Hiring Practices

Daniel Drezner links to a couple of newspaper articles detailing the failings of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq: Ugly CPA autopsies. (See also Drezner’s earlier piece: More on CPA recruitment.) In particular, Drezner talks about the hiring practices of the people who staffed the CPA, and who seem to have very much valued Republican ideological purity and personal loyalty to Bush over actual expertise. The result? A bumbling operation staffed by fresh-faced 20-somethings being paid back for work they did in the 2000 Bush campaign. Notably absent: people who spoke Arabic, had worked in the region before, had demonstrated organizational or administrative skills, or knew anything at all about the difficult work of nation building.

This highlights something I’ve noticed before: the way the Bush administration’s focus on rewarding loyalty over competence has affected everything the administration has (and hasn’t) been able to accomplish.

I’ve seen this myself in the workplace: Managers who reward loyalty over performance, building organizations that look capable enough from the outside, but which are curiously paralyzed in the face of real-world challenges.

It’s not just that the wrong sorts of people get hired. It’s that those people are retained even in the face of demonstrated incompetence. Worse, the right sorts of people get systematically driven out. People with actual expertise have an annoying habit of disagreeing with the poor decisions of the loyalty-valuing but competence-challenged person atop the hierarchy. But that sort of emotionally insecure leader isn’t looking for underlings who will challenge him with their own unique perspectives. He’s only looking for yes-men (and -women) to help him stave off those who would expose his failings.

That’s the Bush administration all over. In Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke talks about the revolving door atop Bush’s counter-terrorism operation, where person after person with demonstrated ability has been driven out by a culture that punishes those willing to identify and fix problems, rather than competing to see who can praise the leader’s infallibility the loudest.

Key positions in the Bush administration are staffed by people who have failed again and again, yet who retain the president’s support for a single reason: they remain loyal to Bush. Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft: All of have made horrific mistakes while working for Bush, and have done so repeatedly. But they’ve also done the one thing that keeps them in their positions of awesome responsibility: remained loyal to Bush, focusing 100% of their effort and attention on the key task of shoring up his reputation in the face of a hostile universe bent on exposing his incompetence.

The problem with this, of course, is that our government faces much more important challenges than the preservation and embellishment of the fiction that Bush deserves to be president. But as long as key positions are staffed by people focused 100% on that particular Sisyphean task, those challenges will continue to go unmet.

11 Responses to “Hiring Practices”

  1. Former Fan Says:

    1) Sisyphean, not Sisyphusian. If you’re going to use big words to add drama to your writing, at least look them up on dictionary.com or copy/paste your posts out of Excel.

    2) Most people you listed aren’t loyal to Bush; rather, they’re loyal to the President (who just happens to be Bush at the moment). Loyalty is a valued commodity in those closest to you when you’re in an important position — it prevents secrets from being sold and assassination attempts from being made.

    While I agree that loyalty shouldn’t win out over an extreme abundance of actual competence, this is the real world and it happens. Are you also going to make a post which essentially complains about how the good-guys donít always win? Or how about any of the other hundreds of ways life isnít fair?

    Small tradeoffs between loyalty and competence are excusable when you get into the world leader scene Ė it isnít like working at the grocery store where the biggest risk of a less-than-loyal employee is a pack of gum being stolen.

    Being loyal is a PART of the job of the people you listed, perhaps the largest part of a few, and if you canít handle the loyalty aspect of a privileged position then youíre pretty incompetent when it comes to your job. Donít mistake loyalty for lack of competence. Doing so lends to rather incompetent commentary. As has been demonstrated, Bush really doesnít care if people tell him he has no clothes.

    The problem isnít the competence or loyalty of the people you listed, itís the competence and the loyalty of the President. As mentioned, the people you listed are SUPPOSED to be loyal to the president. Itís the PRESIDENT whoís supposed to be competent, and loyal to the people of the U.S.A Ė neither of which Bush is.

    You say, ďRumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft: All of have made horrific mistakes while working for Bush, and have done so repeatedly.Ē Tell me what they did wrong, with all your experience in their fields and their classified information that you have access to. Tell me how one alternative decision youíd have made in their position(s) wouldnít have had the chance of a ton of bad luck behind it creating a complete shit-storm. Tell me, with all the news stories you link to which are biased to the same leaning as your own. Tell me what else they could have actually proposed, done, or said that Bush wouldnít have just decided to do the opposite of anyway.

