Bush, the insurgent president

white house.jpg

Well, this is interesting. A report yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that suggests Bush should be seen as the Insurgent President.

Fred Barnes says that, when it comes to the Washington establishment, Bush owes little and cares less. (Barnes defines this establishment as ‘the permanent bureaucracy, much of the vast political community of lobbyists and lawyers and consultants, leftovers from Congress and earlier administrations, trade groups and think tanks, and the media.”) Barnes says Bush has refused establishment blandishments and withheld for them both olive branches and state dinners. Unlike previous presidents, including his father, George W. likes to “infuriate” the establishment, most recently by accepting the resignation of its one representative on the inside, Colin Powell.

Apparently, Bush is possessed of a reformational zeal.

The president is girding for battled. He’s aiming to consolidate control of his administration, drive out recalcitrant (read: establishment) elements and make the permanent government heel, especially at the CIA and the State Department.

It is hard to know, and Barnes does not very precisely say, what the Bush agenda will be. But I can’t help wondering whether he might not try to do to Washington what he did to the military. As we know, the military, already in the throes of reform, deployed a radically different strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. The so called “force transformation” created a new approach to warfare.

The basic notion behind military transformation is that information technologies allow you to substitute information for mass. (Stuart Johnson, research professor, at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at National Defense University in Washington, from the MIT article below.)

One example of this approach: tanks weighing 64 metric tons could be largely phased out, giving way to lightly armored vehicles. These may forgo massive size and strength because they are directed by large and fine bodies of information gathered by new sensing, targeting, imaging and communications capabilities.

It is interesting to think about what would happen to the establishment if it was subject to the new principles evident in military (and corporate) reform: flatter hierarchies, devolved power, less mass, more information, more distribution, and an organization that is considerably smaller, faster and nimbler, as a result.

Certainly, this would take care of the growing unease in some Republican camps that Bush is a “big government” conservative. It would also bring the US government into line with the reformation that is taking in and of the corporate world. Just wondering.

last note: I am taking a fair amount of heat for blogging so soon after my wedding. I thank friends and readers for their solicitude, but Pam and I don’t go for our honey moon for some months now. In the meantime, I intend to blog as always, Pam’s suggestion of medication and therapy notwithstanding.


Barnes, Fred. 2004. Bush the Insurgent. Wall Street Journal. November 23, 2004, p. A18.

Talbot, David. 2004. How Tech Failed in Iraq. Technology Review: MIT’s magazine of innovation. November. Pp 36-44.

4 thoughts on “Bush, the insurgent president

  1. Ennis

    I’m turning into a cranky commentator here, so let me start by saying that I very much appreciate and enjoy everything you’re writing, otherwise I wouldn’t come back, I’m just brusque in commenting if I’m dashing off something quickly between tasks.

    Now, here’s the thing — the defense transformation started before Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld even “fired” one of the major agents of that transformation — Shinseki.

    Rummy wanted to downsize troops to pay for star wars. He had no interest in lower tech weapons like global hawk, etc. However, he’s marketed himself as being mr. reform, mr. new technology b/c it gives him an excuse to push ahead with reforms that those within resist (often for good reason, some things need boots on the ground).

    I’m no big fan of the dinosaurs within the military, I’m just saying that Rummy is actually one of them, and what you’re seeing is a battle of the dinosaurs.

    This is like EDS or MS calling themselves cutting edge new technology. They’re not, they’re old school, cumbersome big business.

    Here’s the thing — transformation is supposed to increase the flexibility and autonomy of front line commanders right? Rummy has micromanaged (poorly) this war from DC. He’s not a delegator, or an empowerer, he’s a concentrator.

    I dunno if I’m making any sense here.

  2. Scott McArthur

    There is still the question of “good faith”
    When it comes to the military it is pretty much assumed that the players are all good faith participants and that the goal is a better military. The exception being inter service rivalry where the branches have proven that they really don’t care if keeping all the money for their program means more dead soldiers in the Marine Corps. They just don’t care. It was up to the other guy to lobby harder and have more congressional allies – so grain of salt here, but I would think that military theoriticians could be seen as good faith players.

    All this to say that I wonder if you can apply good faith assumptions to the Bush Administration. There doesn’t seem to be a concern about creating a smaller nimbler more efficient government. The goal is less government by any means possible. Because if there is less then there is de facto more room for the private sphere.

    Insurgent indeed. Frankly I find the ideas underpinning Bush to be the closest thing we’ve seen to revolutionary since Lennin was embalmed. And hey, who really knows, it just might work. But for me it is like watching an amature knife thrower learn his trade with your wife as the assistant. You get kinda nervous.

    PS – The military you saw take Afghanistan out in 3 weeks was all about 8 years of change under Clinton, sorry. Didn’t you hear the anecdote about Paul Wolfawitz and Al Franken. Apparently Al bumped into Wolfie at a party in Washington and brazenly asked the under secretary if he liked what Clinton’s military had accomplished in Afghanistan. Wolfies response: fuck off. Geez no sense of homour these neocons.

    – Iraq to date has led to some big doubts in military circles regarding “size doesn’t matter”.

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