Monday, January 07, 2008

Watching them think

There's a fascinating pair of interviews between Roger Simon and Claudia Rosett of Pajamas Media and Rudy Giuliani and John McCain on "War on Terror" subjects. In actuality the interview is far more wide-ranging than the billing suggests.

Apart from the substantive difference between the two men's responses to specific questions (both were asked the same set of questions) the approach each took was a fascinating study. For example, to the question of how they would "take control of bureaucracies" McCain viewed the problem in historical perspective, describing the twists and turns of the CIA over the years and making a fascinating case for providing "stability" in the ground rules intelligence agencies could operate with. He also suggested creating specialized agencies to carry out tasks which required "more imagination" than the CIA would ever be capable of. In contrast, Rudy Giuliani was clearly speaking from experience when describing the need to "get inside an organization" in order to control it; of the need to keep trying because it was a job at which one might fail on multiple attempts. Giuliani was manifestly talking about a process he understood; or at the least, had been through before. And one that any President would have to face.

At the risk of oversimplification it epitomized the difference between the Legislative experience of trying to understand and frame a problem in its broadest terms and that of an administrator that has had to get things moving. Traditionally America has chosen its Presidents from gubernatorial ranks. Arguably Giuliani, as former mayor of New York City, has been the equivalent of a state governor. But in this campaign a number of Senators are in the race, possibly reflecting the public's desire to re-architecture or "change" the system in ways which a man with executive experience might have no inclination for.

But by and large, both McCain and Giuliani were a refreshing contrast to the almost vacuous discussions in which the discussants simply vied for the number of times they could mention the words "hope" and "change" in a single sentence. Maybe this was due to the Pajamas Media format having knowledgeable interviewers put substantive questions candidates. It would be interesting to see what Hillary and Obama's responses would have been to the same questions.


Blogger Allison said...

I think the differences on the NIE are interesting as well. Giuiliani picked first the ambiguities: what's the source? committee paralysis, or lack of info? McCain picked a specific problem: enrichment or weaponization. Giuliani brings up a problem that an executive could, in theory, actually, solve, by changing how the report is created/sourced/written/delivered. McCain brings up a problem that an executive can't solve, exactly. A problem of intelligence we don't have, and of a viewpoint of an agency he can't control.

McCain's "break up the CIA" is really bizarre, though. We have over a dozen intelligence agencies already. The reason they were all put under the new National Intelligence bureau nightmare was because no one knew how to stop the rice-bowl/fiefdom problems that occur once you have that kind of a structure: small agencies hoarding information mean you can't get the synthesis needed to make important assessments. The "more imagination" is nice on paper, but it highlights another problem: what do we think intelligence agencies are FOR? Is it to gather intel? Is it to disseminate PSYOPs, or "influence" as the Soviest would have called it? Is it to perform useful political black deeds
--like blowing up trains carrying nukes in DPRK, or sinking boats carrying uranium enrichment machinery? If it's all of the above, how does that solve the problem we've got now, of what to do with the assessment side of the CIA, which is just habitually, historically, wrong?

I think the OSS problem is even more odd, though. I don't actually think McCain has any real solution into how we'd have spies in the nations and territories we need to have spies in. We simply don't have any way of having those people not be caught and turned in by our enemies, because we have no where near enough historical context in those places. No place in the MidEast was ever our colony, and the loyalties of those who are there have been known for a long time. We also would have tremendous difficulty recruiting here in the US without just bringing in mole after mole.

1/07/2008 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

I read the transcripts of both Giuliani and McCain. Both were very interesting and in-depth. McCain still has a lot of fire in his belly. But, I wonder if he can transform that into real action.

Giuliani is pretty smooth. Which is a good quality – to a point. At some point you will have to get tough with the “shadow warriors” in the intelligence community. I hope Giuliani is up to it.

1/08/2008 02:15:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

Restructuring the CIA (or abolishing it outright, as Moynihan proposed) is something the President can only propose, but a Senator can actually submit a bill to accomplish. If McCain really thinks the CIA needs restructuring, why hasn't he submitted a bill to do so?

Given the CIA Analysis Directorate's record, we should just fire them all and start over. Avoiding the Ivy League graduates.

The fundamental concept of the CIA was to consolidate all the Intel collection and analysis in one organization, but we've seen that this results in an inbred assessment division.

I think the CIA does need to be broken up, Operations should go to the Defense Dept., we need at least two parallel assessment organizations, all of which get feeds from various collection organizations.

1/08/2008 06:26:00 AM  

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