Archive for the ‘dysfunctional’ Category

Barack Obama Needs To Know: Lincoln’s Dysfuncional Cabinet Was Not Your Mother’s A-Team

November 18, 2008

People love Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on the Lincoln presidency, “Team of Rivals.” More important, for this moment in American history, Barack Obama loves it. The book is certainly fun to read, but its claim that Abraham Lincoln revealed his “political genius” through the management of his wartime Cabinet deserves a harder look, especially now that it seems to be offering a template for the new administration.

“Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet,” is the way Obama has summarized Goodwin’s thesis, adding, “Whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis.”

By Matthew Pinsker
The Los Angeles Times

That’s true enough, but the problem is, it didn’t work that well for Lincoln. There were painful trade-offs with the “team of rivals” approach that are never fully addressed in the book, or by others that offer happy-sounding descriptions of the Lincoln presidency.

Lincoln’s decision to embrace former rivals, for instance, inevitably meant ignoring old friends — a development they took badly. “We made Abe and, by God, we can unmake him,” complained Chicago Tribune Managing Editor Joseph Medill in 1861. Especially during 1861 and 1862, the first two years of Lincoln’s initially troubled administration, friends growled over his ingratitude as former rivals continued to play out their old political feuds.

In fairness, Goodwin describes several of these more difficult moments, such as when Secretary of State William Seward tried to seize political command from Lincoln during the Ft. Sumter crisis. But she passes over their consequences too easily.

Though Seward, the former New York senator who had been the Republican front-runner, eventually proved helpful to the president, the impact of repeated disloyalty and unnecessary backroom drama from him and several other Cabinet officers was a significant factor in the early failures of the Union war effort.


Above: Seward

By December 1862, there was a full-blown Cabinet crisis.

“We are now on the brink of destruction,” Lincoln confided to a close friend after being deluged with congressional criticism and confronted by resignations from both Seward and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Goodwin suggests that Lincoln’s quiet confidence and impressive emotional intelligence enabled him to survive and ultimately forge an effective team out of his former rivals, but that’s more wishful thinking than serious analysis.

Consider this inconvenient truth: Out of the four leading vote-getters for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination whom Lincoln placed on his original team, three left during his first term — one in disgrace, one in defiance and one in disgust.

Simon Cameron was the disgraced rival, Lincoln’s failed first secretary of War. Goodwin essentially erased him from her group biography, not mentioning him in the book’s first 200 pages, even though he placed third, after Seward and Lincoln, on the first Republican presidential ballot. Cameron proved so corrupt and inept that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives censured him after he was removed from office in 1862.

Above: Portrait of Simon Cameron by Freeman Thorp.

Chase was the defiant rival. As Goodwin acknowledges, the Treasury chief never reconciled himself to Lincoln’s victory, continuously angling to replace him. Lincoln put up with this aggravation until he secured renomination and then dumped his brilliant but arrogant subordinate because, in his words, their “mutual embarrassment” was no longer sustainable.

Atty. Gen. Edward Bates was the disgusted rival. The elder statesman — 67 when he was appointed — never felt at home in the Lincoln Cabinet and played only a marginal role in shaping policy. He resigned late in the first term. His diary reflects deep discontent with what he considered the relentless political maneuvering of his Cabinet peers and even the president.

“Alas!” Bates wrote in August 1864, “that I should live to see such abject fear — such small stolid indifference to duty — such open contempt of Constitution and law — and such profound ignorance of policy and prudence!”

Only Seward endured throughout the Civil War. He and Lincoln did become friends, and he provided some valuable political advice, but the significance of his contributions as Lincoln’s secretary of State have been challenged by many historians, and his repeated fights with other party leaders were always distracting.

John Hay, one of Lincoln’s closest aides, noted in his diary that by the summer of 1863, the president had essentially learned to rule his Cabinet with “tyrannous authority,” observing that the “most important things he decides & there is no cavil.”

