Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Regular and Irregular Channels

 

Some of the witnesses at the ongoing Congressional hearings seem quite disturbed at the use of “irregular channels” for decision-making and implementation, supplementing and bypassing the “regular” channels. (here, for example) Reminds me of a Churchill story…

In February 1940, Churchill was not yet Prime Minister but rather was First Lord of the Admiralty. He received a letter from a father disappointed that his son had been turned down for a commission, despite his qualifications and his record. Churchill suspected class prejudice and wrote to the Second Sea Lord, saying that “Unless some better reasons are given to me, I shall have to ask my Naval Secretary to interview the boy on my behalf.”

The Second Sea Lord, unhappy with the meddling from above, responded to the effect that it was inappropriate to question the decisions of “a board duly constituted.” To which Churchill replied:

I do not at all mind “going behind the opinion of a board duly constituted” or even changing the board or its chairman if I think injustice has been done. How long is it since this board was re-modeled?… Who are the naval representatives on the board of selection? Naval officers should be well-represented. Action accordingly. Let me have a list of the whole board with the full record of each member and his date of appointment.

General Louis Spears was present when Churchill, after taking the above hard-line, saw the candidates. After chatting with the boys, Churchill explained the matter to Sears:

“They have been turned down for the very reason that should have gained them admission. They are mad keen on the Navy, they have it in their blood, they will make splendid officers. What could be better than that they should rise higher than their fathers did? It is in their fathers’ homes that they grew to love the Navy, yet they have been turned down because their fathers came from the lower deck,” and he pouted and glared with fury.

As a manager and executive, I have always preferred to use the formal organization structure…modifying it when necessary and possible…rather than engaging in endless ad-hoc approaches. But sometimes, ad-hoc or “irregular” approaches are necessary. Especially, I suspect, in government, where modification of the formal structure is likely to be much more difficult and time-consuming than in business. Too many of the government officials we have been hearing from lately seem to deeply resent any challenge to their established ways of doing things, just as the naval official in the story disapproved of Churchill’s action in “going behind the opinion of a board duly constituted.” The sense of entitlement among many senior (non-elected) American government official seems to be very strong.

See also this post from The DiploMad, a very experienced (now retired) US Foreign Service officer.

(Churchill story from The Gathering Storm and from General Spears’ valuable memoir, Assignment to Catastrophe.)

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There are 21 comments.

  1. Mark Camp Member

    OK, how do I Follow somebody….

    I have almost never read an article that made me think I needed to figure that out. I don’t even know what Follow means, if I’m honest. I think “Follow” means, “If all the Ricocheteers need to get into a bomb shelter, who needs a key to the door?”

    • #1
    • November 14, 2019, at 3:37 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. danok1 Member

    David Foster: As a manager and executive, I have always preferred to use the formal organization structure…modifying it when necessary and possible…rather than engaging in endless ad-hoc approaches. But sometimes, ad-hoc or “irregular” approaches are necessary. Especially, I suspect, in government, where modification of the formal structure is likely to be much more difficult and time-consuming than in business.

    Or where the “professional staff” may very well be undermining the policy of the President. The proper action would be to summarily fire these people. However, I’m not sure if some of them are “protected” by civil service rules and regulations.

    • #2
    • November 14, 2019, at 3:56 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Annefy Member

    I’ve been binge watching The Epoch Times American Thought Leaders podcast.

    I found this one very educational.

    Trump Impeachment Inquiry Meant to Discredit Barr’s Investigation Into Spygate—Marc Ruskin

     

    • #3
    • November 14, 2019, at 5:59 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Annefy (View Comment):

    I’ve been binge watching The Epoch Times American Thought Leaders podcast.

    I found this one very educational.

    Trump Impeachment Inquiry Meant to Discredit Barr’s Investigation Into Spygate—Marc Ruskin

     

    Of course it is. We need a major flood, not just a fire hose, to clean out the agencies and all the hangers on who defy our will, expressed in the election of the one and only officer with independent constitutional authority.

    • #4
    • November 14, 2019, at 10:57 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor

    The sense of entitlement by these bureaucrats is mind-boggling! They serve at the pleasure of the President, and he is entitled to get rid of them whenever he so chooses. Now, beat it!

