Government by Think Tank

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The welfare-warfare State is evolving into rule by college-trained bureaucrats. The way they see things, we need them to guide us and make decisions for us. We hire them as experts to run our lives for us. They have the credentials and qualifications that we untrained and unwashed do not have. Society has created the government jobs. They fill them.

They have taken 6 courses in Urban Studies, or Sustainable Development, or Sociology, or Women’s and Gender Studies, or Social Work, or International Relations at an accredited college. They have been duly certified by society as competent practitioners.

They are specialists. They are qualified. What more can anyone ask? What does any of us know that can possibly compare? We hereby relinquish control to these anointed ones.

The government amoeba subdivides. More and more specialities and sub-specialities arise. More and more bureaus. More and more rules and regulations. More and more malfunctions that require yet more specialties and rules. The more such experts there are and the more jobs and roles that are invented for them, the worse off we become. The division of government labor decreases productivity.

The new age specialists enter every level of Government because that is where the jobs are. They become the bureaucrats who fashion rules and implement them. They are society’s uplifters. They are on the frontlines plugging up the ever-expanding leaks in the social dikes. They lead happy lives, blind to anything greater. Their youthful idealism does not fade. They believe that Government is the benign means to achieve the good of all, and they are the instruments of this good.

Not that they do not have their frustrations. There are all those other pesky bureaucrats who will not endorse their plans. There are those stubborn politicians who refuse to give them the money they need to expand their programs. If only they would listen, things could be put right. There are their bosses. There are those non-conforming clients (we the people) who refuse to behave according to the rules.

In national government, these specialists people Washington’s think tanks. Their training widens into allied fields. They have Master’s degrees and Doctorates. They attend conferences and write learned reports paid for by the taxpayer and used by other government bureaucrats. The taxpayer in Kansas City and Atlanta is in good hands with all-state.

They learn to write mind-numbing bureaucratese, a language that conceals what it is saying behind long Latin-based words rather than short Anglo-Saxon words. How is this routinizing and amoral language that mimics objectivity and sounds scientific taught and passed on? This is an unsolved mystery. It is a Nile awaiting a Livingstone, unfound by him and unfound by us. Is there a bureaucratic sub-culture embedded in college English departments? All doctorates imbibe this language. Is that where the source is, handed down from Germanic sources of yesteryear?

The language is so overwhelming that even the denizens of the bureaucracies have to find ways to simplify it. They use abbreviations. The National Defense Research Institute becomes the NDRI. It is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC). It does research for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) which is part of the Department of Defense (DoD). There is more, but I fear upsetting your stomach. Yet we need to go a bit further. Actually, the NDRI is under the National Security Research Division (NSRD) which is under the RAND corporation, a major think tank, at which point we stop before we vomit (SBWV.)

RAND means research and development. Project RAND began in 1945. Major General Curtis LeMay was its first employee. LeMay was the model for the demented general played by Sterling Hayden in Dr. Strangelove. LeMay was ready to incinerate Russia with atomic bombs, just as he had "scorched, boiled and baked to death" hundreds of thousands of Japanese in raids by B-29s. The first RAND report was on earth-circling satellites. They were thinking ahead.

The company itself began in 1948 (with a staff of 200) after splitting off from Douglas Aircraft Company, the manufacturer of the legendary DC-3. In its words, it became a nonprofit organization and nonpartisan company devoted to empirical research and analysis of social and economic problems. How nice of them.

Actually, RAND is a consulting company, largely owned by the experts who work there. They pay themselves through the governments contracts they work on, or rather we pay them. They garner the profits. They are actually partisans of government because government dispenses their contracts. Government has grown a new limb, one might say. This is government by bureaucrat, expert, specialist, and think tank.

No one can deny the importance of a number of RAND scientific accomplishments, advances, and contributions, but if there are any RAND reports that recommend reducing the government that feeds them, they have been interred. RAND’s own boastful words verify that it is an arm of government. RAND is really the kind of thing that modern governments are made up of, and it isn’t sugar and spice.

