam..and believed They would make the Middle East “Safer” for Thier Allie..Israel..Joint Objectives..
    Remember..this was a “Partnership Deal”
    They believed everything Chalibi told them..Apparently..
    The Neo~Cons would show the Wishy Washy Sociaslist Softys in the Democratic Party how REAL MEN would run the Government…Make “TOUGH DECISIONS” and Take Charge,..
    and…so..they DID..
    SELF SERVING..and Deceitful..
    My compliments to all of You here for your Great Comments..Insightful..Thoughtful..
    Intellectually HONEST..
    And we ALL wonder Why..??
    No Accountability…

  11. john pfeifler says:

    Competence has become an important issue for Mr. Bush’s administration. Is he competent? Is he in an alternate universe? If, as this thread seems to contend, Mr. Bush resides in some sort of unreality, does that imply he may not be suitable to the particular task of the presidency? Thus, is he competent?
    The next question that comes to mind is what about the rest of his administration? Are they residing in the same unreality? Some are, some aren’t. Voila, the incoherence of their message confuses most of us. Notwithstanding PL’s reality that is “mugging” their administration, many other realities are penetrating their alternate universe. The impending legal-congressional battle over domestic surveillance threatens their seclusion and certitude. The disappointment over the administration’s immigration program threatens the cozy marriage of moral populists (votes) and corporate bosses (money) that sustains their power. And, let us not forget the incipient independence from the administration some formerly obedient congressmen are exhibiting now that their jobs are on the line. A lot of realities are mugging the administration. So, the question of competence doesn’t just address their legality (they are all qualified in the legal sense to hold their positions), their ability to function properly, or their ability to effectively act; it addresses their suitability for purposes of good governance. And in this last sense most of the opinions expressed in this thread suggest they are not suitable for the task of good governance.
    Brent Wiggan’s terrarium describes the information flow to the president consistent with many press accounts, and he, correctly I think, indicates that whether or not Mr. Bush is the maestro or just in the orchestra does not matter at this point in time. MarcLord makes the observation similar to jonst that incompetence is just too pat an answer. Some sort of master plan must exist. This brings us to my opinion.
    Mr. Bush has lost control, if he ever had it, of the presidency. Since his month-long sabbatical at Crawford last summer and Shehan’s besiegement of his ranch, Mr. Bush has faced one crisis after another. The list runs the full monty from the natural disaster that struck New Orleans to the manmade disaster that is Iraq. He couldn’t even direct the transfer of port services from a British company to an Emirati company. The Republican Party imploded; the president’s job approval ratings are so low they are cutting into his base. Indeed, declaring English the lingua franca of the U.S. forms a legislative win for the president. To borrow jonst’s I Ching, Mr. Bush may have been blowing over the surface of the lake, but he surely did not make the invisible visible. Reality has been making the invisible visible.
    My illusion of honor and duty met internment, rendition, intelligence politicization, and a hundred other incoherencies large and small. Thankfully, Iraq, Katrina, domestic spying, retired generals, and a host of realities are “mugging” the administration. But why stop there? The same realities are finally beginning to mug the “group think” prevalent in the Congress. This brings us back to Mr. Sales excerpt: “what do our policymakers need to know to achieve their stated objective?” That is the $64,000 question. I am still waiting for Senator Roberts to convene the second part of the prewar intelligence for Iraq investigation. That part deals with Mr. Sales’ question. Then, perhaps, we will find out if the current administration is suitable for the purposes of good governance.

  12. MarcLord says:

    Hi Colonel Lang,
    I was only agreeing with jonst’s first comment on this thread re: how incompetence is a common and easy but wholly inadequate way to explain the Bush Administration.
    Your terrarium postulate provides a solid analytical foundation, and happily enough we seem to find ourselves within the same glass walls. Meanwhile, because of the continuing collective behavior over in BushWorld, I don’t believe their core illusions have yet been dispelled. Their parallel universe is sustained in its insatiable revulsion for a while longer.
    In such a context, I don’t believe that bringing stability to the Mideast was a necessary objective. Apparently they don’t have to win there, because they’re treating it as an experiment which hasn’t panned out yet, and evidence of failure doesn’t bother them; the skin thickness appears to go beyond mere denial. If winning there were absolutely necessary, losing as they are should freak them out enough to make necessary adjustments.
    I’ve gone so far as to entertain the possibility that, in their terrarium, losing somehow rewards them. This is meant as a rhetorical point, but perhaps under the “privatize everything” philosophy and the Divine Right of Capital, it does. It certainly hasn’t hurt them in terms of the assembled power and profit, and if conspiracies were laid to that end they’ve proven successful so far.
    Perhaps the table which undergirds both their terrarium and ours is oil, and we’ll pay them any price to keep pumping it over to us here in SaneWorld. It’s hard to explain all the free passes they’ve gotten from almost every quarter otherwise.

  13. MarcLord says:

    11B40: exactly.
    john pfeifler: they’re creating a yawning power vacuum because they’re so good at staving off the effects of reality. When it implodes, it’ll be fast, very destructive, and something big will be sucked into the gap. More than anything I fear that there is no entity prepared to fill the gap wisely. (Exhibit A, the Democrats.)