    • #5
    • November 15, 2019, at 6:20 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  6. Old Bathos Member

    The intensity of anti-Trump hostility in a federal agency is directly proportional to how much it is an insiders club. It is noteworthy that the hearsay repeaters presented as witnesses claim to love Ukraine and to be horrified by the possibility that Trump would withhold needed military aid. But as we now know, none of them uttered a peep when Obama refused all weapons aid. As long as elected officials act in a manner consistent with the sensibilities and expected access and privileges of the insiders, they will happily carry any demonstrably bad or stupid policy. But if they are not being deferred to and if the other cool kids (especially those from other diplomatic and intelligence services) think the elected boss is déclassé, then, by God it is suddenly a matter of principle to take a stand.

    • #6
    • November 15, 2019, at 8:47 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. Douglas Pratt Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    The sense of entitlement by these bureaucrats is mind-boggling! They serve at the pleasure of the President, and he is entitled to get rid of them whenever he so chooses. Now, beat it!

    And they aren’t even slightly ashamed of it…they think it’s the way things should be. Unbelievable.

    • #7
    • November 15, 2019, at 9:06 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. The Reticulator Member

    And speaking of irregular channels, why didn’t anybody call for Obama’s impeachment when he called the head of the Congressional Budget Office into his office to pressure him into counting the ObamaCare costs more to his liking. That was an impeachable offense if ever there was one, though the members of Congress are also at fault for not objecting. 

    • #8
    • November 15, 2019, at 9:24 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  9. Douglas Pratt Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    And speaking of irregular channels, why didn’t anybody call for Obama’s impeachment when he called the head of the Congressional Budget Office into his office to pressure him into counting the ObamaCare costs more to his liking. That was an impeachable offense if ever there was one, though the members of Congress are also at fault for not objecting.

    Or weaponizing the IRS, or Fast and Furious, or any of the other clearly illegal things that happened during the “scandal-free” Obama administration.

    • #9
    • November 15, 2019, at 9:33 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. Jager Member

    There are no “irregular” channels. The authority to make foreign policy is vested in the President. Everyone works for him. The official policy and channels are what ever he says. The only way for there to be irregularities or the “shadow diplomacy” that the press has been talking about, is if the President is not involved and there are people in the government working without Presidential approval. 

    The bureaucrats may advise the President but he can ignore them and appoint anyone he wants as his representative or “special envoy” 

    These guys need to understand that they have no power except what the President gives them. They serve at his pleasure and he can ignore them. 

    • #10
    • November 15, 2019, at 9:44 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    The intensity of anti-Trump hostility in a federal agency is directly proportional to how much it is an insiders club. It is noteworthy that the hearsay repeaters presented as witnesses claim to love Ukraine and to be horrified by the possibility that Trump would withhold needed military aid. But as we now know, none of them uttered a peep when Obama refused all weapons aid. As long as elected officials act in a manner consistent with the sensibilities and expected access and privileges of the insiders, they will happily carry any demonstrably bad or stupid policy. But if they are not being deferred to and if the other cool kids (especially those from other diplomatic and intelligence services) think the elected boss is déclassé, then, by God it is suddenly a matter of principle to take a stand.

    This is an excellent characterization. We just need to bow down to them, and they’ll do just about anything. When we start “interfering” with their agenda, watch out!

    • #11
    • November 15, 2019, at 9:55 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  12. danok1 Member

    Jager (View Comment):
    The bureaucrats may advise the President but he can ignore them and appoint anyone he wants as his representative or “special envoy” 

    Quick question: would/do these “special envoys” or representatives need Senate approval? I wouldn’t think so, but I don’t know.

    • #12
    • November 15, 2019, at 10:05 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  13. Bill Nelson Member

    These other channels were the standard MO for the FDR administration. There is an excellent book that discusses this: Citizens of London, about Edward R, Murrow, Averell Harriman and John Gilbert Winant (US ambassador). Harriman was running Lend lease, and eventually became FDR’s primary conduit on the ground to Churchill. Winant was gradually pushed aside. Harriman was sent to the USSR where he also was gradually pushed aside towards the end of the war.

    But it is an excellent book.

    And if you cannot recall FDR’s secretary of state, don’t feel bad. Harry Hopkins was the real controller of FDR foreign policy.

     

    • #13
    • November 15, 2019, at 12:46 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  14. The Reticulator Member

    Bill Nelson (View Comment):

    These other channels were the standard MO for the FDR administration. There is an excellent book that discusses this: Citizens of London, about Edward R, Murrow, Averell Harriman and John Gilbert Winant (US ambassador). Harriman was running Lend lease, and eventually became FDR’s primary conduit on the ground to Churchill. Winant was gradually pushed aside. Harriman was sent to the USSR where he also was gradually pushed aside towards the end of the war.

    But it is an excellent book.

    And if you cannot recall FDR’s secretary of state, don’t feel bad. Harry Hopkins was the real controller of FDR foreign policy.

