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“HANLON’S RAZOR: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” -– Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong
Malice is a fun and easy explanation for the conduct of bureaucrats and politicians we dislike or distrust. Substituting stupidity for malice still lets us feel good in the moment. However, there are very senior experts in many fields within large organizations connected with networks of other large organizations, who are not stupid and who are not self-evidently malicious. Their conduct, when it seems to contradict observable facts and theory, might be better characterized as “institutionalized expertise.”
Whatever the basics of a profession, when that profession is practiced in the context of large institutions over many years, the expert’s reactions are likely conditioned by the culture and system of rewards presented by the institutional context. If the results are, from the outside, less than desirable, they may be the best the expert can conceive of within the limiting conditions of his institutional setting.
Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Fauci, adviser to six presidents, apparently trusted World Health Organization claims about the Chinese virus until it was too late to mount an international campaign to contain the disease in Communist China. He then apparently bought the obviously bogus model of a British serial exaggerator. He then peddled a cocktail napkin model for controlling epidemics. Did this pattern of conduct arise from ill motive, incompetence, or something else?
I have attacked Fauci as a fraudster or ill-motivated. However, I have always entertained another explanation. The fact of his survival in a bureaucratized government research and policy setting for decades points to his successful adaptation to the culture of both United States public medical organizations. Beyond that, as he climbed and clung to the top of his field, he became dependent on relations with networks of similarly public health entities. You are not going to affect the course of diseases that arise on other continents without other nations’ political and medical leadership cooperating. This can be done on a one-to-one basis, event by event, but it might seem more efficient to have one or more international coordinating bodies. Hence the World Health Organization.
Unfortunately, the World Health Organization, like other international bodies, naturally tends away from clear accountability. No elected politician, dictator, or monarch can be effectively blamed for WHO decisions, and only one or two in the world might have the power to unilaterally change WHO conduct. Like other international bodies, it invites political deal-making and cronyism in its staffing. Yet, Dr. Fauci and other American infectious disease specialists needed to work with the WHO.
Likewise, Dr. Fauci needed to work with the Chinese Communist Party. Oh, he would not say it that way, but he needed cooperation from Chinese infectious disease research organizations. These organizations, like all of Chinese society, must act in harmony with the CCP if they wish to survive.
So it is that Dr. Fauci could assert with a straight face that the current head of the WHO is a good doctor, when in fact he is the hand-picked agent of the Chinese Communist Party. To speak this truth would require Dr. Fauci first to assess that burning the bridge to the WHO would be supported by our own national political leadership. This means Congress would have to be on board, in addition to the president. It means that we would have an alternative in place that could replace the function, however compromised, of providing access to the countries where infectious diseases arise or persist, threatening our future security.
Likewise, Dr. Fauci had to claim, likely even to himself, that Chinese medical researchers, with whom he and his colleagues had built relationships, could be trusted to fully and truthfully report medical data. The geographic area from which influenza and “novel” coronavirus strains arise has been under the control of the Chinese Communist Party since 1949. Under long-standing models of disease control, American medical authorities needed timely access to data to then generate a timely and effective response here.
This compulsion overcame the certain knowledge that the Chinese Communist Party completely controls the lives, including the professional lives, of Chinese in the party’s grasp. As I pointed out April 2, 2020, we are now reliving what the Chinese Communist Party did to the world in the 2003 SARS outbreak: “we should have known it was coming.”
If Dr. Fauci were a leftist, deep state operative, he would not now be on the record contradicting Woodward for doing what Woodward always does, inventing quotes. Dr. Fauci disputes Woodward’s claims.
Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday shot down journalist Bob Woodward’s reporting that he once said President Trump was “unfocused in meetings” and that “his sole purpose is to get re-elected” — saying he doesn’t “recall that at all.”
Fauci, the administration’s top infectious diseases expert, was quoted in Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” as disparaging the president’s “rudderless” leadership and saying his “attention span is like a minus number.”
“If you notice, it was ‘others’ who have said that. You should ask ‘others.’ I don’t recall that at all,” Fauci told Fox News correspondent John Roberts….
“I didn’t get any sense that he was distorting anything. In my discussions with him, they were always straightforward about the concerns that we had,” Fauci said.
Marine Corps General (Retired) James Mattis
President Trump recruited a Marine Corps officer who retired at the top rank of four-star general as his first Secretary of Defense. James Mattis made his mark as a two-star general commanding the 1st Marine Division, configured in the World War II and Cold War version of the Marine Corps, in an offensive from the shore across the Iraqi desert in 2003. In the race to Baghdad, with the Army’s premier Cold War corp on the left flank, Mattis ended the career of a successful colonel, a regimental commander because he moved too slow relative to the Army in the race north.
