2007 September 10 Monday
Greg Cochran Explains The Incompetence Of Our Leaders

Some observers figure that people who scramble to the top of the heap in Washington DC must be smart, must be well educated, must not be fools. Others say that the leaders of their own party are competent but that the leaders of the other party are the idiots. Well, the Iraq Debacle has shown so many people of both parties to be sustained ignorant fools for so many years that I find both those viewpoints hard to credit. Really talented people for the most part do not work for the US government either in the White House or the CIA or on Capital Hill or in the upper reaches of the officers corps. In a highly excellent interview Greg Cochran tells Michael Blowhard of 2Blowhards about just how incompetent and ignorant our leaders really are.

2Blowhards: How'd you get interested in the mideast in the first place?

Gregory Cochran: I'm not, really. I have lived through a fair chunk of relevant history. Since I'm a near-grognard, I've looked fairly closely at some of the wars, particularly the '67 and '73 Arab-Israeli wars and the Gulf War. I also followed the Iran-Iraq war pretty closely, and the Russians in Afghanistan. Naturally I know the role the Middle East played in World War I and II. I read the papers and I remember most of what I read. And I've read two or three general histories about the Arabs and the Ottoman Empire, but there are areas and eras that interest me a lot more.

This means that I know a lot more than the average political player, certainly. Some naughty reporter was asking various high muckety-mucks if they knew the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite, not the deepest piece of information. Gary Bald, the FBI's counterterrorism chief, didn't. Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau's new national security branch, didn't.

Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who was vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, didn't. Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who headed a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, didn't. Incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Sgt. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, didn't. I'm pretty sure that George Bush didn't.

2B:What do you make of the other administration higher-ups who are involved in the mideast?

Cochran: Judging from Wolfowitz's Congressional testimony about Iraq being secular, highly educated, and free of holy cities, he knew nothing. I think that Condi Rice started out not knowing a damn thing about the Middle East and I doubt if she knows much more today: I remember her (back in 2000) suggesting that Iran was backing the Taliban, which was just ridiculous -- they'd come within an inch of war back in 1998. Which I had followed at the time, since I read the papers.

Judging from other issues, I'd say that neither Condi nor Rumsfeld know any history at all. Some might suggest that all the crap they spouted about guerrilla warfare in postwar Germany was a talking point, but I think they were sincere -- i.e. utterly clueless.

Condi was supposed to be an expert on the Soviet Union, once upon a time, but I doubt if she knew much about that, either. I knew quite a bit -- Russia was interesting and a real rival -- enough that I was impatiently predicting the end of the Soviet Union by 1990, to the point of boring all my friends. I was trying to predict the order in which the SSRs would secede -- I got it mostly right, too.

From everything I read and hear, none of the people running for President are any better. They know nothing about Iraq or the Middle East. Mind you, I sympathize, since it's a boring subject, but they really should know what they're doing.

When Condi claimed that the US faced a serious insurgency after conquering Germany in WWII I was dumbfounded. Is she monumentally ignorant or lying? Greg thinks ignorance and stupidity explain most of what we hear from the Bush Administration. He also thinks that we shouldn't be distracted by their compulsive lying. Yes, they lie a lot. But, no, that does not mean that most of the nonsense we hear them speak is a lie or that the lying covers up some Machiavellian craftiness toward some achievable goal. They are stumbling along clueless. Their seeming ignorance about history and of crucial aspects of current conditions is real.

A lot of people want the world to make sense and want to think that the world is well managed - even if not toward ends that they approve of. They want to believe that there was some clever gain to be had by invading Iraq such as gaining oil wealth. But no, the truth is so much worse than that. The deaths, maimings, and money expended yield no significant gain. The promoters of this debacle are just ignorant and so are their cheerleaders.

I think one reason people can't grasp the scale of the mistake the United States made in Iraq is that it is not in their mental model that such a powerful government as the one in Washington DC can be as ignorant and foolish as it is. The self-image of many war supporters precludes them seeing themselves as so vulnerable to making mistakes on that scale. Also, they don't want to see their own government as that inept. To believe that requires giving up a certain feeling of security and of order in the world. Well, give it up.

In the second part of the interview Greg says our Establishment is keeping the Iraq war going in order to save face.

2B: Back to the Iraq war. At this point, what would be an acceptable end-game for Bush? What exactly are we even fighting for at this point?

Cochran: I doubt if Bush will get any offer he'd consider, not in the time he's got left. I doubt if we'll ever get any such offer. We're certainly not fighting for anything that would be worth the current ~100 billion a year cost. I'd say we were fighting so that various people won't have to admit they were wrong. We're saving Establishment face.

2B: What would be the consequences of a rapid USA exit from Iraq?

Cochran: Someone would win the civil war and then they'd sell oil.

I say we should pull out the troops.

Update: Michael's blogging partner Friedrich von Blowhard points out that General Petraeus does not explain why the US should care about the outcome of the Iraq war.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 September 10 10:40 PM  Elites Betrayal And Incompetence

dchamil said at September 11, 2007 1:21 AM:

"The truth is so much worse than that." Geez, Parker, you're taking away what little peace of mind I have retained up to this point!