     

    Thanks for the book reference. I’ve added it to my Kindle queue.

    • #14
    • November 15, 2019, at 1:13 PM PST
    • 1 like
  15. The Reticulator Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Thanks for the book reference. I’ve added it to my Kindle queue.

    Correction: I’ve added it to my Audible queue. My Kindle queue is already quite long, while the end is in sight on my Audible queue.

    • #15
    • November 15, 2019, at 1:26 PM PST
    • 1 like
  16. Mark Camp Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    The sense of entitlement by these bureaucrats is mind-boggling!

    Susan, yes, I think it is. 

    But not completely, when I look at it critically.

    Looking back I can see that, in my life, my self-perception has been partly formed by the unconscious idea that “I am in this group,” not by “I myself have done/can do this.”

    “This group” has sometimes had a positive connotation, sometimes negative.

    When it was positive, I was pretty much like these bureaucrats, I’m afraid.

    One of the witnesses in the Donald Trump impeachment proceedings (my Principal Consultant for Knowledge Related to the Real World says it was a fellow named “George Kent”) presented his credentials by adding his years in the State Dept. to those of his Dad!

    How pathetic. 

    But isn’t this really just how we all are? Aren’t we proud of–not just what we ourselves have done, or what we claim to be like, but who we are in the history of our particular society?

    When Dad took me to work, we parked up close to the hospital entrance. I liked that. He got me into the Doctor’s Lounge. There were back-lit X-rays on the wall, I think. He showed me what they meant, insofar as an internist could. I like that.

    Then he introduced me to a buddy, a member of his circle and thus a member of his first-born son’s circle, a radiologist who pointed to penumbras of fuzzy shadows and explained what they meant, apropos of how many days were likely left in the life of the husband of some nameless woman outside the door of the Doctors’ Lounge.

    I liked all of that, at the time. I’m older and more self-critical now, but there’s a bit of this feeling left. 

    If you added my dad’s years as a doc to mine (zero) it really makes me feel just a little entitled.

     

    • #16
    • November 15, 2019, at 3:59 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  17. Rightfromthestart Coolidge

    I read a book by the man who brought Avis from nowhere to #2 , the first thing he did upon taking over was to get rid of the HR Dept. All they were doing was keeping good people out. 

    • #17
    • November 15, 2019, at 4:07 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  18. David Foster Member
    David Foster Post author

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    One of the witnesses in the Donald Trump impeachment proceedings (my Principal Consultant for Knowledge Related to the Real World says it was a fellow named “George Kent”) presented his credentials by adding his years in the State Dept. to those of his Dad!

    How pathetic. 

    I got a resume once from a guy who mentioned in it that he was “married to the daughter of a prominent porcelain manufacturer.” (The job he was applying for didn’t have anything to do with porcelain, though it did have something to do with manufacturing) 

    • #18
    • November 15, 2019, at 4:39 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  19. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Bill Nelson (View Comment):

    These other channels were the standard MO for the FDR administration. There is an excellent book that discusses this: Citizens of London, about Edward R, Murrow, Averell Harriman and John Gilbert Winant (US ambassador). Harriman was running Lend lease, and eventually became FDR’s primary conduit on the ground to Churchill. Winant was gradually pushed aside. Harriman was sent to the USSR where he also was gradually pushed aside towards the end of the war.

    But it is an excellent book.

    And if you cannot recall FDR’s secretary of state, don’t feel bad. Harry Hopkins was the real controller of FDR foreign policy.

     

    And FDR sent Hopkins, a man with no job who lived in the White House (and had zero foreign policy experience), to England in January 1941 on the critical assignment of determining whether the Brits would really stick it out and should get American support. Hopkins, who before going was not a fan of Churchill, became an admirer of the Prime Minister once he met him and recommended full American support.

    • #19
    • November 15, 2019, at 4:43 PM PST
    • 1 like
  20. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    I fully agree with your point about irregular channels. I just wish in this case Donald Trump had used someone other than Rudy Giuliani, who is clearly in his dotage now.

    • #20
    • November 15, 2019, at 4:44 PM PST
    • 1 like
  21. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    The sense of entitlement by these bureaucrats is mind-boggling! They serve at the pleasure of the President, and he is entitled to get rid of them whenever he so chooses. Now, beat it!

    And they aren’t even slightly ashamed of it…they think it’s the way things should be. Unbelievable.

    If they’re only working for themselves I’d like the money back, please. 

    • #21
    • November 15, 2019, at 5:37 PM PST
    • 2 likes