Thursday, March 22, 2007


A Modern Day Athens?

Reading a recent study of the European Union, (hat tip: Daniel W. Drezner), brought to the forefront something that has been in my mind for a while. The countries of the EU have hidden under the defense umbrella of the United States since the beginning of the Cold War. Because of the US, no Soviet armored columns drove through the Fulda Gap. Because of the US, the Western Europeans remained free.

As the United States spent its treasure building its armed forces, the Western Europeans (who eventually united into the EU) spent their treasure on other things, mostly government programs chasing socialist dreams. So many years have past since these countries have had to defend themselves, most of them have forgotten how to do so. EU officials now speak of their enormous “soft power” of economic standing, and cultural and moral superiority. I am not sure why they think a warrant from the International Criminal Court, economic boycott or United Nations Resolution would stop a resurgent Russia (or anybody else) from simply rolling their tanks across EU borders and simply conquering the place, but apparently they do. I can’t see the future, such boycotts and warrants and resolutions may indeed prevent open warfare in Europe again, but I would hate to bet my life and the existence of my country on it. This exactly what the Europeans are doing now.

But I sometimes wonder, was this America’s plan in the first place? Is America a modern day Athens leading a modern day Delian League?

The Delian League was formed in 477 BC by Greek city-states to protect themselves against the Persian Empire after the Persians were finally driven from Greece (about a year after the battle of Thermopylae seen in the recent movie ‘300’). At the beginning, Athens was the leader of the League and each city contributed ships, men and treasure to strengthen the League’s military power. As time passed, Athens came to contribute more ships and men, encouraging the other cities to simply contribute treasure. More years passed and soon only Athens and her closest allies maintained any real armed forces, the other city-states were defenseless, relying on the League for protection.

With the only military around, Athens started to use the League for its own purposes, taking its treasure to build-up their city and increase its wealth. When the other cities protested, Athens ignored them. Some tried to leave the League, which didn’t make Athens very happy. Her forces would swoop down on these cities and ravage them, forcing the survivors back into the League and intimidating the other cities from leaving.

Why didn’t the other cities simply unite, and smash the now tyrannical Athens? Because they couldn’t as they no longer had any military power. For years they had avoided protecting themselves, happy to provide treasure to the Athenians, who built up their own military and watched it grow in strength and experience. When the Athenians eventually became tyrants, the other cities of the League had nothing to oppose them with.

Fast forward to today. Was America’s purpose in creating NATO to emasculate the Europeans? We volunteered to provide the shield under which Europe could grow, without forcing them to spend their funds on a military. We received our reward: vibrant markets to sell our goods and services, thereby strengthening our country. Meanwhile, the European militaries shrank and shrank. Now, they are hollow shells of their former selves. Does anyone think they could even begin to challenge America today?

I can’t think of any reasons why America would become a tyrant (and note: when I say a tyrant, I mean to other countries, not to her own people. The free citizens of Athens were just as free at the beginning of the Delian League as they were at its end). Of course, I am sure that the leaders of those city-states that joined the Delian League back in 477 B.C. thought that Athens would never become tyrannical as well.

Which brings me back to my original question: was the formation of NATO a way to cement America’s dominance of the world? Maybe not intentionally, but it sure looks like it worked out that way to me.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Is Bush a Pushover Boss?

I checked out this article at Wired News (hat tip:Galactic Interactions) about the Real ID act. Over at Galactic Interactions, Dr. Knop seems to think that the Federal government mandating standards for state driver's licenses (which the states have until the year 2010 to comply with) is a sure sign "that the US is rapidly degenerating into an authoritarian police state." It looks to me like this is not an intrusion by the Federal Gov't on Individual Liberty. It looks to me like it is an intrusion by the Federal Gov't on State's Rights. The trampling of state's rights is hardly a conservative or right-wing position, but I must admit that if I recall my history correctly it was one of the founding principles of the Republican Party.

This move by the federal executive branch is sort of the "straw that breaks the camels back" and has motivated me to describe one of my biggest complaints about President Bush's management of the federal government. I've been meaning to post on it for a long time, and now is as good a time as any.

It seems to me that President Bush believes it is his job as a leader to be a champion for his organization and see to it that his team has everything they need to succeed. I'm sure they taught him crap like that in Harvard. So it seems to me like 9-11 happened and he went to "his team" in the federal executive branch and asked them what they needed to fight WW4^H^H^H the War on Terror. And the federal bureaucrats and regulators and agencies wasted no time in putting together a wish list of every power and tax and meddling authority and gadget and new office space that they have wanted for a long time. And I think he "whittled that down" to get rid of the obvious fat (like forcing the ATF to make do with a $33,000 dollar conference table in their new HQ instead of the $65,000 one they wanted) and then "went to bat for his team." I'm sure the bureaucrats had some really convincing arguments and examples and heartwrenching stories and that President Bush really believes that he needs to get these wish list items for "his team" in the Federal Executive Branch so they can do their jobs.

