President Bush 41 has given a number of speeches this past year — one recently at the Germany Embassy — but in lots of other places where he goes out of his way to praise the team of people he had around him, particularly Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, and a few others.
He says that these people fought for their policy views freely and openly around him and compelled him to think through every last option and to consider the costs, consequences, and opportunities behind every national security action and foreign policy decision. the elder Bush embraced complexity and understood that decisions could not be made in a vacuum and that there were linkages to be considered between things.
It’s one of the reasons why George W. Bush’s father decided not to topple Saddam and invade Iraq after the first Gulf War.
This decision-making discipline and approach seems to be a stark contrast to what we are seeing today among Bush 43’s retainers where self-censorship is rampant and complex decisionmaking isn’t allowed in the door.
This week I posed a set of questions to Senator Hillary Clinton who began her webcast “Conversations with Americans” earlier this week. I think that the format she chose to have an exchange with Americans about tough issues was brilliant — and showed what a different “model” for a State of the Union Address might one day look like.
Senator Clinton answered one of my questions about whether she wanted to have staff that challenged her views or who essentially became believers in her infallibility — something that we have seen too much of under President Bush 43.
Here is the exchange:
CRYSTAL PATTERSON: We are going to take a break from the live questions to respond to Steve Clemons who posted the following on the Huffington Post blog. Would you be the kind of president who gave your staff license to challenge you, to force consideration of every last policy action, to put bad news before good news? Or do you like your team to validate your views and not challenge you?
HILLARY CLINTON: Steve, I think you can ask anybody who works for me that I like people who challenge me. I like people with expertise and experience and strong opinions. Now, I may push back because I also have my opinions, but I want that kind of give and take and debate. I don’t think any one person — and certainly no president in these difficult and complex times — have all the answers. And I don’t think you find answers from an ideological starting point. I believe in looking at the facts and the evidence, trying to understand what you’re trying to achieve in terms of the values that you have and the objectives that you’re setting forth in order to get results.
What we’ve seen in the last six years is exactly the opposite. It is as though there is a little echo chamber where everybody is saying the same thing where the president, from what we’ve been told, is rarely challenged or confronted. That is not the kind of office that I run today. That is certainly not the kind of White House that I would want.
Another thing, I would like to get a broad cross-section of people. I don’t want people who already agree with me. I want honest, experienced, hard-working patriotic people who want to be part of a team, the American team, in order to understand what we have to do to meet the challenges of today.
So I hope that if you ever run across anybody who works for me, you will probably hear that I have got high standards because there is a lot at stake. I want people to work to the best of their ability and I want them to be part of a team, even if the other members of the team disagree. I think through that process you can come to better conclusions.
And I’m always open to new evidence, new ways of looking at things, asking those hard questions about the direction we’re headed. I think it leads to better decision-making. And sometimes it is a little messy because you’re trying to get to a point after hearing all sides and you want to keep searching for the very best outcome, the consensus that’s going to stand the test. But that, to me, is a better way of making decisions than this kind of top-down, intimidatory style where you have to tell them what they want to hear. That’s been a disaster and I certainly hope we can get beyond that.
These conversations she’s been having are a great way to cover lots of ground with folks and have what appears to be an interactive process.
I articulated some of my own policy differences with Senator Clinton in my first post about these conversations — but I do think that the model she is using is highly effective, and I was thrilled actually that she answered one of the questions I pushed her way.
— Steve Clemons