RAND’s intent today is to address "social problems." The entire issue of the appropriate size and realm of political government is buried underneath this phrase: social problems. The Pavlovian response of the specialists at RAND is that if someone identifies an "urgent" social problem, then it must be addressed by government and there is a role for RAND. RAND may be critical, even very critical, of how government has been doing things; but they will always suggest ways to make government work better. The promised land always has Washington as its Capitol.

Initially, the problem RAND specialized in was military planning. This remains its forte. But if experts can handle military planning, then why not social planning? Some of the story of RAND’s move into social welfare research is here. RAND is associated with Robert McNamara’s whiz kids, with low-income housing, the health care system, obesity, urban decay, poverty, and education; with space and with political affairs overseas.

RAND’s 2005 report on the problems of creating effective government in Iraq is an example of RAND at work. This report is very informative in showing us some things that went wrong after the U.S. conquest of Iraq. It identifies numerous serious errors and blunders of the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by the U.S. and the U.K. There are 85 pages of them along with the serious problems that have been faced and that the subsequent Iraqi governments face. Naturally, the solution is a renewed, heightened, and tenacious U.S. presence for another decade. What else?

Over and over, the report also says the obvious. Iraq’s government cannot be stabilized without building working institutions of government. Iraq needs ministries of justice, security, and the interior that work and work together, coordinated by higher governmental authority. This would mean that the different factions would actually have to get along with one another. At the moment, many of them have no reason to do so. It is hardly news that a government cannot work unless its components work. Iraq’s components don’t work.

At the end RAND concludes that Iraqis are not up to the task of institution-building. It says: "Unfortunately, we need to be realistic about the likelihood of the Iraqi Transitional Government having the ability or vision to tackle these strategic issues." Who is competent? "The United States, the United Kingdom, and their international partners will have to work hard to ensure that long-term institution-building remains on the Iraqi agenda." These are the report’s final words.

Although we have been told in major speeches by administration officials that Iraqis are just like us in wanting freedom and democracy, apparently they aren’t. They don’t want it in quite the way we have been told. Saddam is gone but RAND warns that we have to stay on and on and on while prodding Iraqis to do what they are supposed to have wanted to do on their own.

It’s unfair of me to hold our leaders to a standard of truth. The fact is that they were all a bunch of dummies. RAND says so. One big problem was "A lack of worst-case and contingency planning. Both in the runup to the war and during the occupation, there was a failure to conduct worst-case (or even other-case) analysis. This meant that coalition planners were unable to prepare effectively even for expected contingencies or failures." They leapt before they looked. What a bunch of idiots we have for leaders. Is it any wonder I’m a zero-government man?

In several places, this RAND report makes clear that both the U.S. and U.K. governments plan further efforts like Iraq. Astounding! They really are idiots. I was just making fun a moment ago. Now I really believe it. They must be thinking about Syria and Iran, but who knows what goes on in their pea-sized brains? "Furthermore, as the United States and its allies plan for further post-conflict reconstruction operations, they would do well to heed some of the lessons learned from Iraq." Further operations! They must be kidding, but they are not. A footnote informs us: "The United States and the United Kingdom have both established new government units to plan for post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization operations." Egad. The amoeba splits yet again.

The U.S. and U.K. are going into the invasion and reconstruction business! Forget the U.K. Who cares what the U.K. does? All they’ve ever done for the last 100 years is drag us into wars and produce socialists until we finally dragged them into one of our own morasses. We got lucky there. Tony Blair likes internationalism. But the U.S.? Wouldn’t we be better off paying every Congressman a few million dollars apiece to cease and desist? For a lousy billion dollars, we could save ourselves a trillion or two. Build them all golf courses and close down Congress. I can’t think of an investment with a higher payback.

There are some contractors who are very happy to learn about these future plans. They are probably drawing them up in some back room somewhere. Invasions and conquests create immense problems, but these problems are government opportunities for further division of government labor. One of these problem areas is "post-conflict reconstruction," which means the building of states by other states. This complex and inherently impossible process spawns many new bureaucracies. Security Sector Reform (SSR) is, for example, part of this state-building process.