My problem with that is President Bush is not managing the Texas Rangers baseball team anymore. He's now an elected official. I don't want my elected officials to think of the bureaucrats they oversee as "their team." I want them to think of the rest of the citizens as their team and the bureaucrats and regulators and agents that they oversee as their enemy. I don't want a politician to champion government organizations to me and the other citizens; I want him to be a champion of the citizen's rights and liberties to (or more accurately over) the government organizations. I don't want him to try and keep the government organizations and government employees happy and well-fed; I want him to keep them lean and under control.

I think President Bush means well and thinks that he's doing what a good manager should do. But in fighting to fulfill the wish-list of a power-hungry bureaucracy he is being a "champion" of the wrong team. I don't dispute that some of the things that he has done to help fight the War on Terror are needed. The FBI should be able to do the same kind of open source research as any citizen journalist. The intel and military did need more money and transformation. I just wish that he would be more skeptical of the wish list items government agencies ask for from him. I wish that he would have cleared out a lot of deadwood and statists, and yes appointees and hires by previous administrations. I think that he would have had a lot less problems with in-fighting and leaks and deliberate sabotage and inter-agency squabbles if he had done like MOST presidents do and followed Andrew Jackson's advice about periodically cleaning house and flushing the toilet on bureaucrats and government agencies.

At least he should have done less "standing by his team" and giving them a chance to learn from their mistakes after 9-11, and done more house-cleaning and head-rolling. Has anyone, anywhere lost their job over allowing the 9-11 attacks to occur undetected or any other mistakes they have made? I think most citizens wanted some accounting of blame to be done and some firings and punishments meted out. I think that if the president had seen himself as a public champion instead of team captain of the Federal gov't, that we would have seen some firings and shake-ups in the intelligence and counter-intelligence services. I certainly don't think that a skeptical and frugal public servant should have given the Medal of Freedom to CIA director Tenet after 9-11 happened on his watch. What message does that send? I suspect that Bush thinks it sends the message that "he'll back the people who work for him if they try their best." I am afraid it really sends the message of "no matter how bad you screw up your job is secure." I know that if there was blame-storming done after 9-11 that some people would have been scapegoated unfairly. Being a fair and understanding boss, I guess that President Bush didn't want that to happen; he probably wanted to give people a chance to learn from their mistakes. You know what... Thosands of people died. Frankly, I don't care if a few dozen well-paid government employees get chewed out and fired unfairly as long as it instills a little fear among the remaining government employees that they could, maybe, just possibly be held accountable to the citizens of the country for their job performance.

I don't think this affliction of President Bush's is limited to the War on Terror. I think one of the reasons he has not behaved like a small-government, fiscal conservative is that he gets emotionally invested in the people in government and he becomes pre-disposed to believe what they tell him about the important work they are doing for the country and what they need to keep doing it… instead of being instinctively skeptical of how they are spending the public's money and what power they want to wield over the citizenry who elected him. This intrusion of the federal executive into the affairs of the state's executive branches is just another example of him letting the federal government get their wish list instead being a watchdog to keep them from overstepping the limits on their proper authority. Look, maybe it's a great idea and maybe the states really do need to update and standardize their ID cards… I admit that I don't know about that. But isn't that what our state legislatures and state executive branches are for? That and stuff like… I don't know… running the education system?

Unfortunately if there is anyone even more eager to be representatives of the Federal Government to the people instead of the people's oversight of the Federal Government, it would be the Democrats, so I don't look to the Democratic congress to rein in on President Bush's weak tendencies on this issue. Lest anyone think that I am just another victim of Bush Derangement Syndrome, I want to point out that I am not piling on President Bush for any political gain. I don't think he is stupid, or poorly educated. I don't think he is a war criminal or a fascist or a would-be-theocrat. I think that the mistakes he is making are very common in our culture for managers of all levels both in and out of government. And I think that as bad as he has suffered from this managerial deficiency, either Al Gore or John Kerry would have been worse. I just wish that he would, as they say in Texas, "ride herd" over the federal employees, agents, and organizations under his authority instead of being their friend. I'm glad I finally sat down and got that off my chest.

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