a 1972 book, Victims
of Groupthink: A Psychology Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and
Fiascoes, Irving Janis identified the Vietnam War and the
Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba as particularly compelling examples
of how very smart people can collectively make very stupid decisions.
studying the Bay of Pigs, for example, Janis noted that the group
around President John Kennedy made a series of assumptions
that Cubans would welcome the invasion and rise up against Fidel
Castro and that the U.S. could credibly deny involvement in the
invasion, if necessary that were fundamentally deluded.
in Iraq, many of those assumptions were based largely on the accounts
of exiles and defectors, but the group dynamics involved in decision-making
also played a key role in rallying the administration of the "best
and the brightest" behind an adventure that proved disastrous,
according to Janis.
great deal more is known about group dynamics within the Bush administration
foreign-policy apparatus today as a result of leaks, memoirs,
and books, such as Bob Woodward's Plan
of Attack and Jim Mann's Rise
of the Vulcans than was known at the time about the
what is known suggests the existence of two major groups
an "in-group" of hawks whose captain is Vice President
Dick Cheney and which has had a decisive influence on Bush himself,
and an "out-group" of "realists" headed by Secretary
of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage.
the out-group, which ironically boasts men, including Powell, Armitage,
ret. Gens. Anthony Zinni and Brent Scowcroft, with real war experience,
the in-group is dominated by individuals, particularly Cheney and
virtually the entire civilian leadership of the Pentagon, who have
none at all.
the moniker "chickenhawks," defined as individuals who
favour military solutions to political problems but who themselves
avoided military service during wartime. Cheney, who received five
different deferments from the military draft during the Vietnam
War, famously told an interviewer once that he "had other priorities"
in the 1960s than military service.
also makes the in-group so remarkable is its very small size, the
long history it has shared together, and its close personal relationships.
chief Donald Rumsfeld and Cheney, for example, worked together under
Richard Nixon and have been the very best of friends ever since.
Their neo-conservative aides and advisers, such as Deputy Defence
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, former Defence Policy Board (DPB) chairman
Richard Perle, and DPB member Kenneth Adelman, likewise have been
close for more than three decades and have personally mentored other
top aides and advisers, such as Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis
"Scooter" Libby, Defence Undersecretaries for Policy and
Intelligence, Douglas Feith and Stephen Cambone, respectively, and
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, to name just a few.
sense of kinship that unites the group is illustrated in part by
a dinner hosted by Cheney shortly after U.S. troops took Baghdad
13 months ago. The guests included Wolfowitz, Libby, and Adelman;
the atmosphere, warm and celebratory as they recounted their defeat
of the "realists." "Someone mentioned Powell, and
there were chuckles around the table," Woodward noted. And
then "They turned to Rumsfeld, the missing brother," and
told affectionate stories about their past associations with the
crusty Pentagon chief.
Adelman said he had been surprised U.S. troops had not yet found
weapons of mass destruction (WMD), he was assured by Wolfowitz,
"We'll find them," and by Cheney, "It's only been
four days really. We'll find them."
of Groupthink list a number of symptoms of the phenomenon that can
lead the group into disaster, among them:
in the group's inherent morality;
stereotypes, particularly of the enemy;
few alternative or contingency plans for any action;
highly selective in gathering information;
the group from negative views or information that would contradict
their basic assumptions;
having an illusion of invulnerability.
what is now known about planning for Iraq, each of these factors
obviously played a role, and they continue to inform U.S. policy
not only against perceived enemies, but even against out-groups
in the administration or in Congress. And, because the in-group
was so small, many of these characteristics were unusually pronounced.
notion that the chickenhawks were morally superior, not just to
Saddam Hussein or the "terrorists" or "Ba'athist
dead-enders" whom they've been fighting since the war ended,
extended even to the "realists," who were denounced in
internal battles as "appeasers" or worse. As Cheney was
recently quoted as declaring with regard to State Department proposals
to engage North Korea, "We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat
East experts at the State Department and the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) were likewise scorned and excluded from both planning
and the immediate aftermath of the invasion, while the creation
in Feith's office of ad hoc intelligence analysis groups that "stovepiped"
evidence of Iraqi WMD and ties to Al Qaeda was a classic illustration
of selective intelligence gathering that would confirm pre-existing
the total failure to prepare contingency plans to deal with looting,
or even with the emergence of an insurgency against the occupation,
displayed a confidence that turned out to be completely unwarranted.
Likewise, former Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki's prediction
that more than 200,000 troops would be needed to occupy Iraq in
order to ensure security had not only to be rejected in order to
protect the group from negative views; it had to be publicly ridiculed
by Wolfowitz as "wildly off the mark."
his latest exposť on the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, New
Yorker correspondent Seymour Hersh noted that Rumsfeld's penchant
for "secrecy and wishful thinking" characteristics
that also apply to Groupthink resulted in the Pentagon's
failure to do anything about it or about the many other problems
they have encountered.
whenever Powell or Armitage tried to bring to the attention of the
highest levels in the administration the growing concern about prisoner
abuse, according to a source recently cited in the Nelson Report,
an insider Washington newsletter, they were forced to endure from
the chickenhawks what an eyewitness source characterised as "around-the-table,
coarse, vulgar, frat-boy bully remarks about what these tough guys
would do if THEY ever got their hands on prisoners..."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service