Kenelm Digy said at September 11, 2007 4:16 AM:

I cannot believe that some people still harbor the view that somehow 'the best and brightest' become our political leaders - this is patently absurd.
The fact is to climb the poltical tree the skills needed are duplicity, ruthlessness, deceit with a smiling face, insensitivity, the ability to accept bribes, the ability to tell lies, extreme selfishness and the desire to feather one's own nest,making windy speeches and mouthing platitudes, extreme vanity and the desire to "appear clever" (by quoting dog-shit from 'The Econmist' or 'WSJ' etc).
The worst character aspect out of all of these is the 'vanity' aspect.
In general politicians are vain and shallow people who feel 'by right' that they most be treated as 'demi-gods' and love the rich diplomatic protocol, the power, the glory , the TV cameras, the journalists hanging on each word, the summits, the banquets, the Nobel prizes etc etc, in short the 'High Society' - in the end they get intoxicated by all this trash and start beieving their own paralell Universe lies - they really do begin to think of theselves as omnipotent little tin gods, and that they, personally are more important than the people they supposedly represent- hencew what seems to be the mystery of Bush continuing a policy that anyone with a brain can see is insane.
The way to appear "clever", of course, is to parrott-off dog-shit editorials from dog-shit publications like 'The Economist' with a little pompous smile on the face, thinking "Oh what a clever boy I am".

From the above rant, you will see why the best type of man avoids politics like the plague.

Wolf-Dog said at September 11, 2007 4:51 AM:

Randall Parker wrote:
"I say we should pull out the troops."

More easily said than done... We need to figure out a way of insuring that after the we evacuate the troops from Iraq, Iran and/or Al Qaeda will not immediately take over the Saudi Oil. Of course, had we spent the $500 billion we lost in Iraq, on a Bronx Project for energy since 2003, as a national security measure, then protecting Saudi Arabia would not have been important. But it was precisely the war against Islam that is preventing us from procuring the funds to start that Bronx Project...

Gary said at September 11, 2007 6:41 AM:

This probably also means that Bush, Rice, et al are completely ignorant as to Mexico's designs on us. I am not suggesting that Mexico's political leadership is any more competent than ours, but there is no disagreement among Mexico's political class as to what the proper policy is toward the USA. The PRD, PRI, and PAN all agree that forcing Mexico's population northward and creating at the very least a de facto Mexican colony en los Estados Unidos should be semi-official policy. Bush and every other dumbass in DC sees nothing wrong with this, preferring instead to mouth stupid, brain-dead platitudes about "family values" and what have you.

Ned said at September 11, 2007 7:08 AM:

Cochran shows tremendous insight. I think he's mostly right. Additional consequences of US withdrawal from Iraq (which Cochran didn't mention) - no more US casualties, and billions of US taxpayer dollars saved. The region will probably dissolve into chaos, but it's been headed that way for a long time, and there's really not much we can do about it anyway. Bismarck once famously said that the whole of the Balkans was not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier - well, the whole of the Middle East is not worth the bones of one American soldier either. The region has nothing of value except oil, and even that's going to run out fairly soon. Better to spend the money on developing alternative fuels and energy independence, which we'll have to do anyway. But Cochran's overriding point is the complete incompetence of our leaders, which is scary. The Bush administration seems totally ignorant of history. And what are we to think of the majority of Democratic senators who voted for the resolution authorizing the war (29 out of 50, including presidential wannabes Clinton, Biden and Edwards). How are they any better? As was said, the "best and the brightest" Americans won't work for the US government in any form - not the military, not the CIA, not the FBI and certainly not for the giant bureaucracies. And they mostly won't run for political office. The rewards are just too meager. The smartest and most capable Americans nowadays are found in areas such as law, medicine, investment banking and in the upper reaches of big corporations. They are not going to squander their careers working in some bloated bureaucracy for a crummy government paycheck when seven figure (and higher) levels of compensation are found in the private sector. Just look at the typical government job (including the military, FBI, CIA, etc.) - low pay, stifling bureaucracy, lots of political correctness, plus you can't fire anyone - now just what kind of person do you think that attracts? We currently have lots of politicos running for president on both the Democratic and Republican sides, but they all seem pretty much worthless to me - none of them, with the possible exception of Ron Paul, show the level of insight that Greg Cochran does.

Stephen said at September 11, 2007 7:18 AM:

Wolf, I've not seen any evidence that justifies the view that Iran would invade SA. Even if they did have the desire, do they actually have the capability? An actual invasion requires lots of boots on the ground (unless Tehran suddenly starts taking the advice of neo-con strategists) and those few that survived the trip through Kuwait and into SA would then need to be resupplied, and none of those tasks are really within Iran's capability (remember the slaughter from the air of the retreating Iraqi's on the 'highway of death'? The same fate would likely befall Iranian convoys).