    I might be sick of the republican death grip on the nation, but do I want to vote for Kerry just to see endless liberal gloating and more slanted commentary on the internet? It seems to me that the supporters on either side are just as bad as the politicians theyíre going to vote for. Craig is quickly becoming the best author here.

  2. John Callender Says:

    Sisyphean spelling fixed. Thanks.

    I’m not sure what the distinction is that you’re trying to draw between being “loyal to Bush” and being “loyal to the president, who happens to be Bush”. As long as Bush actually is the president, both sorts of loyalty produce exactly the same behavior, don’t they?

    A more-meaningful distinction _can_ be drawn between being “loyal to Bush/to the president who happens to be Bush” and being loyal to the nation, its people, and to the Constitution, which, as it turns out, is what all those people have actually sworn to do. (And yes, Bush has sworn to do that, too, but so have his underlings.) Those different types of loyalty _would_ produce different behaviors, at least in some situations. Particularly, when the president makes mistakes, someone exhibiting the latter kind of loyalty would be critical of him (at least in private). Yet there is no indication that any of the listed advisors have done that. Nor is there any indication that Bush actually is the kind of leader who doesn’t mind if people challenge his ideas. Very much the opposite, in fact.

    If you are honestly interested in looking at evidence of mistakes these folks have made, there are plenty of sources available. One good place to start would be Richard Clarke’s _Against All Enemies_.

  3. Former Fan Says:

    “Particularly, when the president makes mistakes, someone exhibiting the latter kind of loyalty would be critical of him (at least in private). Yet there is no indication that any of the listed advisors have done that.”

    Please, give me PROOF that none of them are making private critisizms to him. Which person are you, Bush or one of his “underlings”? Seriously, I want to know how you’re aware of private conversations.

    As for, “Against All Enemies,” I have read it. It panders to the biased much as your site does — I’m not surprised you suggested it.

  4. John Callender Says:

    Well, if you’ve read that book, then you’ve already been exposed to several hundred pages of facts (interlaced with opinions, true) that, I would argue, bear out a lot of my criticisms. And as I’ve previously pointed out, the Bush people never really offered any credible challenge to the facts Clarke presents in the book. If they couldn’t come up with anything, I doubt you can.

    But I also doubt you’re especially interested in grappling with Clarke’s arguments directly. For all your charges of bias, you seem awfully willing yourself to glibly dismiss anything that doesn’t match your own pre-existing views.

    Maybe Bush is actually running a Clinton-esque administration in which he encourages subordinates to challenge his views; engages in long, detailed policy analysis and consults multiple, diverse experts before settling on a course of action, rather than basing decisions on simplistic ideological litmus tests; and values competence and expertise over slavish loyalty to himself. But if so, he’s doing a fabulous job of concealing it.

    The White House press corps, which observes the president and his staff as closely as anyone not actually part of it, is more or less unanimous in describing an operation that is pretty much the opposite of that in every respect: based on a rigid top-down authority, uninterested in views that challenge received wisdom or criticize higher-ups, basing decisions on ideology rather than detailed analysis, and willing to overlook pretty much any failing except one: disloyalty to the president.

    And it’s not just the media; a number of insider accounts confirm that picture. People like John DiIulio, Paul O’Neil, and Richard Clarke may actually be part of a vast conspiracy to mischaracterize the nature of the Bush administration’s internal processes, but I’d be really surprised if you could provide any credible evidence for that.

    Yeah, I pretty much made up my mind about Bush a long time ago, and in that sense I’m biased against him. It’s similar to my views on the creationism-versus-evolution debate: I’m biased against arguments that the Earth is actually only 6,000 years old, that complex structures like eyeballs could not have evolved via natural selection, and that marine iguanas live on the Galapagos Islands and nowhere else because God decided to put them there and made it so in an instantaneous act of creation.

    At a certain point, an intelligent, objective observer decides he’s seen enough to make his judgement, and thereafter he doesn’t worry too much about investing a lot of time in researching the evidence in support of contrary positions. That’s bias, yes. But it’s also common sense. That’s basically where I’m at with Bush.

