August’s books of the month
Well, given that I’ve linked to it twice in recent days, my international relations book has to be American Soldier by Tommy Franks. Already the book has forced Don Rumsfeld to defend Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith against Frank’s critique. In doing so, according to this AP report, Rumsfeld revealed the following: Rumsfeld said Feith, ...
Well, given that I've linked to it twice in recent days, my international relations book has to be American Soldier by Tommy Franks. Already the book has forced Don Rumsfeld to defend Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith against Frank's critique. In doing so, according to this AP report, Rumsfeld revealed the following:
Well, given that I’ve linked to it twice in recent days, my international relations book has to be American Soldier by Tommy Franks. Already the book has forced Don Rumsfeld to defend Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith against Frank’s critique. In doing so, according to this AP report, Rumsfeld revealed the following:
Rumsfeld said Feith, along with some nongovernment analysts, proposed training Iraqis before the war and giving them a chance to participate in Iraq’s liberation. But Franks and other senior military officers were focused on the impending war and did not adopt Feith’s “logical idea,” Rumsfeld said. A few Iraqis were trained for postwar security but “not in the volume that many had hoped,” Rumsfeld said.
One has to assume that Rumsfeld is referring to Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress — which, given Chalabi’s track record since, is not exactly the most effective endorsement of Feith. The general interest book is James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. The fact that I make this recommendation even though I can’t stand ridiculously long subtitles is a further testament to how much I’m enjoying the book. Surowiecki’s argument is simple — when left to their own devices, large numbers of people who have diverse talents and perspectives will be consistently better than all individuals at problem-solving, decision-making, and future predictions. The key, to Suroweicki, is how information is gathered nd processed from the crowd. On p. 78, he makes this point with regard to the very topical question of ntelligence reform:
What was missing from the intelligence community, though, was any real means of aggregating not just information but also judgments. In other words, there was no mechanism to tap into the collective wisdom of National Security Agency nerds, CIA spooks, and FBI agents. There was decentralization but no aggregation and therefore no organization. [Senator] Richard Shelby’s solution to the problem — creating a truly central intelligence agency — would solve the organization problem, and would make it easier for at least one agency to be in charge of all the information. But it would also forgo all of the enefits — diversity, llocal knowledge, independence — that decentralization brings. Shelby was right that information needed to be shared. But he assumed that someone — or a small group of someones — needed to be at the center, sifting through the information, figuring out what was important and what was not. But everything we know about cognition suggests that a small group of people, no matter how intelligent, simply will not be smrter than the larger group…. Centralization is not the answer. But aggregation is.
A side note on the intelligence reform question — Mark Kleiman and Amy Zegart raise some disturbing questions about whether Bush’s proposals for a National Intelligence Director would have sufficient authority to improve our intelligence capabilities. Zegart’s speculation is particularly troublesome: “my warning bells go off whenever I hear the word “coordinate” so much in one press conference.” I’m cautiously optimistic, for two reasons. First, I suspect Bush is trying to mimic the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1986 — and if memory serves, the JCS is neither in the operational chain of command nor does it possess budgetary authority. Bush explicitly compared the two in the press conference. Second, Surowiecki’s argument is that although coordination at the higher levels matters less than methods to ensure that the information is properly aggregated. In that sense, the reforms at the top matter less than ensuring the transmission of information. I’m not sure I completely buy Surowiecki’s arguments about how crowds facilitate cooperation, but it’s still a stimulating argument. There’s a final reason to recommend this book — it’s clear that Surowiecki doesn’t just admire cowds in the abstract, he likes to participate as well — if one defines the blogosphere as a crowd. He’s commented on at least two blogs I’m aware of: Crooked Timber and Brad DeLong — and hey, he just posted here. The blogosphere violate one of Surowiecki’s underlying assumptions, which is that one member of the crowd can’t influence other members. Still, while many prominent readers of blogs never deign to post a comment, Surowiecki has no problems doing so. Go check them both out. UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias thinks I’m misinterpreting Goldwater-Nichols, and has some links to offer up. The thing is, all of the JCS tasks listed in Yglesias’ are “advisory.” Replace “advisory” with “coordinating role” and it’s not clear whether Bush’s admittedly vague proposal is all that different. ANOTHER UPDATE: Reading up on Goldwater-Nichols some more, it’s clear that the JCS lies outside of the operational chain of command — the regional commander-in-chiefs (CINCs) report directly to the Secretary of Defense. However, Matt might be correct that the JCS has a larger budgetary role than I originally thought. Beyond that, the key elements of Goldwater-Nichols was to endow the chairman of the JCS more authority vis-a-vis the service chiefs — by giving the chair control over the Joint Staff and designating him/her as the principal military advisor to the president. Bush’s proposed NID would have similar capacities. More intruigingly, the Act also empowered the regional CINCs relative to the service chiefs, thus increasing local coordination among the various services. I haven’t seen anyone discuss whether something like this would be advisable or appropriate in the case of intelligence — well, except for those ubiquitous TNT previews for “The Grid.”
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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