Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Can-do" attitude

I don't know exactly how I feel about what actions we should take concerning the Bush-Cheney torture activities. Truth commission, war crimes trials (if The Hague doesn't get there first), investigation followed by censure - which choice is best is something on which I have not been able to reach a conclusion.

Our nation has trouble dealing with bad things done in our name or by our representatives. White people certainly benefited from the destruction of the indigenous population, and our attempts to make it right have never seemed satisfactory. Ford pardoned Nixon, reasoning that the country had already been through enough; I can't say if the catharsis of a trial would have made things better.

The Clinton impeachment showed the alternative at its worst, as it devolved into a partisan witch hunt. (I should say more about this, because I think quite a few people shared my opinion. The Monica Lewinsky business was, yes, a personal matter that did not merit impeachment. But it was reprehensible for this activity to take place in one of our hallowed national places, the Oval Office. It demonstrated Clinton's recklessness and arrogance, and we should never forget that.)

So I don't have anything to offer as to what we should do about the perversion that was Bush-Cheney policy. I have this vague sense that we can't just leave it as it is, let it go while we deal with our pressing problems. To see these two men strutting around, Cheney in particular, proudly defending one of the shameful periods in American history, is an offense to everything I've ever believed was right about this country.

On the other hand, to allow the real business of the nation to be sidetracked while a Democratic Congress postures for the people back home seems a poor solution also. Letting the likes of Pelosi and Reid, sham public servants that they are, use such a proceeding as a means of gaining political capital disgusts me.

For now, then, I'll leave the discussion to others. Andrew Sullivan has written a lot about this issue, apparently believing that no stone should be left unturned in determining the truth and bringing everyone involved to account. In a Sunday post, he again takes up the case of Abu Zabaida, someone we tortured though we had evidence that he was a low-level al-Qaeda functionary. Apparently, whatever useful information he had, essentially names, he gave up before the torture actually began - there was no plot failed as a result of our "interrogation."

[Here's one thing I never quite understand. If you were running a terrorist outfit, and someone with critical information disappeared, wouldn't you then change your plans? "Hey, Osama's not in his cave any more. Well, maybe he's just on vacation, let's go ahead with those attacks exactly as planned." I know that some would say you extract the information before anyone knows he's gone, which is inevitably the situation on 24, but it doesn't appear that our post-9/11 procedures were restricted to that.]

Sullivan quotes an article from the Washington Post:
As weeks passed after the capture without significant new confessions, the Bush White House and some at the CIA became convinced that tougher measures had to be tried. The pressure from upper levels of the government was "tremendous," driven in part by the routine of daily meetings in which policymakers would press for updates, one official remembered. "They couldn't stand the idea that there wasn't anything new," the official said. "They'd say, 'You aren't working hard enough.' There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution -- a feeling that 'He's going to talk, and if he doesn't talk, we'll do whatever.' "
I think I understand the mindset that gave rise to this attitude. George W. Bush was in so many ways the epitome of a bad CEO. (This isn't surprising in that he was, in fact, a bad CEO.) I've worked for a few (fortunately, very few) people who adopt a credo that any failure is the result of not making sufficient effort, that something not getting done can be overcome by more hard work.

There are, of course, times when that's true. There are, of course, other times when that's not. A great deal of wisdom is understanding the difference.

Some things are impossible or infeasible. You can push someone to create faster-than-light speed travel by next week, and it still won't happen. You can insist on extracting information from someone who doesn't have any, and you may get information, but it won't be true.

When one works for someone who doesn't understand this, the negative effects go beyond the wasting of time. It creates a lack of trust up and down the chain of command. Imagine being the person who had to go into the Oval Office and say, "This guy clearly doesn't have anything more to give," and to be told, "You're wrong, go back again." Your boss is saying, in effect, that you're an idiot who doesn't know his work, doesn't have the ability to distinguish between the hard and the impossible. I can tell you, that makes for a very corrosive work environment.

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