Even if the Iranian army makes it into SA, then they're left trying to occupy a foreign country in which they have no allies, have nothing culturally in common with the locals and don't even speak the same language. No country is that stupid.

oh wait...

momochan said at September 11, 2007 1:36 PM:

Recently I was listening to some interviews with people from a small US town that has lost several servicemen in Iraq. Several locals, in one way or another, stressed that America had done "the right thing". It didn't seem to occur to anyone to ask whether America had done "the smart thing". It's as though if your intentions are good then divine providence will see to it that you succeed, and intelligence is not a factor at all.
I think this highlights a disdain in our (U.S.) culture for book-learnin' in general. I heard recently that one of those advocates of abstinence-only sex education, when confronted with statistics showing that such a policy does not work, said that it doesn't matter what the evidence says; abstinence-only is The Right Thing.
So, there's no doubt that many of these clueless politicians believe in what they are doing and saying. The problem is that they never bother to check against the evidence.

p.s. I always look for and enjoy gcochran's insights here.

Randall Parker said at September 11, 2007 4:28 PM:

Ned, Wolf-Dog,

The instability of the Middle East is extremely exaggerated.

When is the last time that a Middle Eastern dictator was overthrown by his own populace? The Shah in 1979. That's a rare event. The constant predictions of mass instability of Middle Eastern regimes are ridiculous. Successful popular uprisings are rare. Most regime changes happen at the top due to competition in the elites. The only other ones that happen are done by us.

Our biggest problem with oil supply is that the reserves are getting depleted. We should worry far more about that than about revolutions causing destruction of oil fields.

Randall Parker said at September 11, 2007 4:30 PM:


My life has been one long process of discovering just how ignorant and incompetent political leaders and other authority figures are.

Big Bill said at September 12, 2007 4:42 AM:

I fail to see how knowing the differences between Sunni and Shiite matters. What matters is that they want to kill each other over the differences. no matter how trivial they are to the rest of us. We just need to be aware of their homicidal ethno-religious impulses and keep both of them out of our country.

Wolf-Dog said at September 12, 2007 6:05 AM:

Randall Parker,
It is in the Eastern part of Saudi Arabia that most of the oil fields are located. And it is precisely in that region that the Shiite minority of Saudi Arabia, happen to be the majority. When Iran invades Saudi Arabia, the Sunnis will not be able to resist the conquest of the oil fields where the oppressed Saudi Shiites would welcome the Iranians. Iran does not want all of Saudi Arabia, it just wants the oil to survive: Iranian oil production will start a sharp decline a few years, which means that Iran does not have any other chance to survive.

Randall Parker said at September 12, 2007 5:53 PM:


The US Air Force could easily stop an Iranian invasion of Saudi Arabia that includes a land passage thru Kuwait. If the Iranians try to invade by sea then the USAF and US Navy both could stop it.

The Iranians are not going to invade Saudi Arabia. That would give Bush and company reason to do a huge air attack on Iran.

Wolf-Dog said at September 12, 2007 8:28 PM:

Randall Parker wrote:
The US Air Force could easily stop an Iranian invasion of Saudi Arabia that includes a land passage thru Kuwait. If the Iranians try to invade by sea then the USAF and US Navy both could stop it.
The Iranians are not going to invade Saudi Arabia. That would give Bush and company reason to do a huge air attack on Iran.

You would be right if the US still kept its bases in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc in a few years. But one possibility is that the new religious atmosphere over there, might actually force these governments to close the American bases. Then from Diego Garcia island, it might be rather difficult to stop a full scale invasion of Saudi Arabia, especially if the local Shiite Majority in the Eastern part if Saudi Arabia helps the Iranians from there.

Ned said at September 13, 2007 5:48 AM:

RP -

How unstable is the Middle East? It probably is a question of degree. Most of the countries are run by authoritarian regimes of one sort or another, and most do appear relatively stable now. These regimes know how to keep their own people in line - a good example is Egypt and its suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet points of instability do exist - Musharraf's regime in Pakistan is a good example. Another is the possible Turkish invasion of northern Iraq (Kurdistan). But the major flashpoint is along the Sunni-Shiite Arab-Persian fault line, which currently runs through Iraq. A bitter six year war was fought here in the 80's. Once the US and its allies pull out of Iraq, anything is possible here. I agree that an Iranian invasion of Saudi Arabia is unlikely. Not that the Iranians wouldn't like to try - Saudi Arabia has three things the Iranians would like to get their hands on - oil, an oppressed Shiite minority and the Muslim holy sites. But the Iranian military is too weak to pull it off, especially if the US intervened. And, as you say, this would give just give Bush the excuse to whack them good and hard, which he appears to be anxious to do.

Randall Parker said at September 13, 2007 5:51 PM:


Flashpoints and fault lines: Yet the Iran-Iraq war did not lead to the overthrow of either country's government.

It is incredibly easy for the United States to play balance the power between Middle Eastern regimes. No one country can successfully invade another country without the permission of the White House. They all know that.

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