Mattis properly dressed this institutional political move in acceptable doctrinal language, with his spokesman mouthing words about tempo, implying the colonel had placed Marines and the nation at risk by misplaced concern for individual Marines’ lives versus the mission.
Col. Dowdy’s firing was even more unusual because he didn’t commit any of the acts that normally precipitate a dismissal: failing to complete a mission, disobeying a direct order, breaking the rules of war. “It was a decision based on operating tempo,” says Lt. Eric Knapp, a spokesman for the First Marine Division. He wouldn’t elaborate….
Gen. Mattis and Col. Dowdy personify all that is celebrated in Marine Corps culture. Gen. Mattis, 53, is a “warrior monk,” as some of his men put it, a lifelong bachelor consumed with the study and practice of battle tactics. Col. Dowdy is beloved for the attention he pays to his men, from the grunts on up.
The qualities of these two Marines eventually tore them apart. Gen. Mattis, a Marine for 33 years, saw speed as paramount in the Iraq war plan. Col. Dowdy thought sacrificing everything for speed imperiled the welfare of his men.
The dispute was stoked by widespread but mistaken assumptions about how the Iraqis would fight. The desire for speed stemmed from the Pentagon’s expectation of a fierce, protracted battle in Baghdad, with far less resistance in other areas. But it turned out that Baghdad fell easily, while the countryside continued to seethe with resistance.
Mattis then showed interest in the kind of doctrine and strategy reflected in “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” When the Bush-Rumsfeld non-strategy collapsed, and Iraq failed to instantly, magically transition to democracy, Mattis joined his name with the real doctrinal change leader, Army General David Petraeus, in a new joint manual on insurgency and counter-insurgency that really updated the Marine Corps’ hard-won knowledge codified in the famous Small Wars Manual in 1940. He at least mouthed all the right words from the Marine Corps’ buried tradition of dealing with messy, ambiguous situations from the dawn of our nation to the eve of World War II.
General Mattis survived the Obama administration without being fired or prosecuted. He served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and then Central Command (CENTCOM) commander. After three years in retirement, he came back to the Department of Defense as President Trump’s first Secretary of Defense. He had no problem reading President Trump’s National Defense Strategy, which clearly set the course the voters had elected Donald J. Trump to pursue. Yet, in the end, we get the seemingly odd resignation letter.
I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
This is boilerplate, showing Mattis was not an incompetent or entirely insubordinate administration officer. All of these achievements are good government goals that our defense establishment has paid lip service to for decades. So where is the conflict? Now we get to it indirectly:
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
“Maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies” had given us decrepit NATO forces, openly contemptuous of America’s willingness to demand allies show us respect by pulling their own weight. It is this that President Trump had already significantly corrected by the time Mattis had his hissy fit. Objectively speaking, NATO was strengthened over President Trump’s first term, especially in the states closest to Russia. Failure to show seriousness in defense budgets is the most basic signal of a weak alliance. How could Mattis not get this?
The answer is in his resume. Mattis was an institutionalized expert. He cannot imagine or think through the problem of decrepit international organizations lacking the urgency of impending general war and nuclear peril. All the people he knows believe in long-established processes and protocols. It was always a given that America would pick up the lion’s share and mouth praise for weaker junior partners in the name of alliance.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
But of course, this was precisely what President Obama had failed to do and what President Trump had worked furiously with all the instruments of national power to correct. President Trump had already gone further in fully implementing his innovative National Defense Strategy, with huge emphasis on revitalizing our economy and energy might as a basis of generating all other forms of national power. How could Mattis miss this? His career had been spent with the military constantly calling for new weapon systems and funding, while the foreign policy orthodoxy held that we should cut trade deals that try to engage potential adversaries and to make their populations more desirous of political liberalization. Now he saw a president taking a consistent course of action that actually put both China and Russia, to say nothing of Iran, more in check than any president since Reagan.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
This is disconnected from objective reality, but it is just the verbiage his institutional experience had taught him was appropriate. Mattis certainly did not mean prosperity for all the forgotten Americans. How is record low unemployment for minorities, women, and the least educated, while the stock market soured, grounds for resignation? The trade deals were driving improved American prosperity and shifting the balance away from the economy that kept the Chinese Communist Party and the Peoples’ Liberation Army growing in power. So American security and prosperity were objectively being improved by the policies of the president Mattis now openly despises.
You can call Mattis a snake, even a danger to our constitution. I choose to see him as a deeply institutionalized expert. He is a creature of his environment, just as much as Dr. Fauci. Both are object lessons in the limits of professional expertise in a complex institutional environment.Published in