Thursday, March 23, 2006

Fear of Failure is Killing Iraq

Commentary by Martin Kelly
May 13, 2004

Having the holder of a Harvard MBA as President must have been a novelty at first, until one realises how much a qualification like that can be as much of a negative as a positive in a politician. An MBA teaches its holder how to run corporations, whereas governments and wars have entirely different characters.

For a CEO President to surround himself with other CEO’s was, in hindsight, a bad idea – although Cabinet members must always be accomplished in their own fields, having so many people with the same CEO mentality means that there are no alternative perspectives available to provide opinion and counsel. Also, CEO types are always forceful characters, and they need someone to around them ready to raise their voice in favour of alternatives. One couldn’t imagine anyone doing that with either George W. Bush or Donald Rumsfeld, because Colin Powell seems just way too polite.

This is the most leak proof White House in living memory, meaning that there is a disturbing uniformity of thought indicative of uniform ideology. Another symptom is what appears to be the absolute lack of self-doubt that the President and the other neo-conservatives project in public, giving the appearance of strength. This appearance is false. The administration’s recent actions have shown them to be succumbing to the greatest fear of the modern corporate CEO. Fear of failure.

The Bush Administration is comprised of people who have almost never failed. It is impossible not to fail at some point or another in life – by so failing, we become stronger and grow wiser. When such people do fail, they do not know how to react, and the clearest evidence of this has been in evidence since the first publication of the Abu Ghraib photos.

Not enough analysis has been written of the importance of absolutely free market economics to neo-conservatism. It is fair to say that free markets are as important to neo-conservatives as the idea of exporting democracy, as it is their belief that free markets will turn all enslaved peoples into willing consumers of American goods. The resultant peace justifies the loss of American jobs that such free markets bring. However, a critical plank of this free market mania is that nothing should be done in the public sector that can be done in the private, even the conduct of the state’s most sensitive functions, such as the interrogation of its prisoners of war. Unless the contracts of hire of the civilians at Abu Ghraib who are alleged to have orchestrated the abuse have assumed the status of a Constitutional Amendment, they should be fired forthwith. No civilian of any nation has any business conducting such a delicate function of the State.

The mercantile flaws of such a set-up are obvious. Were these guys being paid for the number of confessions they extracted? Or was it just an hours worked only contract, payable without the necessity of showing results? Given what has already happened, it does not stretch credibility to suggest that what happened in that prison could have been the result of a civilian contractor trying to up their earnings, which is why they should all be removed immediately.

George W. Bush’s public expression of support for Donald Rumsfeld owes more to the closeness of the administration’s ranks than to any tangible proof of success in the administration of post-war Iraq. One can be sure that some of the most rabid followers of Moqtada al-Sadr will have availed themselves of the mobile phones and satellite dishes that are apparently the proof that Iraqis are free now. They are really the symbol that Iraq’s internal market has been opened up for the distribution of consumer goods, which are always snapped up in any country whose culture is incapable of producing them itself- therefore, Nick Berg’s murder was captured on VCR and broadcast on the Internet. The Iraqis lived before without easy access to wireless broadband, and there is no reason why US and UK contractors should be at risk to ensure they can have it. Peace first, money later. The Bush Administration seems to be following the opposite policy.

To put it bluntly, Rumsfeld was wrong not to have sanctioned more troops to keep the peace on the ground to begin with. The forces in Iraq are not robots – they should not have to endure having their stays being lengthened unreasonably. What is happening in Iraq is that there seems to be no real recognition that this is a war, and a war needs to be fought, against the savages who murdered Berg and who killed 168 pilgrims at Karbala. This one is being managed, in an atmosphere of rudderless stasis, driven by fear of failure.
Which, is of course, the default position of an MBA and a CEO. Even Donald Rumsfeld’s admission of responsibility did not lead him to resign immediately, so he clearly does not believe what happened at Abu Ghraib to be a matter of personal honour. He does not believe himself to have failed. He, like the rest of them, comes from an atmosphere where having a very public failure on your resume removes any further possibility of advancement. You’ll never be re-hired if you’re perceived to have been unsuccessful, an attitude that now seems to seep through every aspect of the modern culture. However, there is one great big chicken that may soon be coming home to roost. If it is proven that the contractors ordered the MP’s to commit these abuses with the full knowledge of the Pentagon, that becomes a resigning issue not just for Rumsfeld, it becomes one for Bush. All these people were there because Bush wanted it so, and he must bear his share of blame for the consequences, if people he ultimately hired were responsible for tarnishing the good name of America. They will have succeeded in giving the moral high ground to the House of Saud, which is diplomacy in reverse. It’s a mad world we live in.