December 13, 2005

That Special Fingerspitzengefuhl

"When we were dealing with the Soviets, we had a lot of Soviet experts writing policy and making policy, but now we are dealing with part of the world that is so complicated and with so many factors at play. An incredible amount of resources have been allocated to it and will continue to be for years to come. I think that we need to add people, get the very best available. We do have great people at the top--Secretary Rice and the national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, who think strategically. You know, the Germans say you have a 'fingertip feel'--Fingerspitzengefuhl--the sense of a place, you know how a place smells, how it feels. A strategist who doesn't have that innate sense about the area he's working on is going to get us in trouble. The U.S. government doesn't have enough people at the top who have that special sense about Iraq and the Middle East on their fingertips. We have the very best people working on it, but, given its importance, we need more."

--Zalmay Khalilzad, our man in Baghdad, as quoted by John Lee Anderson in a fascinating New Yorker profile (sorry, no link avail).

Funny that there are a few "people at the top" that Zalmay Khalilzad doesn't deign to mention. I wonder, off the record, whether our Ambassador in Baghdad thinks, say, Don Rumsfeld has that special Fingerspitzengefuhl quality. I think I know the answer, and it's a resounding no.

Posted by Gregory at December 13, 2005 11:02 PM | TrackBack (1)
Comments

What I find odd, given what Khalilzad says is necessary in the top ranks of the government, is his deference to both Rice and Hadley, neither of whom have ANY real expertise in the middle east, and whose experience is concentrated in the kind of areas Cold Warriors excelled in. (The closest Hadley's bio comes to even mentioning the ME is participating in the Tower (i.e. "arms for hostages") Commission.)

Is there anyone in the administration with frequent access to Bush who actually has a clue about the arab world, the islamic world, or anything other than "how to fight the commies?"

Posted by: lukasiak at December 13, 2005 11:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Funny you should mention that lukasiak, as a generation ago people like you were complaining that the people who were fighting the "commies" didn't have ANY real expertise in Russia and whose experience was concentrated in the kind of areas WWII warriors excelled in.

They, like you today, demanded that experts "with a clue" about the Russian world be in charge of our policy during the Cold War.

And, while those experts were patiently explaining to us why Rumsfeld was an idiot--whoops, I mean "Reagan" of course--and why the current idiot's approach would never work, the idiot won the Cold War.

As for the experts, their expert opinions on the future of the Soviet Union, the strength of the East German economy and the futility of challenging the Soviets militarily in Europe have all been completely forgotten.

Posted by: NewSisyphus at December 13, 2005 11:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Funny you should mention that lukasiak, as a generation ago people like you were complaining that the people who were fighting the "commies" didn't have ANY real expertise in Russia and whose experience was concentrated in the kind of areas WWII warriors excelled in.

They, like you today, demanded that experts "with a clue" about the Russian world be in charge of our policy during the Cold War.

And, while those experts were patiently explaining to us why Rumsfeld was an idiot--whoops, I mean "Reagan" of course--and why the current idiot's approach would never work, the idiot won the Cold War.

As for the experts, their expert opinions on the future of the Soviet Union, the strength of the East German economy and the futility of challenging the Soviets militarily in Europe have all been completely forgotten.

Posted by: NewSisyphus at December 13, 2005 11:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Very sorry about the repeat post.

And now I've posted again.

Very sorry about that as well. Dang misleading error messages.

Posted by: NewSisyphus at December 13, 2005 11:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

it's is increasingly frustrating these damn repeat posts. i've gone back to my software guy about it, and we never seem to be able to get it fixed. i think it costs me some decent commenting here and there, and i hereby resolve to have him look into it again at some point soon. until then, keep chatting about zal and all, and i'll keep up new sis's triple so people know what i was talking about here...

Posted by: greg at December 13, 2005 11:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

luka: ps. note zal is saying that condi and steve h. are great strategists. he didn't quite come out and say they had the fingerspitzengefuhl quality...but at least he's saying they've got one prong covered, and i don't think he'd even give rummy that...but hey, who am i to put words in his mouth....?

