Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Case studies in disingenuousness: "micromanaging" the war?

According to the White House Language Abuse Secretary, Tony Snow, Congressional attempts to change US military policy in Iraq constitute "micromanagement" of the war.

It's objectionable enough that this sort of business buzzword-speak gets so much play in Washington, but what's far worse is the absurd inapplicability of the accusation itself. The Wikipedia entry for the term "micromanagement" defines it thusly:
In business management, micromanagement is a management style where a manager closely observes or controls the work of their employees, generally used as a pejorative term. In contrast to giving general instructions on smaller tasks while supervising larger concerns, the micromanager monitors and assesses every step.
Does anyone in the White House really expect us to believe that even they think that the current Congressional debate on Iraq constitutes this sort of close monitoring of "every step" of the war?

Take, for example, Carl Levin's proposal, as discussed in the CNN article:
Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said senators are working on a draft of a binding resolution that would replace the 2002 authorization. It would set a March 2008 goal for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops and limit the mission of remaining units to training and supporting Iraqi troops and hunting al Qaeda terrorists.
This hypothetical bill would fundamentally alter the US military's strategy in Iraq. It would alter not only the nature of the military deployment but our understanding of its purpose. (As of now, of course, understanding its purpose is impossible, since its purpose seems to be defined no more concretely than "victory!!!") The Iraq deployment would be transformed from a full-scale anti-insurgency operation bogged down in a sectarian civil war to a far more modest operation.

There may be plenty of reasons to oppose Levin's plan, of course--I'm not certain how I feel about it myself--but objecting to it on the grounds that it constitutes "micromanagement" is absurd. Management is supposed to be about guiding the general strategic vision, which is exactly what this hypothetical bill would do. It wouldn't contain any tactical specifics about how to put the plan into action.

Calling this sort of Congressional action "micromanagement" is so absurd that I don't think even the White House really thinks the term applies. They object not to Congressional micromanagement specifically so much as they object to any Congressional management of the war, as is apparent from the following line from Snow's diatribe:
Snow said that kind of proposal would put constraints on troops in the field, not the president. "The people whose hands end up being tied are the folks who are in the theater of battle themselves," he said.
It's interesting to imagine what might happen if this same logic were applied to business management situations. Would it fly if I were to object to having to, say, follow the very strict confidentiality rules at the treatment center I work at, on the basis that they tie my hands and the managers who insist on them aren't in the "field of battle" on the res floor themselves? Surely not. Does Snow really expect us to weep for the soldiers whose hands are "tied" by having to follow the orders of their civilian leadership?

Snow seems to be saying that any civilian control of the military amounts to objectionable micromanagement, which is itself a pretty fascistic idea. But I don't think even this is really the Administration's position, because they aren't actually worried about the military's autonomy but about maintaining their own control over all military decisions. This idea that we need to leave decisions up to the military commanders in the field is a pretty obvious smokescreen for the idea that we ought to leave all decisions up to the White House. (Especially obvious from the fact that the military commanders in the field make their decisions on the basis of orders from the President anyway, since he is their Commander in Chief and all.)

The real position of the White House is that Congress has no power of management over the military at all, not that they are misusing that power. But they can't just come out and say that, because of the pesky old Constitution, so they disingenuously claim that they object only to "micromanagement". Surely this is so transparently absurd that few people will buy into it, but it is in another sense a very clever rhetorical ploy--everyone hates being micromanaged, after all--and we ought to do everything we can to fight it. And, more generally, to fight this Administration's abuse of words to serve its own disingenuousness, which does more harm to the English language than any of Bush's ungrammatic gaffes.