By Quentin Langley
Dateline 27 July 2004
Critics of the Bush administration have lined up to call for the resignation of senior figures, especially in the management of international affairs. Liberals have demanded the dismissal of Donald Rumsfeld. Some people have suggested the Presidentís electoral prospects would be stronger without Dick Cheney. Conservatives long for Colin Powell to be replaced.
Such ideological discussions are misguided, because they misunderstand the decision making process of the Bush administration. If Powell or Rumsfeld were to leave the administration, or if Cheney or Rice were to be moved to a different position, it is unlikely to make any difference to US policy for as long as the President remains in place.
It is easy to forget that George W Bush is the first US President with a management qualification. The management structures of his foreign policy team are extremely robust, and not dependent on any one or two individuals. Broadly there are three ideological positions represented in the administration: the neocons (Cheney and Wolfowitz); hard-line Realpolitik (Rumsfeld) and internationalism (Powell, Armitage, and, until now, Tenet). These three groups debate the merits of their positions both inside the administration and in public. The President and National Security Adviser then sift through the policy proposals and President decides on the policy. From that point on everyone is expected to support the policy and no further public debate is allowed.
Such a management structure is vastly superior to the haphazard policy making of the Clinton years, let alone the chaos of the Carter administration, and is much less dependent on the personal chemistry of two individuals than was the policy making of the first Bush administration. It is a structure in which the cast members can change while the policy remains in place. If Powell is not representing the internationalist view in the next Bush administration, then someone else will be. This is not to say, of course, that the internationalist position, or indeed either of the other two, always prevails. But it is important to the President to hear all three positions before making his decision.
This naturally raises the important question as to why the management of the Bush domestic agenda has not been as strong. There is no central decision making structure and no co-ordination.
The Bush election agenda was 75% domestic affairs. He chose four principal themes and hammered away at them: tax cuts, social security reform, school choice and missile defence. The actual record has been mixed. In his first year he made solid progress in all four areas, but since then the focus on domestic policy has vanished. Even after regaining full Republican control of Congress, the domestic agenda is still in a state of confusion.
The No Child Left Behind Act was rather mixed in both its intentions and its results. It has clear centralising tendencies, which in part conflict with the Tenth Amendment. But one of the things it requires of the states is more information to parents, which is in itself decentralising, and is in line with the Tenth Amendmentís stricture that powers not expressly delegated to the US are reserved to the states or to the people. Had it been the first in a series of initiatives, later ones moving beyond information for parents and guaranteeing them rights, it could have been seen as an important step in realising school choice. In actuality there has been little further progress at the federal level.
Early on the President established a commission to report on social security. It produced good ideas, but, again, there has been little in the way of further progress. The only initiative from Tommy Thompson has been the prescription drugs policy, which just makes social security even less affordable.
On economic policy the team has been weak and rudderless. Changing the Treasury Secretary seemed like a good idea, but yielded nothing. The commitment to free trade has been patchy. Only tax cuts brighten an otherwise dismal first term.
The explanation is probably that the President, given his background and close-up view of his fatherís defeat following a first term that neglected domestic policy, intended to manage and lead domestic affairs himself.
He had probably intended to allow his highly capable international team a fairly free hand. The veteran British politician Harold Macmillan was once asked what he most feared and replied: ďEvents, dear boy, events.Ē If this President intended to be a domestic President, then Harold Macmillanís nemesis interfered big time.
The second term will require a major restructuring of the domestic policy team. Someone the President trusts will need to be appointed as a domestic equivalent of Condoleeza Rice, to act as policy analyst and co-ordinator. The strengths of the international teamís robust structure need to be applied at home.
Copyright © Quentin Langley 27 July 2004