Over the years, it has become easy to forget that hard edge and the once bad times that nearly destroyed a president. Lincoln’s Cabinet was no team. His rivals proved to be uneven as subordinates. Some were capable despite their personal disloyalty, yet others were simply disastrous.

Lincoln was a political genius, but his model for Cabinet-building should stand more as a cautionary tale than as a leadership manual.

Matthew Pinsker, author of “Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home,” teaches Civil War history at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

NATO urged to do more in Afghanistan

February 7, 2008

From combined dispatches
(Peace and freedom thanks AP, Reuters, CNN, ABC)
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Senior U.S. officials yesterday turned up the heat on NATO allies to do more in the war against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, warning that a planned influx of 3,000 Marines is unlikely to halt the deterioration of security there.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique Nord

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in London that Western countries must prepare their citizens for a long fight, while in Washington, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said a failure in Afghanistan would put “a cloud over the future” of NATO.
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The remarks came amid a drumbeat of discouraging news on several fronts, including a new U.N. report predicting another bumper opium crop that will help to fund the insurgency.
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Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said during a visit to Tallinn, Estonia, that more foreign troops are needed. The threat from the Taliban “is much higher than anticipated in 2001,” he told reporters.
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Germany agreed yesterday to boost its force in the country by 200 troops but refused to let them serve in the south where they might face combat. In Canada, which has 2,500 troops fighting in the south, it became clear that an effort to extend the mission could bring down the Conservative-led government.
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A British think tank said that country’s relief efforts in Afghanistan were failing, undermining military gains.
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Britain’s Department for International Development in embattled Helmand province “is dysfunctional, totally dysfunctional. Basically it should be removed and its budget should go to the army, which might be better able to deliver assistance,” said the president of the Senlis Council, which has long experience in Afghanistan.
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The Taliban staged more than 140 suicide missions last year, the most since it was ousted from power in late 2001 by the U.S.-led invasion that followed the September 11 attacks. “I do think the alliance is facing a real test here,” Miss Rice said at a press conference with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in London. “Our populations need to understand this is not a peacekeeping mission” but rather a long-term fight against extremists, she said. 

Mr. Gates said he was not optimistic that the addition of 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan this spring will be enough to put the NATO-led war effort back on track. He has sent letters to every alliance defense minister asking for more troops and equipment but has not received any replies, he said during a Senate hearing. 

All 26 NATO nations have soldiers in Afghanistan and all agree the mission is their top priority, but only the Canadians, British, Australians, Dutch and Danes “are really out there on the line and fighting,” Mr. Gates said.

He said he would be “a nag on this issue” when he meets NATO defense ministers today and tomorrow in Europe.

But there was little evidence yesterday that the allies are prepared to increase their contributions.

In Berlin, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told reporters Germany will send around 200 combat soldiers to northern Afghanistan this summer to replace a Norwegian unit, but would not move them to the nation’s endangered south. 

“If we neglected the north,” where conditions are relatively peaceful, “we would commit a decisive mistake,” Mr. Jung said. 

In Ottawa, a spokeswoman for Opposition Leader Stephane Dion said Mr. Dion had been told by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that a parliamentary vote to extend Canada’s mission would be treated as a matter of confidence, meaning the minority government will fall if it fails. 

Canada has already said it will not extend the mission if other NATO countries do not increase their contributions.

In Tokyo, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime predicted that this year’s production of opium poppies would be close or equal to last year’s record of 477,000 acres. Taliban rebels receive up to $100 million from the drug trade, the agency estimated. 

The Taliban “are deriving an enormous funding for their war by imposing … a 10 percent tax on production,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. agency.

Mr. Gates told the Senate hearing that he worries “a great deal” about NATO evolving into “a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect peoples’ security, and others who are not.”

Overall, there are about 43,000 troops in the NATO-led coalition, including 16,000 U.S. troops. An additional 13,000 U.S. troops are outside NATO command, training Afghan forces and hunting al Qaeda terrorists.

Related:
SecDef Gates, Admiral Mullen Testify Before SASC