Posted by: greg at December 13, 2005 11:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, there were people with prereq. knowledge of the ME who could have performed any number of useful functions. However, the Bush admin. almost systematically got rid of them pre-Iraq.

I guess their voices didn't resonnate pleasantly enough in the echo chamber.

Posted by: avedis at December 14, 2005 12:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, you might also ask your software guy about enabling umlauts.

I've usually heard Fingerpspitzengefuhl translated, roughly, as an intuitive sense or instinct -- something that might be cultivated, but that cannot be taught. In any event, I think we can all agree that it would be desirable to have numerous American government personnel intimately familiar with all areas of the world, including the Middle East.

I'm always made a little nervous, though, when officials like Khalilzad start talking about the qualities that people "at the top" will need. What does "at the top" mean? I don't think any American President or Secretary of State during the entire Cold War period spoke more than a few words of Russian, for example. Heads of the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department were different, and maybe that was the level Khalilzad had in mind. The people making policy in the foreign affairs/ national security area need to be able to see American interests in their global context; if they are on truly intimate terms with any one area of the world it had better be one in which America's most vital interests are permanently engaged.

With all respect to Khalilzad, a man in whom I have great confidence, the Middle East is not such an area. It has one thing we need (oil), one historic commitment (to Israel) that we must honor and one current commitment (to Iraq) that we must try to make good somehow -- and absolutely nothing else of any value. China and its environs are vastly more important to us over the long haul. So is Latin America. So is Europe. So is the Subcontinent. And Russia. The Middle East is all about managing barbarism and keeping it from killing too many people or damaging the global economy. If it is still the central preoccupation of American foreign policy ten or even five years from now, Khalilzad and everyone he reports to will have failed as stewards of American interests.

Posted by: JEB at December 14, 2005 03:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe, I know this sounds crazy, maybe we should outsource our foreign policy to, say, people with their hands on the pulse of the region. I mean, who knows Iran better than Iranians, Syria better than Syria, or, heck, guys, Mexico better than Mexicans, Russia better than Russians, right? While we're at it, let's let only military people, the ones with the Fingerspritzer [spelling? sorry, been a while since my Youth days] for that unique culture, call the shots on military matters.

Yeah!

Come on, it would be harder to design a caraciture of a more elitist attitude than that snark above. Citizens can handle any business, and must, regardless of their qualifications in the republic, by definition. Otherwise we have selective jurisdictions (only the military can call to war, only women have reproductive rights, only the rich can raise their own taxes: careful what you wish for, you might get it).

It is not necessary, in any case, for the top levels to be hypereducated in the minutae of the region anyways. Condi will never pore over tens of thousands of radio transmissions and files on her own, nor do we want her to. She has experts at her beck and call. In theory.

But these same experts have a mightily bad track record. And that's not even getting into the Christians-In-Action's woeful record, for just one example. It is not the top-level proficiency that needs to be addressed it is the underachievement ['criminally negligent,' being too impolitic] of the middle-men and thus the whole bureaucracy.

Oh, but what do I know, right? I haven't spent 45 years in the State department, hobnobbing with the important people. Back to my cubby-hole I crawl, biding my time. With the Averni.

Posted by: Vercingetorix at December 14, 2005 03:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

jeb: i continue to think you dangerously underestimate the geopolitical import of the middle east region.

who knows, perhaps we can have a 'blog jam' or such about the issue at chequer one day...

Posted by: greg at December 14, 2005 03:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

note zal is saying that condi and steve h. are great strategists. he didn't quite come out and say they had the fingerspitzengefuhl quality...but at least he's saying they've got one prong covered, and i don't think he'd even give rummy that...but hey, who am i to put words in his mouth....?

Greg, what i read what that "We do have great people at the top--Secretary Rice and the national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, who think strategically. A strategist who doesn't have that innate sense about the area he's working on is going to get us in trouble. The U.S. government doesn't have enough people at the top who have that special sense about Iraq and the Middle East on their fingertips. We have the very best people working on it, but, given its importance, we need more."