  5. Former Fan Says:

    “But I also doubt youíre especially interested in grappling with Clarkeís arguments directly.”

    You’re right, I’m not particularly interested in grappling with Clarke’s arguments. Neither directly or indirectly. I agree with what he says even though I don’t particularly care for the fact that it stems from a biased standpoint rather than an objective urge to bring things to light. Clarke and yourself are similar in that respect; you couldn’t give two shits about whether something is true, or whether there’s a reasonable explanation or facts supporting it. As long as it’s something which directly or potentially shovels a little more dirt on Bush it’s the gospel. If it doesn’t quite make Bush seem like the bad guy, you find a way to spin it until it does.

    “For all your charges of bias, you seem awfully willing yourself to glibly dismiss anything that doesnít match your own pre-existing views.”

    Really? Example, please, I’d like to see this. Anything that doesn’t match my views can potentially change them. This site, after all, used to match my views almost perfectly. Since, it’s become the same kind of circle-jerk that you complain the government is doing (but in a left-wing way) so my views on the site have changed.

    “At a certain point, an intelligent, objective observer decides heís seen enough to make his judgement, and thereafter he doesnít worry too much about investing a lot of time in researching the evidence in support of contrary positions. Thatís bias, yes. But itís also common sense. Thatís basically where Iím at with Bush.”

    So you’re saying that being an objective observer is gathering information until you feel you’ve gathered enough, then you’re free to be the most closed-minded person in existence and still wear the objective title? Sorry, chief, I think not. An objective individual KEEPS gathering information, always willing to change his opinion based on the facts at hand. Given, the facts at hand DO point to the fact that Bush is the closest thing to a Nazi I’ve ever seen, but rather than take in and evaluate new data which could potentially burst the fragile little “Bush is bad” bubble you live in you’re content to just grab everything and pile it against Bush without actually evaluating it first.

    What’s that? Bush saved a baby from a burning building? Hrm, that’s a tricky one, but I think I’ll write, “Bush possibly responsible for housefire. Saves baby he may have been molesting.”

    Based on what you call an “intelligent, objective observer” Bush is being one. He gathered information on the middle east until he felt he had enough (the terrorist attacks) then he made the decision that a war was warranted and winable and isn’t investing a lot of time searching for evidence in support of contrary positions.

    Seriously, jbc, you’re more and more comparable to Bush with every post. Neitzsche once said, “He that fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Much as Bush failed to take heed of this message when battling Saddam, perhaps you too have overlooked it when slamming Bush. You’re both “objective” in the same way, after all.

  6. Former Fan Says:

    As a follow-up, let me propose something — actually read and consider my points. Partake of a moment of honest introspection. It might just be a bit more difficult for you to insist that I’m wrong.

  7. John Callender Says:

    Well, when you make one or more points that are coherent, I’ll do my best to consider them.

  8. Former Fan Says:

    Ah yes, another classic move. Dismiss legitimate points rather than discuss them.

    Bravo, Mr. Bushendar

  9. Outside Observer Says:

    I think he gets your point “Former Fan.” Your point seems showing how much you dislike JBC’s views, and going to great lengths to discredit him and his website with every post of yours. Even your screen name “Former Fan” is an insult. Everyone has their own bias, and it has become clear where yours lie. Disagreement can be a good thing. But perhaps you could do so in a more friendly and productive manner.

  10. Former Fan Says:

    “Your point seems showing how much you dislike JBCís views, and going to great lengths to discredit him and his website with every post of yours.”


    I don’t dislike jbc’s views — in fact, in the overall picture we’re probably in agreement. Bush is bad. I just think jbc’s a scoundrel for not taking all things into objective consideration before making his decision.

    I was a fan of the site when a story would be linked and jbc would comment, “I see their point because…” and then follow with, “However, they’re wrong because…”

    It’s interesting that you call yourself “objective observer” my friend. Perhaps if you were ACTUALLY objective you’d have been able to see the actual point. But hey, no hard feelings. Here’s a copy of the home version and a can of Turle Wax.

  11. yallarelame Says:

    yall are both lame and need to get a life. arguing online is like the stupidest thing ever.

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