Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Bush’s decision-making

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I blogged earlier about self-taught practitioners, including self-taught decision-makers (“deciders,” to use President Bush’s term). I mentioned that it’s important to evaluate the process by which a decision is reached, as well as its outcome, in determining best practices: a lucky guess can produce a good outcome, and a careful process can by stymied by some chance occurrence. But, given the law of averages, one would expect a careful process to produce more good decisions—and good outcomes—in the long run.

President Bush, though, is self-taught and his process is to “go with his gut.” He’s mentioned this from time to time, and he relies heavily on his ability to read people and understand their motives. For example, you will recall the first time he met Putin, Bush said, ” I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

And, as Suskind noted in his book The One Percent Doctrine, Bush also evaluated the man who brought the warning in August 2001 that Osama bin Ladin was determined to strike in the US:

The book’s opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush’s Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president’s attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.” Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”

Both instances show an example of decisions from the gut—not, perhaps, the best of decision-making processes.

But last night I got to thinking about another terrible Presidential decision: President Kennedy’s decision to invade Cuba—by proxies, to be sure, but it was his decision—that led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The process that led to this decision has been studied in detail and has produced articles and books, among them Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, by Irving Janis.

Some of the process errors noted after the fact: making the decision in secret, without outside input; pressure on the group to go along with the decision, quashing dissent; deficiency in information gathering; and so on. All of these factors can be noted in the way decisions are made in this Administration—very much as if the deciders had not learned from history.

Kennedy certainly learned: after that debacle, he privately told his brother Robert to oppose him in meetings, to play devil’s advocate. He felt thathis brother’s opposition would provide cover for his advisers to voice objections and reasoned dissent and to bring forward facts that might not otherwise be considered. Somehow I can’t see Bush taking this approach: dissent equals disloyalty, at least in his eyes.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2006 at 8:44 am

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