Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Group-Think and Hayekian Criticism

Two cautions occur to me with regard to the post below:

First, the well-known phenomenon of group-think, or the tendency of decisions arising out of consensus to ignore crucial objections, often disastrously. The text book example of this is the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which Kennedy's advisors apparently lacked any dissenting voice that led to the needless slaughter of hundreds of Cuban expatriates. The loss of Colin Powell's alternative perspective is seen by many as a dangerous development in an administration which already has a reputation for disregarding dissent. Gregory Djerejian tends to this view (as well as preferring Powell to Rice on a more absolute level) but is willing to see possible silver linings in the switch:

But hey, she had to deal with Beltway behemoths Don "so-called Occupied Territories" Rumsfeld and Powell sparring endlessly! My point? Never an easy job; it was particularly hard this go around. Give her at least a little bit of a pass given the open trench warfare between State and Defense these past three and a half years--worse than any I've seen in recent memory.

On the positive side of the ledger? She shined against Clarke during her 9/11 Commission congressional testimony. She can be a strong advocate, she's intensely disciplined, she's pretty damn smart (though she's not a visionary foreign policy thinker--but name me a SecState since Kissinger who was...)


Condi is going to spearhead a major push on the Arab-Israeli peace process. She may, just perhaps, prove more effective in this than Powell as people will know she has Bush's ear and full confidence. The Israelis won't risk back-ending her by running to the Pentagon or NSC (like they reportedly often did with Powell).
Not, to be sure, a ringing endorsement, but significant praise from a semi-adversary. It remains to be seen whether these possible benefits will outweigh the tendency to group-think, but I am betting they will.

A related but more subtle objection is one that might be raised by followers of F. A. Hayek, to the effect that successful policies occur not as the result of all-explaining theories but through trial and error over time. This caution would propose that, since the Bush administration seems to be embarked upon a program of providing a unified front in the form a common theory of foreign policy, there is the danger that facts will be ignored or downplayed in order to fit the theory. This is a powerful objection, and one to which I am very sympathetic, but I would suggest that the Bush Doctrine may in fact be an expression of the very dynamic that Hayek promotes. That is, we have had decades of experience with a multiplicity of approaches to the problem of terrorism and observation teaches that negotiation does not work while forceful confrontation does. This is not a theoretical but a battle-tested principle and thus avoids the Hayekian anti-constructivist objection.

It remains to be seen how the nation building component of Bush's foreign policy (expressed in the sentiment that the best antidote to terrorism is freedom) will measure up to this test, but there is substantial evidence that democracies do, in fact, tend to limit the aggressiveness of states. Whether such states can be created out of the whole cloth of Middle-Eastern autocracies is the question of the hour, but, since it has never been tried, there can't by definition be an empirical answer to such a question.

(I had hoped someone at Taking Hayek Seriously would have touched on this point, but alas I was disappointed. Well, not disappointed exactly, since I always enjoy browsing around the place, but I couldn't find anything relevant to this post.)

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