Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bureaucracy and War

In my frustration at the inefficiencies of bureaucracy, I have often said over the last few years “Y’know, it’s amazing we got all those soldiers to Iraq with a left boot and a right boot each. Getting things done is harder than it looks.” And no, it’s not entirely the fault of systems, as management-types like to say these days. Sometimes it really is the people.

I was speaking on the phone to a repetitive woman who has become guardian over her adult daughter, and I was thinking of Iraq. Being a listener and a good communicator are supposed to be the new skills that officers are supposed to have, and that Americans in general supposedly lack, which torques off the other nations of the world. Yet I imagine being an officer listening to a pleasant but repetitive and tangential person in my military bureaucracy in Iraq. One side of my brain would be saying “we have to get everyone on board, keep morale up, not waste energy in unnecessary confrontation,” while the other half is saying “Buddy, do you not realize that people are friggin’ dying out there while you waste my valuable time? Get off the phone!”

And you know that’s happening somewhere. Someone is smoothing Pentagon or Congressional feathers, selling an idea in a manipulative, telling-em-what-they-want way, not because he’s dishonest or manipulative, but because the people he’s dealing with are idiots and wankers who can’t be leveled with. And the difference is life-or-death for somebody down the line, so you’ve got to do it.

Diplomacy is considered an artful, high-level skill that does such wonders in the world. I suppose it is better than everyone just opening fire on each other. Negotiation, I agree is a high-level and honorable skill – or can be, anyway. But diplomacy is for use on people who cannot endure the truth. You will notice that Jesus was kind, but not diplomatic.

Americans, especially conservatives, indulge in these fantasies of frankness that are not ever going to happen. “You know what we should tell those nutcases? We should tell them that they have one week to start…” Sure, I agree. I would love to give that approach a try for a year. Put up or shut up. Fish or cut bait. Yo, Egypt! These are your two choices! Even if we went back to the old way after, it would be an unspoken threat. The Roman Empire would have a dictator for a year in time of war. Having one year of Donald Trump as president might be just what the doctor ordered.

But it’s never going to happen. That fantasy is as useful as hoping that the Navy Seals develop the power of teleportation. No American president is going to act like that. But it’s good that we keep in the back of our minds that we’re avoiding being candid with other nations, not because they are sophisticated and wise and we are clumsy, but because they cannot endure the truth straight up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The way I've heard it, diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to hell in such a fashion that they eagerly ask you for directions.