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Archive for August 20th, 2005

Saturday, August 20th, 2005


Link Preface

Right-Bolshies, Magical thinking, Diplo Reform ” – Lounsbury

Part I.” Zenpundit

To continue (after an unpardonable delay), in this section I intend to explain the nature of State ” obstructionism” that Dave, Jeff and I have decried and how reform might mitigate it.

I am going to set aside a semantic debate about the political coloration at State. Collounsbury argued for small ” c” conservative. Jeff and Dave and I said ” liberal” or ” dovish”. I think I could make a good case for examples of liberal pedigree during the 80’s at the ARA desk but that’s not particularly important right now. As Matt said, clashes over foreign policy do not fit neatly into a Left-Right spectrum anyway which is true enough so I’m going to stick to bureaucratic imperatives instead.

Let us simply state instead that the premise is that the State Department’s senior civil service in Washington and the lower level political appointees follow the natural tendency of a bureaucracy to try to dominate policy making for their area of responsibility. Added to this is the self-consciously ” elite” culture of the Foreign Service, the wide latitude given to desk heads and appointees for their area of responsibility, poor to nonexistent mechanisms of accountability and you have a recipe for free-lancing. Henry Kissinger and George Schultz were both exceptionally strong, hands-on and authoritative Secretaries of State. Shultz in particular was described by Robert Gates as ” the toughest Secretary I knew” yet each man complained at length in their memoirs about subordinates and the bureaucracy at State attempting to go against official policy.

The NSC is supposed to act as a counterweight by managing the Interagency process so that one bureaucracy ( usually State but sometimes Defense or the CIA) does not run wild and deny the president alternative views. Unfortunately, as every happy NSC is alike – organized, methodical, unbiased, inclusive and enforcing accountability- every dysfunctional NSC is dysfunctional in its own way. Only two NSC interagency systems have really worked properly – under Eisenhower and Bush the Elder- all the rest from Truman to George W. Bush have teetered between impotently presiding over bureaucratic warfare to becoming part of the problem. Since as Col- correctly noted, the NSC process is reset anew by each incoming administration, reforming the NSC interagency process itself is a post for another day.

As far as State is concerned there are a number of additional reforms that I might suggest to reduce its capacity to obstruct administration policy without shutting down the flow of expert information from State that policy makers absolutely need to hear:

My first suggestion would be to get rid of the antiquated, geographically-based, regional desk structure which is where most of the antics and information bottlenecks seem to occur. The structure can be re-orged in any number of different ways. By policy or administrative task, regrouping regions along geoeconomic lines of development, category of relationship ( state to state, state to transnational body like the EU or NATO, state to NGO) and so on. The point here is to mainly break up the bureaucratic empires that prevent cogent advice from flowing up from embassies to policy makers and clear instructions from flowing back down.

Secondly, the Undersecretary should stop being the utility player of State who does whatever the Secretary thinks is important and become the formal, institutional, monitor of State’s internal bureaucracy who enforces accountability and ensures the flow of information.

Third, State personnel need greater experience and insight outside their narrow domain of international diplomacy. The world is far more integrated thanks to globalization than it was thirty years ago and while it was once sensible to let State steer most diplomatic relationships on autopilot, foreign policy needs to be tightly integrated with the perspectives from other fields, particularly economics. It would be a good idea for State’s fast-track, rising stars to do some early career stints- call them visiting fellowships, internships, whatever – at Treasury, the Fed, the CIA or NSA, the Pentagon and so on.

Another place where State could use broadening is in the messy world of politics to get a better grip on where key Congressional players on foreign policy are coming from. Spending six months to a year helping appropriations and foreign relations committee staff would keep State personnel attuned to American politicos and, I think, help the committee staff, Congressman and Senators get a keener understanding of and sympathy for State’s needs and the limits of the possible in diplomacy ( reducing the propensity for magical thinking during a crisis). It would be a good two-way educational street.

State’s culture and habits of mind go back not to the Cold War but to the Great War when the United States began to accept a wider role in global affairs during the progressive era and the 1920’s. The time for renovation is long, long, overdue regardless of whether Iraq is going well or ill or if the president in 2008 is a Republican or a Democrat. State is far too important to national security to be marginalized or left to muddle through on its own, making policy in ad hoc fashion in response to the overriding pressure of the day. It’s time to contemplate change.

Saturday, August 20th, 2005


Dr. Von, experimentalist physicist, educational innovator and an extraordinairily able writer of Federal grants, was moved to give some expert commentary on my consilience post:

“The idea of ‘resiliency’ is important in scale-free networks. While there are many nodes in any sort of complex network, whether social, business, electronic (i.e. Internet), biological (food webs, metabolic processes, etc.), or other, what makes a network scale-free is that some small number of the nodes have many more links than the vast majority of nodes (which only have a few links). These highly linked nodes are the hubs of the network, and in some sense are responsible for holding the network together.

From the standpoint of software, perhaps the biggest fear is the computer virus wiping out a company’s computer network. Of course, the obvious choice is to hit the network servers and routers, which are the hubs. And these hubs are the most obvious parts of the network to protect. But what one cannot forget is that if nodes on the periphery are infected, it is very difficult to kill the virus completely.

Now add in Wilson’s idea of ‘consiliency.’ How can a network make use of fundamental principles from a variety of fields to enhance the performance of the entire network? In everyday terms, to me this almost sounds like multitasking. One needs to have members of the network who have studied and are trained in multiple fields, or small numbers of individuals who know something about a lot of different fields…research shows this multitasking tends to *reduce* productivity if you take the individual route. I may be a bit off on this, but in network theory, there is a hierarchical structure to some real networks that was discovered in ~2002. There are naturally forming, self-emergent networks within networks. There is still a scale-free mathematical structure to the more complex networks, and they are now called modular networks. A large company does this by having different departments, which by themselves are networks of workers. But the hubs, department managers, perhaps, are the links between the departments (modules) to form an ever more complex structure. The Internet and biological cell are naturally occurring modular networks, and the more people look, the more this structure is found in real networks.

Modularity makes use of a variety of local information for the global success of the overall network. The fact that this occurs naturally through the evolution of many types of networks is intriguing. Perhaps this is what Wilson’s intuition was telling him. If I were a manager, I suppose I would encourage interaction between my department and others, to cross-feed each other with our knowledge and find out how to push the boundaries of our business.

This is one thing I wish happened more in schools, as Wilson also suggests in education, because teaching techniques and methodologies can be used across disciplines and subject areas…this seems to be an efficient and effective way of promoting horizontal thinking, because teachers can break away from ‘standard’ ways of teaching our own subject and learn some new ways of teaching from someone else in a different department. We need to take advantage of the departmentalized, intellectually specialized modules in such networks in order to help find new insights and breakthroughs. “

Von detailed some thoughts on network theory and al Qaida a while back as well. Before the Drs. Eide went on vacation, they posted on multidisciplinarity vs. interdisiplinarity models, which has some bearing on Dr. Von’s description of human ” modular networks”.

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