Listened to the CD of Richard A. Clarke’s “Your Government Failed You” a couple weeks ago.
Figured it would be a tedious screed about Iraq. But what the heck. As a guy who’s always been 51/49 or 49/51 on American 200x Iraq involvement, I could at least hear it out.
Turns out that he’d already put his Iraq thoughts in an earlier book. Yes, this one had a lot on Iraq, but he used it as a springboard to what he considered more important things: how to organize certain national security functions of the US government.
Bottom line: He came across as exactly what he said he was: A self-respecting, professional, government guy specializing in national security. That his specialty is the core purpose of the federal government helped make the book quite readable. And he spelled out the case for his kind of person having great control over national security policy and procedures. He went a bit schizo when acknowledging that the professionals’ job is to implement the political policy makers’ policies – at the same time being driven, himself, by being in strong, strong disagreement with the Bush peoples’ particular policies. But, there’s never a perfect balance in things of that sort. So whaddayagunnado?
For me, all that was not the most interesting thing in the book.
Let’s go back to Saigon, ’70. My bicycle had worn out break pads. No problem. I had walked most every street of that town, taking pictures, so I knew where the bike shops were. Zinged over there. Walked in the first shop and asked how much brake pads were. Got a price. Har. Har. Well, of course, it must have been 10 times what it should be. Right? No problem. I go to the next shop. Same price. Hmmm. That’s odd. Prices from tourist-rip-off people are generally all over the map. Third shop. Same price.
What I learned: Around a military base, you’ll find a whole crowd of people whose every moment is spent, as a cell phone company exec once said in a meeting, “Extracting value from the customer.” In other words, bases are surrounded by con artists, crooks, etc.
But, in those bicycle shops I was not near the base. These shops were run as normal businesses for normal people. They had no thought or inclination to pull any scams. That I was not their ordinary customer didn’t change a thing.
The thing is, the interface between the base, with its transient, military people, and the surrounding people “servicing” that base is like the shore ‘tween land and sea.
Now, in the world I live in, the shore is where everything important happens. Innovation happens on the shore.
Back to Clarke’s book.
The book dripped with disdain and suspicion for private contractors involved with national security. And tech. That attitude was very, very nearly the attitude of any aware military person toward the scammers just outside the base. And, that attitude was clearly a result of Clarke’s experience! In other words, it was not out of line.
Now, here I am, on the other side of the fence, with much the same attitude toward professional government people.
But, though I disagreed with some of what Clarke recommended, I never doubted that he could be right and that his heart is in the right place. He came across as a guy running a bicycle shop.
So, is it a law of nature that the worst sort of behavior is concentrated at the interface between two different worlds? Does the nature of such interfaces require that behavior be “bad”?