Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, May 05, 2004  

Chain of Command

I've noticed that the phrase "chain of command" has become a regular part of administration-speak.

"The system works. The system works. There were some allegations of abuse in a detention facility in Iraq. It was reported in the chain of command. Immediately it was announced to the public. Immediately an investigation was initiated. Six separate investigations have been undertaken over a period of months since January."
Rumsfeld, yesterday

"So investigations have been underway; actions ha[ve] been taken by the chain of command during this period."
Colin Powell, this morning

I suspect there is a legal/political reason for identifying a sequence of accountability--any wrongdoing can be passed off to the guy (or gal) below you. It allows senior officials to deny that they knew what was happening--and therefore weren't responsible.

But it also reveals how the administration thinks about things, and is probably one of the central causes for so many of the White House's failures. When Bush came to office, he was keen to present himself as the MBA president--the man who would shape up the government and run it properly, like a business. Part of that was bluster, but part of it was authentic. For Bush, running something properly meant hiring all the right people. They would actually do the running. Bush's legendary incuriosity was enabled by his management style--he quite literally felt the "details" weren't his responsibility.

He's always wanted it both ways. When things go right (or are spun to appear to have gone right), Bush wants all the credit. For these successes, his CEO style is responsible. But when something goes wrong, the administration invokes the "chain of command"--the failure is attributable to some loser down the line. Lately, everything's been falling apart. Pretty much everything Bush has overseen with regard to Iraq, Afghanistan, or terrorism has been plagued with serious problems. Bush blames, in each case, some different loser down the line.

But that's not how the corporate world works. If you helm a company for 3 years and over your tenure it is plagued with scandal, failure, and embarrassment, you're held accountable. Particularly when, as was the case with Bush, the company was doing great before you got there. Government is an organism, certainly. But when you lie to improperly invade a country to "free" the citizens, seriously botch the reconstruction due to ignorance and stubbornness, and fail to properly support the troops on the ground who are doing the reconstruction, it's hard to blame it on the chain of command. Now that we're seeing the horrible, horrible results of this record of failure, it's time to ask who in that chain of command is ultimately responsible.

I have a candidate.

posted by Jeff | 11:26 AM |
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