On the one hand, it’s a damning portrait of a weak President who entertained delusions of world-historical grandeur but couldn’t even keep his own Vice President on board with the mission, let alone his Cabinet agencies; on the other it’s a story of how the federal bureaucracy works to frustrate and undermine the elected officials whose policies it supposedly exists to implement [bold mine-DL].
I have a few observations. Cheney seems to me to be wholly on board with the “freedom agenda” as far as the Near East and the former Soviet Union are concerned (and these are the only places where the administration actually cares about the “freedom agenda,” because they think it meshes well with their other strategic goals, such as they are). Embracing Nazarbayev is useful in pushing an anti-Russian line, while pushing for “democratic” revolution in places with more pro-Russian despots also advances that line. One of the goals of democratism is to put a “democratic” (i.e., relatively pro-American) elite in power in various countries around the world, but their democracy is very much the managed managerial democracy that will come up with the “right” policy results rather than function as a government that reflects and represents the popular interest. Eastern Europe is lousy with such “democratic” governments these days. When democratists talk about democracy, it is this managerial system to which they are referring. Actual popular, representative government gives such people hives, as we can see whenever American populists make any headway in domestic politics.
There is a certain irony that some of the bureaucratic managers inside our managerial state are opposed to the proponents of the “global democratic revolution,” but I think it is a mistake to focus entirely on the federal departments as obstacles to some imagined representative government enacting the will of the people. The policies being set by elected officials have no more connection with representative government than do the policymaking processes inside the bureaucracy; these policies routinely favour very narrow and particular interests that may have nothing to do with the interests of most of the voting constituents. The departments and agencies work to undermine the politicians who actively work to undermine and discredit them–that’s how bureaucratic infighting works, and it is unavoidable once you have vested so much power in permanent departments and agencies. If we find it obnoxious, as we all do to some degree, we might start by getting rid of large parts of the bureaucracy and removing permanent entrenched power interests from the heart of our government. It seems to me that the trouble arises when we want to have the administrative and bureaucratic apparatus of a managerial state and also want to have none of the drawbacks of ceding actual governing to unelected functionaries. We are likely to feel very agitated when confronted with the arrogance of the managers who think, not without good reason, that they are effectively in charge (or at least have a major say in what happens).
What about the friendly relations with the Thai military men? On the one hand, the administration can ignore the Thai coup and embrace Gen. Sonthi et al. because the coup does not represent a shift in Thailand’s relations with Washington (which is what really matters for those pushing the “freedom agenda”), and it can also justify support for the coup on the grounds that Thaksin was corrupt, unpopular and making a hash of the counterinsurgency in the south. There will always be “war on terror” exceptions to the “freedom agenda” (see Pakistan) and the U.S. acquiescence in the coup in Thailand was a good example of that at work.