The Decline of Competence

Someone is going to explain this to me, if there is any reasonable, rational or believable explanation to be had. The Neocons are at it again, this time beating their well-worn drums of war on Libya. As reported in consortiumnews.com:

Neocon editors who increasingly dominate the New York Times want President Barack Obama to deploy A-10 and AC-130 aircraft for close-combat attacks against Libyan government forces in urban areas.
Rather than give serious thought to peace feelers that have come from members of Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle, including his son Saif, the Times’ editors – like other key figures in the U.S. mainstream news media – see violent regime change as the only acceptable outcome for Libya.

Neocon editors who increasingly dominate the New York Times want President Barack Obama to deploy A-10 and AC-130 aircraft for close-combat attacks against Libyan government forces in urban areas.

Rather than give serious thought to peace feelers that have come from members of Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle, including his son Saif, the Times’ editors – like other key figures in the U.S. mainstream news media – see violent regime change as the only acceptable outcome for Libya.

I know that Judith Miller’s reporting for the NYT turned out to be utter trash and just one part of the overall punking of America that resulted in our quagmire in Iraq, but why, for the love of God is the NYT taking Neocons seriously enough to give them editorial control over the “paper of record”?  Isn’t there enough of a track record to indicate that these people are intellectual black holes that can suck all the light out of any discussion they choose to pollute with their ideas?

Here’s an exercise I want you to try (seriously). It is a method for out-performing Neocon wags on any matter of foreign policy.

Step 1: Identify a Neocon proposal or prediction.  For example, “We must put US ground troops in Libya.”

Step 2: Recast the proposition or prediction as a yes/no question. For example, “Putting US ground troops in Libya will lead to a better situation for us and the Libyan people.”

Step 3: Answer the question by flipping a coin. Heads means “yes,” tails means “no.”

Applying this simple method to their past success at prognosticating foreign policy decisions indicates that they performed significantly below random chance. My guess is that you will do much better. Someone with the right connections might even be able to parlay this into a book deal.  Remember, past performance is no indication of future returns. My guess, however, that in this case they will do as bad or worse then usual, and our men and women and many Libyans will suffer needlessly.

So this is the our competence, our “smartest people in the room” who are not only dominating the conversation, they are doing so from venues who should know better (Fox doesn’t count. They never were about competence and they know it.).  For the last couple of days I’ve been at a retreat in the wine country north of San Francisco. This morning someone at breakfast asked me what it is that seems to be rotting away our democracy. I didn’t give him an answer then, but upon reflection, part of it has to be this loss of competence.  It’s not that incompetent people have suddenly become more numerous, it’s that there is no longer a prerequisite that competence in terms of political, social, historical, and ethical knowledge be required to hold power. There will always be moments where incompetent people grab power, but the problems start when they are allowed to hold it and are not brought to account for their mistakes. In some cases, a competent bureaucracy can overcome a feckless leader (as the Ottoman palace officials did on several occasions), but if we insist on putting the ship of state into the hands of fools, we will have problems.

It also occurs to me that this might be a variation of the Gaia hypothesis that holds that living things tend to shape their environments to better match their needs. Fools in control make it easier for their kind to follow them into power, and stay there.


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