  14. john pfeifler says:

    I fear you may be right. Who’s going to be the next Gerald Ford?

  15. Curious says:

    Hayden coasts. So CIA is utterly screwed now.
    Say hi to our new spying overlords people.

  16. zanzibar says:

    “I am still waiting for Senator Roberts to convene the second part of the prewar intelligence for Iraq investigation.” John Pfeifler.
    I am afraid John, you will be waiting well past Sen. Roberts tenure if ever there will be such an investigation. Sen. Roberts has decided that his role is as a shill and obfuscator for this administration and he is determined to ensure that the sun never shines on those parts so that the citizens will learn the truth in a formal manner.
    Informally by just aggregating all the information now available, we know that the CIA provided accurate information on Iraq WMD and AQ connection; Bush-Cheney knew Curveball was a fake; the aluminium tubes were debunked; they new Niger docs were a scam well before Wilson’s op-ed; the Downing Street memos outline they were fixing the intelligence around the decision to invade. So the bottom line was they orchestrated a lies and deception campaign to get us into a war. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about that. The big question is why? The only plausible answer I have read is PL’s.

  17. taters says:

    Nice reads. Aren’t these the same guys that tried to pass off flippin’ burgers as manufacturing jobs?
    McClellan allowed Lee to escape after Antietam – Franks allowed bin Laden to escape. But the difference is George McClellan didn’t get the Medal of Freedom. I know I’m over simplifying here – but when I see Fox running a story titled something like “Civil War in Iraq, Could It Be A Good Thing?” Well, it gives me a pretty good idea what time it is with these folks. Three card monte is still three card monte, even if its being played by an Ivy Leaguer with an MBA… Col. Lang’s “Drinking the Koolaid” should be required reading for all Americans.

  18. W. Patrick Lang says:

    McClellan was beaten emotionally and dominated by the “Marble Man.” Was Franks beaten by Bin Laden? Maybe so. pl

  19. Curious says:

    I don’t know where to put this. but this is a pretty good ground indicator.
    VOA is pulling out of Iraq.
    The Voice of America’s bureau in Baghdad has been closed for the past six months, ever since the government-funded agency withdrew its only reporter in Iraq after she was fired upon in an ambush and her security guard was later killed.
    All Western news organizations have struggled with the dangerous conditions in Iraq, which have led to such high-profile incidents as the kidnapping of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll and the wounding of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff. But for a federally funded information service to pull out of Baghdad for such a prolonged period raises questions about the Bush administration’s insistence that conditions there are gradually improving.

  20. Paul says:

    Thought this was an interesting interview with Bacevich that hits on current processes at play within DoD.

  21. Charlie Green says:

    Great exchanges! My experiences as an elected representative of citizens in more than one capacity is that elected individuals tend to think they have some kind of mandate and do not have to listen to whining citizens [who elected them]. This seems to prevail even in the least of board positions.
    It is obvious to me that the maxim of power corrupting is true, even in a democracy. “I was elected by the people to rule so don’t argue with me.” Unelected officials can claim some divine mandate, I guess.
    I even find myself getting kinda cocky about my positions. Fortunately I have a wife to keep me from becoming too egotistical!
    Being elected President of the US by an underwhelming majority would, none the less, make one secure in the knowledge that some higher power was involved. Or something equally as ego boosting. Then all the fawning about you can only create a self-image of infallability.
    Hardly the tradition required of an executive whose primary purpose is to ride herd on Congress.

  22. Curious says:

    The world as we know it has just ended. This is going to be big. If he is going to do what people predicts he is going to do. The entire nation will go straight down the drain. All safety valves are gone now.
    Hayden confirmed as CIA director
    The 78-15 vote to confirm Hayden included the support of several Senate Democrats.

  23. Patrick Henry says:

    I will Trust Colonial Langs Opinion..as a “Reasonable Man”..
    he probably has a Better Sense for the Situation than most of Us..
    I certaintly DO NOT qualify for A “Professional opinion..”
    Like Colonial lang..
    I can only express my Concerns as a Citizen..
    with the True WELFARE of the nation in Mind..
    I Expressed those opinions..
    Out of My RESPECT for Col.Lang..
    I Know that Others are Keeping Watch…and WILL Watch. ON.General Hadens PERFORMANCE…At the Agency..
    By His PEERS..
    I Say..That People WILL Be Held Accountable..
    And…Where as Our President has Been Standing in FRONT of the Flag..and Giving his Prepared Speechs..
    Let US..Stand BEHIND The Flag..
    And ask that the Nation..The People…The Servants OF THE PEOPLE…Our “Elected Represenatives..”
    ALL JOIN MULTI COLORED HANDS..Of The RACES of MANKIND..The BODY of the United States..
    And REMEMBER what Our Flag represents…How and Where it has Flown…and SERVED..
    Thyere is NO Greater Cause..
    Than FREEDOM..
    And its Standard for US..
    What gives It Character..
    ARE The Prescribed ARTICLES..
    Its all About FOCUS..
    So..Let us Rally Round the FLAG..
    And Finally “JOIN HANDS”
    ALL OF US..
    For the Good of the Nation..

Comments are closed.