Now, if you will forget your (fully justified) Rumsfeld monomania for a moment, and reread it, what you may find is that what Zal is really making a subtle (and likely inadvertent) criticism of Rice and Hadley, and is saying that the people who are calling the shots (i.e. Hadley and Rice) may be brilliant, but they really don't have the "special sense about Iraq and the Middle East" that is required at the moment.

Rice and Hadley are of a mindset that sees the world in bi-polar terms -- their background is basically US vs Russia, and regardless of how complex the permutations of the US/Soviet struggle were, there was always the touchstone of measuring policies using the "us vs them" metric.

The middle east doesn't work that way -- and using "terrorism" as a replacement for Russia in an "us vs them" metric is, as Zal put it, "going to get us in trouble."

Of course, since you haven't provided a link I haven't read the whole New Yorker piece, so I'm even less qualified than you are to put words in Zal's mouth. :)


Posted by: lukasiak at December 14, 2005 04:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A strategist who doesn't have that innate sense about the area he's working on is going to get us in trouble.

S/he might even publish, prior to our Mesopotamian adventure, truly inane and uninformed analogies between occupied Germany in late 1945, and the just-around-the-corner walk in the park that would be Iraq.

Can anyone cite even one reason why I should have faith in the hitherto well-hidden strategic genius of Ms. Rice? For some reason, I can never forget a certain memo title, what was it, mmmmm...ah! "Al Qaeda Intent on Attacking U.S.", something like that....

Posted by: sglover at December 14, 2005 05:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So you've said before, Greg.

You haven't gotten around to saying, yet, that I overestimate the importance of China to the United States, or Latin America, or India. You haven't said that money is no object with respect to Iraq; you have neither commended the wisdom of going hat in hand to China's central bank for the next decade to fund our operations in Iraq, nor have you called for a tax increase to finance the war. You haven't staked out the position that other potential threats to American security or national interests are not worth worrying about compared to the glorious prospect of turning Iraq into a Mesopotamian Bosnia that will require foreign troops for the next 50 years to keep its people from slaughtering each other. And though you've chosen to shower with abuse supporters of the administration's Iraq policy who wave away the problems and contradictions involved in grafting a highly advanced and demanding system of government like representative democracy on the backward, inferior cultures of the region, you have been no more willing to address them, except to voice your confidence that all difficulties can be dealt with if "we" -- that is, Americans other than yourself -- stay in Iraq in enough numbers for enough time.

In short you haven't embraced any of the ideas implicit in the position you have consistently taken on Iraq. So I'd agree that a debate between us might illuminate a fair amount of ground now shrouded in darkness.

Posted by: JEB at December 14, 2005 03:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fingerspitzengefuhl? Damn, Boyd keeps seeping to the surface more and more. It is notable that both Cheney and Rummy had extensive contacts with and have noted his influence on them. Not saying that it's still at the forefront of their minds at the current moment a couple decades later (though Rummy's plans for transformation of the military have Boyd's prints all over them), but I suspect the Marines aren't the only rational actors in the current engagement thinking about OODA loops.

Posted by: Jason at December 15, 2005 08:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

i have to say i found jeb's comment in this thread very ungenerous. on many levels.

Posted by: greg at December 15, 2005 11:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ungenerous? More accurately, true.

This is a point I have been harping on you and many hawks about for a long time now.

The only response I've seen from you (or anyone other hawk) is that it would be really really super double bad if we "lost" Iraq; meaning, I suppose, that it became a failed state with all of the worst ramifications of such.

However, in the world of policy where capital and other resources are scarce, bad and good are all relative.

As Jeb (and I have, ad nauseum) pointed out you can't stay the course in Iraq without making sacrifices elsewhere. How do the potential ramifications of those sacrifices measure up against the potential ramifications involved in leaving Iraq? This needs to be discussed, but it never is.

I know you don't need me to explain the ABCs of cost/benefit analysis to you. So what it is that you lose this sensibility when it comes to Iraq?

Posted by: avedis at December 17, 2005 03:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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