Studies of state-building and post-conflict reconstruction have been going on for over 30 years behind the backs of blind and industrious people like me who pay no attention to such matters until they retire. Our puny little middle-class minds simply cannot imagine the scope of governmental damage that is out there. When we finally do, we become radicals who want zero-government (ZG.)

These studies examine far off places like Kosovo, East Timor, Rwanda, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Mostly we’ve never heard of them and don’t want to unless they have a beach and a good hotel. The problems in these places are absolutely huge. Think of inner-city problems, America’s failed War on Poverty, and multiply those by a factor of 10 or more.

The think-tank, Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIP), writes of the severe post-conflict reconstruction problems in an article here. I don’t want to spoil your day by listing them. But it, like RAND, is color-blind. They see a great deal. They can analyze problems and make recommendations, but the glasses they are wearing prevent them from seeing all the colors and possible solutions. They are unable to raise basic questions like these:

Why should the U.S. even be involved in the internal affairs of foreign countries?

Why should the U.S. even try to construct strong yet free states from weak states in far-flung regions of the globe?

Why are states, strong or weak, regarded as the solution to political and social problems? Don’t they cause most of the problems in the first place?

Does the U.S. or anyone actually have the know-how to construct strong yet free states from weak states? Does the U.S. have the know-how to construct politically stable societies?

Why should the U.S. have the power to direct the lives and treasure of its citizens in decades-long attempts to overcome foreign problems that evidently its efforts cannot resolve but only can make worse?

Other, more impertinent questions come to mind. Is there actually something in the Constitution that permits such ventures? If so, who wrote such a stupid document? Did I actually agree to it somehow? Did that happen while I was asleep? Why don’t we ship Congress and the Executive off to Iraq?

FPIP, like RAND, accepts the government of which it is a beneficiary and part. Its report makes no bones about the problems of state-building, just as the RAND report did not soft-pedal the problems in Iraq. That is because they both regard these problems as requiring further government commitments and see no other possible solutions. In fact, FPIP thinks the U.S. has to address issues covering entire swaths of the globe:

"Whilst the southern axis of U.S. foreign policy interests — which currently runs from Afghanistan through Pakistan to India, shows some signs of greater cohesion — Pakistan remains a politically-complex state, and the inimical northern states do little to support the emergence of greater stability on the Afghan side of the border. Drugs and military flows are regular trade. Bangladesh too shows signs of increased insurgent activity, and Iran — itself an important stabilizer for Afghanistan — is under the spotlight of the UN with regard to its nuclear industry. The lesson is clear; creating greater stability in Afghanistan — a land locked state — as part of an emerging foreign policy realignment, requires a far more comprehensive and collaborative approach to regional security to be adopted."

The more problems, the merrier! Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Imagine mobs bringing down Mushareef and installing a bin Laden proxy. That’s all we need. Some U.S. officials must have urged Benazir Bhutto to return, and if they didn’t they were happy about it. But no sooner she lands, then bin Laden tries to wipe her out. You can see what he’s after. With allies like Mushareef, the U.S. does not need enemies. Is he up against it? Incompetent? Shrewd? Benighted? Ambitious about Afghanistan? It seems he has already made an alliance of sorts with bin Laden or his proxies to let them hole up in Wajiristan. Bhutto is in a very dangerous position. Mushareef does not want her around either. Does Washington know any more than I do about Pakistan, which is nothing? After Iraq, I am entitled to have my doubts.

Washington’s imperial visions and ambitions, reflected in think-tank reports, are frightening. Iraq has not dimmed them in the least. Unrepentant Wilsonian idealism lives on. There is a whole world beyond our shores to be remade in Washington’s image. There are never-ending challenges to the Washington knights to remake it. After William of Arkansas and George of Texas will come Hillary of Chicago or maybe Rudolph of Brooklyn. But if it is Ron of Pennsylvania, then all bets are off.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.

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