Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Work Lessons From Big Brother

It’s been two weeks since the election. We’ve had a school strafed by a fighter jet, a major assault on Falujah, and a mass exodus of six Bush cabinet members. Colin Powell is out. Condoleezza Rice will replace him. What can we learn from all this?

I’ll admit, I’m sorry to see Powell go. In 2000 Bush surrounded himself with strong advisors because he was lauded for his inexperience. The stars included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell. Powell brought over thirty years of experience as a soldier and public servant, plus a moderate approach to diplomacy which the rest of the came to see as their only representation in the Bush administration. Unfortunately that moderate approach went against hard-liners like Cheney and Rumsfeld. Powell, rightly frustrated, noticed his diplomatic efforts were largely an after-thought.

Now he is gone. Regardless, Bush no longer needs the star-power to give him political clout. Bush is now a super-star in his own right and the world knows what his presidency is capable of. He does not need to hear any dissenting opinions and since re-election he has a mandate from the people to continue doing what he has been doing. So who would you pick to replace Powell? The President is going with his old friend Condoleezza Rice.
Lesson one: it’s who you know.

Rice’s ties to the Bush family go back to 1989 when she was Director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council to Bush sr. In 2000 she took a leave of absence from Stanford to become Bush jr’s foreign policy advisor. And upon his election was chosen to be National Security Advisor. Rice also served on Chevron’s board from 1991 until 2001 and even had an oil tanker named after her. How’s that for a perk?

Of course we all know the only reason why Bush is where he is today is because of his family connections and money. There’s no way he would have been able to start his first company without his left-over trust college trust funds. This sequentially led to being part owner of the Texas Rangers, governor of Texas, and now President.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting a job because you have connections. However, you should be able to produce once you’re in the position. In the private sector if you don’t you're simply fired or dead-ended to where you can’t do any harm. Apparently in the Bush administration this gets you re-elected or promoted.

Bush is definitely a president of extremes. For the first nine months of his first term he did a lot of nothing. Then after 9/11 he hasn’t been able to stop doing things. This can be represented by a phenomenon displayed by managers who have the power to lead by virtue of their position, but not necessarily the leadership ability to go with it. Those people often make a lot of decisions and appear decisive. They have no time to listen to alternative points of view. The trick is to appear as confident and as pro-active as possible and people will think you are leading.
Lesson two: look busy.

Unfortunately this has nothing to do with making good decisions or leading in the right direction. Anyone can make decisions, but it takes leadership to make the right ones. The head of a company can create mission statements, lay down policy, hold meetings, and institute directives all day long, but if the company consistently loses money he will be fired. In American politics he gets re-elected.

Bush and Rice have been busy motivating the American people to take Saddam out, mainly by trying to scare people. We’ve heard everything from Saddam’s lies and secret WMD stockpiles, to his desire to acquire WMDs, to his ties to terrorists, to his just being a really mean person. Rice even took the time to write a column for the New York Times in January 2003 titled “Why We Know Iraq is Lying”. Rather than working off of presuppositions she should have been reviewing the intelligence more closely?

Rice has been a centerpiece in the administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq. She specifically advised the President to go to war when asked, and has used Saddam’s WMD capability as her reasoning. Of course this has all proven to be false. Since then she has been involved in many missteps regarding Iraq intelligence. As the Washington Post reported (July 27, 2003), “Either she missed of overlooked numerous warnings from intelligence agencies seeking to put caveats on claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapon’s program, or she made public claims she knew to be false.”

Rice and Bush both buck the Peter Principle by continuing to rise past their level of incompetence. Both give the appearance of doing a lot of good things, but as has been proven, that does not necessarily mean good things are happening.

At first I was discouraged about Rice being in effect given a promotion from National Security Advisor to Secretary of State. However it might be perfect for her. The department’s mandate is “to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.” This is usually attempted through diplomatic means first; something Bush and his neocrons are not very fond of. So Rice, like Powell, can be pigeonholed into this position, while the real work of imperialism can go on. She gets a promotion and the State Department falls in line with the administration’s global policies. Only this time Bush won’t have to deal with the even handed logic of someone like Powell.
Lesson three: the boss is always right.

This said, no wonder he likes Rice so much! When this administration needed an advisor who knew what was going on in the hotspots of the world, Bush enjoyed the luxury of Rice who would tell him what he wanted to hear. History has largely proven Powell right, and Bush and the rest of his advisors wrong. Yet Powell found himself on the outside looking in. His doctrine of using decisive force only when US interests are at stake, only after all other options have been exhausted, was ignored. His warning to the President that if you break Iraq you own it was disregarded. All of this was forged by his experience in Vietnam which the president and those in his inner circle chose to ignore because Powell did not sing along loud enough.

The real lesson is it's not how right you are. It doesn't matter even if history proves you right. Powell served for 30 years, from Vietnam through the Cold War into Gulf Storm. But what good did all that experience do when the one in charge didn't want to hear it? Take no solice in the fact that you do your job better than anyone else in the office. When was the last time you played golf with the boss?

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