Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I don't need no stinkin' predictions

So I'm reading this Atlantic article about the administration and its pre-war planning. A popular theme lately, eh? And James Fallows, who wrote the article, interviewed Douglas Feith, undersecretary for defense. Fallows is complimentary of Feith: he is forthright, he speaks clearly, he gives more than the usual party-line. But, call me crazy, is this a little bit too forthright for his own good? Observe:
When I asked [Feith] what had gone better than expected and what had gone worse, he said, "We don't exactly deal in 'expectations.' Expectations are too close to 'predictions.' We're not comfortable with predictions. It is one of the big strategic premises of the work that we do."

The limits of future knowledge, Feith said, were of special importance to Rumsfeld, "who is death to predictions." [wha??--ed] "His big strategic theme is uncertainty," Feith said.

Okay, everybody who's comforted, raise your hands! I'm no undersecretay of defense, but I am a veteran 4-square ball player, and Feith's response sounds a lot like that kid who is totally called out for double-bouncing that says "I meant to double-bounce. In my rules you have to double bounce or you're out."

So it's not that they didn't have a plan so much as, like, I mean the future is way tricky and what if you plan for something and then something else happens? Then you'd feel pretty stupid, wouldn't you? I am glad that the Pentagon operates like I do with my career.

But the sad moral of this whole story is that they did have, or should have had a pretty good idea of what was to follow. Government bodies such as State, USAID, and the CIA spent a lot of time creating a large body of knowledge regarding "predictions" for Iraq. Regional experts offered their authoritative testimony. Many of them predicted precisely the scenario we are now in. The problem isn't that the government didn't know, the problem is that the administration didn't want to know:
"...nobody will find a piece of paper that says, 'Mr. Secretary or Mr. President, let us tell you what postwar Iraq is going to look like, and here is what we need plans for.' If you tried that, you would get thrown out of Rumsfeld's office so fast--if you ever went in there and said, 'Let me tell you what something's going to look like in the future,' you wouldn't get to your next sentence!"

Let me just reiterate that this is not a nefarious turncoat squealer like Paul O'Neill. This guy is on Rumsfeld's side. It's plug-your-ears-and-say-LALALALA foreign policy. Seriously. There are predictions and there are contingencies, and if you don't know that, you won't last five minutes working for Mr. Trump. oops, wrong fiction.


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