Having reviewed books for a quarter of a century, I have found that it is often possible to enjoy and recommend one even if I do not totally buy its conclusions. This is particularly true when it makes me think. In “The Failure Factory,” Bill Gertz has produced such a work.
The thesis of the book is that liberals held over from the Clinton administration, big government Republicans, and liberal career bureaucrats have done much to undermine the Bush national security establishment. Mr. Gertz does an exhaustive job of making his case. It is impossible to outline the whole book in a 750-word review, but I have listed one example from each category.
In the category of career bureaucrats, Mr. Gertz recounts the story of a woman of Lebanese origin who was hired by the FBI bureaucracy without proper vetting. While it seems likely that political correctness was in play, the Arab woman, who did indeed have a skill in a language in demand, unfortunately turned out to be a Hezbollah spy. In what is a disturbing trend, she is not rotting behind bars for life. Mr. Gertz feels that there are too many non-warriors in the intelligence community hiring such people.
In the category of liberal democratic holdovers, Mr. Gertz highlights former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, who made the transition from the Clinton Administration to the Bush team and later wrote a kiss-and-tell memoir that Mr. Gertz debunks as a self-serving attack on President Bush and a whitewash of Mr. Clinton’s failed efforts to get Osama bin Laden. Mr. Gertz drags out some pretty convincing evidence to support his case, much of it in Mr. Clarke’s own words.
One of the most egregious examples of disloyal big government Republicans is yet another Clarke - Victoria - who, as Donald Rumsfeld’s chief Pentagon spokesperson, personally torpedoed one of the more worthy Rumsfeld transformation initiatives: The Office of Strategic Influence. This organization was designed to get the various information operations activities designed to counter the message of radical Islam on the same page. In undermining this initiative, Ms. Clarke subverted her boss. Many who know Ms. Clarke attribute this to venal rice bowl guarding rather than liberal ideology, but she undoubtedly undermined a much needed office created to address an activity that remains uncoordinated and dysfunctional to this day.
As is the case of both Clarkes, there is always a question of whether the problem lay in disloyalty, ineptitude or outright incompetence. Given the choice, I think I’d prefer to be called disloyal than incompetent. Whatever the cause, much damage was done. Mr. Gertz has a well-established reputation as an investigative journalist for The Washington Times who is feared by many bureaucrats, and this volume will do nothing to diminish their terror.
However, he casts his net too far on occasion. I have known Gen. Anthony Zinni for nearly three decades, and although we have pointedly disagreed on occasion, I would not describe him as a liberal. I place Sen. John McCain, Richard Armitage and Gen. Colin Powell in the same category. These guys may have disagreed with Bush decisions, but if they are fellow travelers, so am I.
None of this should take away from the fact that Mr. Gertz makes some extremely important points. If most public servants were caught red-handed stealing classified documents, they would likely face hard time in a federal penitentiary and lose their security clearances forever. When former National Security Advisor Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger got nailed, he got a sentence of public service and only lost his clearance for three years. He is not the only malefactor to get off virtually without repercussions that Mr. Gertz highlights. The book deserves attention for that if for no other reason.
Mr. Gertz submitted the manuscript long before the current financial crisis broke, but a surprising number of the culprits mentioned are former executives of the Wall Street firms that caused the current financial mess. Mr. Gertz decries their lack of a warrior ethic; apparently, their business competence leaves something to be desired as well.
It is ironic that this administration’s Justice Department has taken the most heat over trying to weed out disloyal appointees. Mr. Gertz obviously feels that the national security establishment did not go far enough. Military commanders can fire subordinates for not carrying out their commander’s intent. The stakes there are important, but not vital to the nation’s survival. It is alarming that the same does not hold true at the level where national survival is at stake.
Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer who teaches at George Washington University’s Elliot School.