Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Discussion: Unified Front Crumbling?

Adding fuel to my theories that the tight coupling between the political elements (ie Rove and his people) and the neo-con power center of the adminstration are not on the best speaking terms has been the recent incident over the market on terror. The program, as I understand it, had some merit, and I don't doubt that Rove could have sold it. But it is obvious that nobody with an ounce of political cluefulness was aware of its existence. It is unclear how aware the upper tier of the neo-con leadership was of the program, but it was proposed by John Poindexter, one of their favorite sons, and as a part of the TIA, one of their pet projects.

The basic idea was sound. DARPA was to hand-pick 1000 people to participate, presumably middle-east experts, terror experts, and other knowledgeable folk, and allow them to put their money where their mouth was. It seems a useful manner in which to sort out the wide variety of opinions on issues of great importance to the country, providing DARPA with a constantly updated reading not only on the opinions of the community of experts, but also on their confidence level in those opinions.

While the idea was fine, the political handling of it was a complete disaster. It was kept secret from everyone, including Congress, and, by all reports, most of the administration, despite the fact that it required the participation of 1000 people not directly affiliated with the government. They had to know that someone would leak the existence of the project. By allowing this to happen without first publicly spinning the program themselves they allowed their political enemies to brand it however they wished. Which they did quite effectively. Once this hit the public the goals and mechanisms of the system were completely lost and most people were left scratching their heads over the absurdity of the idea. In the /. discussion of it most people seemed to think it was a honeypot, designed to lure terrorists into trying to make money from their attacks. They thought DARPA would watch for sudden influxes of money into particular attack predictions and use this to first thwart the attack, then track down where the money came from and apprehend the terrorists.

If someone who were politically shrewd (ie Rove) had been aware of the program the results could have been quite different. First thing would be to remove the direct use of money on the market. Allocate some bogus bucks to the participants then come up with a system to reward the winning players with prestige or government grants for their research. The idea of people directly profiting from disastrous attacks on the US is simply too perverse to survive public scrutiny. The next thing would be to present it to the public on their own terms, spinning it not as a "market on terror", but as an interactive system by which to mine the talent and expertise of the American academics and intellectuals. It could even serve as an answer to the common criticism of the administration as being too closetted and isolated. Certainly there would still be those who would have tried to brand it as a market on terror, but the administration has shown a great talent for branding, and I think their sales pitch would have stuck.

In any case this serves to reinforce my perception that the neo-cons have tired of sharing power. As I stated previously, the presence of Rove and Powell and the non-neoconservative elements of the administration has served a vital role in allowing the neo-cons to do what they want. But the neo-cons have always, even from their modern inception during Bush I's term, fought against the reins of political pragmatism. In 1992, while serving in the George HW Bush administration Paul Wolfowitz drafted a Defense Planning Guildance document, which later served as the core of PNAC's mission. It was quickly quashed by the administration for being too radical, although not before causing a bit on an international incident. They made a marriage of necessity in order to sweep into power with George Bush in 2001, sharing power with more moderate and politically-minded elements of the administration, and for some time have operated within those confines. But with egos inflated from the perceived victories in the war on terror, it seems as if they are fighting those constraints as they try to run Powell out of office and launch their own programs without so much as a by-your-leave from the rest of the administration. If a divide is growing between these two factions, with the neo-cons holding this upper hand, this may offer the best chance yet to see Bush defeated in 2004. It has been those outside the neo-con camp who have done a masterful job of spinning and selling the eminently questional policies the neo-cons have implemented. If they abandon these allies they may find themselves in a heap of trouble, as they did in this instance.

Again, it's hard to figure any of this to any reasonable degree of certainty due to the intense secrecy maintained by the administration, but in any case it's fun to speculate..

No comments: