Micromanaging vs. Oversight

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We read about this exchange between Sen. Joseph Biden and Tim Russert on Talking Points Memo today:

MR. RUSSERT: You said the other day that this is President Bush’s war, and there’s…

SEN. BIDEN: It is.

MR. RUSSERT: …there’s really little Democrats can do. Why not cut off funding for the war?

SEN. BIDEN: I’ve been there, Tim. You can’t do it.


SEN. BIDEN: You can’t do it. It’s—what—because it made sense in the Constitution when you said you could cut off funding when you had no standing army. We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars. You can’t go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, “You can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece and”—he—able—he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to.

MR. RUSSERT: Why not have legislation then that would cap the number of troops in Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: Because it’s very difficult to—it’s constitutionally questionable whether or not you can do that. I think it is unconstitutional to say, “We’re going to tell you you can go, but we’re going to micromanage the war.” When we wrote the Constitution, the intention was to give the commander in chief the authority how to use the forces, when you authorize them, to be able to use the forces.

NBC’s Meet the Press, January 7, 2007

And then, in another Sunday morning studio, new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had this to say on Face the Nation:

The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon them. But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it and this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions.

CBS’s Face the Nation, January 7, 2007

We’re wondering: what exactly is micromanaging? What’s oversight? And how do you tell the difference? Where should — where will — this Congress draw that line, and will it come down to political expediencies or Constitutional realities?

Charles Rangel

U.S. Representative, D-NY

Andrew Rudalevige

Professor of Political Science, Dickinson College

Author, The New Imperial Presidency: Renewing Presidential Power after Watergate

Robert Turner

Professor, University of Virginia School of Law

Associate Director, Center for National Security Law

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  • Does this topic have the wrong recording date on it?

  • bluefish

    why aren’t we sending in more Special Forces (unconventional warfare) and get the conventional commanders out of the way, instead of simply traffic police? How can we expect success if Sadr and his militia is put off limits by the politicians?

  • SEN. BIDEN: You can’t do it. It’s—what—because it made sense in the Constitution when you said you could cut off funding when you had no standing army. We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars. You can’t go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, “You can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece and”—he—able—he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to.

    Holy Moley. Of _course_ you can cut off funding. The Army isn’t going to disband the regiments in Iraq and tell the paid-off soldiers “hasta la vista”. What would happen is a precipitous withdrawal of forces from the area.

    Which might (or might not be) a disaster for the region to just have the forces leave. I suspect that the Senator knows in his heart that South Vietnam wasn’t lost until a Democratic congress cut funding to SVN to the bone, which allowed North Vietnam ot invade with armoured divisions (more tanks than Hitler used in France in 1940) and etc.

    If I’m right (and hey I don’t insist that I am) Biden doesn’t want to be tarred as being responsible for wholesale anarchy in Iraq.

  • rc21

    Bidens words are typical of many Dems, Vote for the war. Then criticize on a daily basis,but offer no solutions. I’ve heard everything from send in more troops (J.Kerry) To total exodus (J. Murtha). They now have the oversight and power yet don’t seem to want to accept any responsibility for making a decision. Biden’s responses were total B.S.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Given the number of military operations the U.S. has been through (covert & overt), it’s incredible in the absurd that there is still constitutional murkiness about how we manage the life cycle of military operations. My conclusion (highly probable to be incomplete), this has been large left to an elite managerial class to handle, thus no explicit boundaries and process for setting up boundaries have been addressed. Simple benchmarks such as years of engagement, money spent, body counts, equipment resources, diplomatic and civilian infrastructure (a huge area to enumerate) can and should be tracked and used to guide when a huddle-up needs to occur and a re-examination of strategic objectives against previous tactical maneuvers. I don’t see any incentive to adjust the process of life cycle management of military engagements. Execution by seat-of-the-pants is the de-facto methodology.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    In meandering around the web, this came across the radar:

    Congressional Limitations and Requirements for Military Deployments and Funding

  • Tom B

    Oversight is a management responsibility, and is part of the plan-organize-staff-direct-review-correct cycle. Oversight involves setting strategic goals, and monitoring tactics and everyday activities to be sure they align with strategic goals. — Micromanaging is the compulsion to shove people out of their role of developing and implementing tactics — and substituting one’s own ideas for theirs. Micromanaging overloads the micromanager since one man is incapable of keeping up with the pressures of changing realities on the ground. Micromanaging demoralizes subordinates with a modicum of intelligence and creativity, in essence telling them: ‘Turn off your brain and become an extension of my (superior?) insights, decisions, and will.’ If you have ever worked for a micromanager, you know how it feels! And only the most incompetent put up with a micromanager for long. — The best managers train their force, point them in the desired direction, and then follow them on a path which (more or less) gets everyone to the desired objective….

  • Tom B

    P.S. A cynic would say that Biden’s observations obey the The Shovel Law: ‘If your opponent is digging himself into a hole, loan him your shovel.’ — It is interesting in the current debate that almost everyone accepts the idea that ‘America cannot lose this war’. Some of us outside the Beltway are inclined to ask, ‘Since when is the Administration’s war our war? The Washington crowd started a war, staffed it with gullible 20something recruits, and is paying for it with money borrowed from the Chinese.’ It’s THEIR war, not ours! America is something much, much bigger than the Federal Government and the politicians earning their livings off of Big Government!’ Yep, it’s a minority opinion, but those of us who watched the Federal Government get into trouble in Vietnam wonder why the rest of us should much care. Vietnam fell, but so did The Domino Theory. Chicken Littles of the time said the sky would fall — but it didn’t!

  • Potter

    This president, of all presidents, needs to be managed since he does not seem to be acting in the best interests of the country. He has been given too long a rope.

    The Joe Biden exchange is exhibit A of why I would not vote for him, nor do I think he will get the Democratic nomination for ’08. He may not want to give the President a hand to lift himself out of the muck. But that’s politics and that’s playing with lives.

    It is the administration’s war, but we all are paying for it. It’s our hole they are digging and we should not have to dig it further.

    Thanks for that link OCParrot ( and welcome back).

  • jazzman

    OCP/CCM Here’s a virtual nut. Welcome back – we’ve missed your pithy comments (squawking?) perhaps I should only speak for myself (although I see Potter agrees and has just edged me out on the welcome wagon) – anyway, I’m glad you’re back!!!

  • So there is this soft boundary between oversight and micromanaging which shifts one way or the other according to the perceptions of the oversight provider. No question about which direction that boundary is moving these days.

    This shifting has come from two directions: the foreign policy establishment via the Baker commission and a new congress feeling the heat of an upset body politic.


    Connecting the Dots: From human behaviors to ecosystem collapse


  • nother

    “Micromanage!” I have a better word for him, how about Macro-manage! He doesn’t want to hinder the administration by micromanaging a war that has been macromanaged into chaos.

    My only quibble with the premise of this show is it lends wait to Sen. Biden’s words (Of course he does lead the Foreign Relations Committee so I understand why) It’s just that his reactionary rhetoric is out of step with the public and frozen by desperate presidential aspirations. This guy always seems to be tripping over himself to sound tough and not “liberal.” He speaks with that same indignant tone of voice that says if they had only listened to me. He’s one of the curmudgeon Muppets in the balcony hurling clever criticisms below.

    He says I’m against the surge but I’ll fund it. That’s sounds very similar to, I’m against going unilaterally into Iraq, but I’ll vote for it. It must be great to live in a world where you have it both ways. Biden represents the old Democrats, Republican lite.

    The Democratic antithesis of Sen. Biden had his own things to say yesterday. Barack Obama said his office is looking into how we can stop funding for new troops without taking anything away from the troops that are there.

    Biden better get on the bus that Murtha and Obama are driving or he’ll walking a lonely road..

  • nother

    Tom B., good stuff. The “shovel law” observation reminds me that everyone is jockeying for political position. Biden could be worried that if he helps stop funding, the Republicans can go into 08 blaming him and the Dems for losing the war. Oh God this is ugly, is this why the Vietnam War went on so long, political calculations?

    I was already under the impression that the “McCain Doctrine” was a political position to separate himself from GW and still look tough to the base. I think he’s as surprised as anybody that we are now going that route and that he’ll actually be accountable for his position. Now he’s scampering to separating himself from GW by saying 20, 000 isn’t enough.

    The sad irony is, we are seeing more political calculations about Iraq than in Iraq.

  • Sir Otto

    Did he (Rangel) say “lynch Saddam Hussein”? Did I hear correctly? Was that a defense of the beloved leader? Was Rangel trying to make a point? Comparing with the southern lynchings early 20th century? What’s up with that?

  • robert leaver

    Determing what is micro/macro, is often situational. The US is challenged to evolve a governing model that is right for our conditions and times and the times and conditions to come.

    John Carver puts forward a principal of governance to consider as we shape the next evolution of our country: the policy role sets the ends/results, and constraints/what not to do. This is the role of the legislature. The executive role –the president — pursues the ends within the constraints. The US constitution requires a Carver-refined application of governance.

    Something to consider as this country evolves the way we govern: In the early years of Digital Computers, the operating structure shifted between a tight hieararchy and a matrix, depending on the state of the market (or public opinion). When the market or public opinion was flush, Digital ran as a liberating matrix with decentralized decision making. When the market receded, the hierarchy steps in and takes control. Akin to a market receding…when we don’t like what is going on we demand micro management.

    And one last image from Richard Rorty from his book, “Achieving our Country”: Democracy is a continuous experiment of trying to figure out what is right. We screw up and learn from the messes or failures. Are we ready to dig into our recent messes to evolve how to best “acheiving our country?”

  • Sir Otto

    For what? For OIL! What else?

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Re: Vietnam. The U.S., and the French, had plenty of time to achieve the goals of defeating or neutralizing the NVC. How long would have been enough? How many more lives needed to be thrown into the conflict? Hindsight is very handy for refighting battles. But the Vietnam conflict is a very long history which should not be reduced to congressional action.

  • robert leaver

    Our experience as citizens is lived in three realms, as James Hillman suggests:

    The concrete or now

    The conversation or pyschological back and forth of debate

    The idea or poetic, which is the realm in which the constitution is embedded

    This conversation is mostly about the concrete and psychological of the war in Iraq. What matters is for us asa country to step back and extract the next lessons for “Achiving our County.”

  • cmeketa

    Thank you for lending some much-needed insight to this murky area. As usual, you have anticipated an area that Congress might have trouble with, and have moved in some blocking pawns. I commend you on your patriotism, your insight, and your ability to get to the heart of the matter. Kudos! Cynthia Meketa

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Excellent show … really enjoyed the walk down memory lane with Prof. Turner’s magical mystery tour of what happened in Vietnam. I don’t question his patriotism, but I do question his judgment. Great to see jazzman, nother, potter, peggysue, et al still thinking and typing.

  • katemcshane

    Charles Rangel was the only guest I was able to follow. Listening to Robert Turner was painful. It was a classic mindf..k. I felt like his words were jamming my mind and it made it difficult for me to follow Andrew Rudalevige. I actually started to scream at my computer. I’ve never understood this winning/losing Vietnam issue. We destroyed their country, and people from Vietnam have been remarkably gracious to us — but we’re still ranting about whether we could have won the war. To me, it’s sick.

    Cindy Sheehan said on Monday that the congress is not going to get to say they’re against our being in Iraq while continuing to fund the war. I hope Charles Rangel is right, but if he’s not, the antiwar movement in this country is going to swell, and we’re getting out.

  • sources

    Robert Turner sent me into a timewarp in which all the madvoices of the wise men swirled about and were no longer distinguishable one from another: McNamara, LBJ, Nixon, Stennis, Laird, Kissinger 1, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Bush the Lesser. The voice of pretended reason regarding the role of American power in the world that shouts from the loudspeakers to those caught in the quicksand: STAY! STAY! The world will not respect you and will not trust you to keep your committments if you leave! You CAN’T leave! You’ll make the world a more dangerous place because our enemies won’t fear us and our friends won’t count on us.”

    This is not a voice of reason, but the reasoning of the crackpot. Some 56,000 Americans were killed in a futile venture in Vietnam. Turner is clearly hallucinating. There was no point in the Vietnam war where we were winning, even if you considered the easiest form of “winning” defeating the enemy to the point where the enemy decides that it cannot continue to wage war. If you consider LBJ’s definition: “winning the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese, that victory was never even in sight.

    What is Robert Taylor talking about? Winning what? How defined?

    And so again, the madvoices of reason which has no reason sings its refrain to those caught in quicksand. “It doesn’t matter why you’re there. What matters is THAT YOU ARE THERE! and once there the entire prestige and credibility of the United States is upon your shoulders.” That’s what Taylor said! It doesn’t matter that the Congress was misinformed; it doesn’t matter that the American people were misinformed about the reasons for going into Iraq. Once the President sends the troops they must stay until they’re all dead or a “misinformed public opinion swayed by knee-jerk liberal newspapers and television commentators” misguidedly brings them home.”

    When will we stop listening to the crackpot realist? When will we realize that the damage done to America’s credibility has nothing to do with “bringing the troops home.” In Vietnam, US credibility was lost at Tet. It was lost when the world became aware that even the US President (LBJ) was being lied to about the situation on the ground. American crediblity about the use of its power was not lost on that shameful day in Spring of ’74 as the helicopters lifted off. American power was called into question by the very fact that 1) It’s leaders were so naiive about the world and the use of power that it got itself into a war that it could not win, because 2) it’s definition for winning kept changing and each new definition was more vague and less achievable than the definition it replace (remember the “domino effect,” first containment then rollback of communism, then “hearts and minds?”), and most importantly 3) American power lost its credibility when it showed it was easily manipulated by narrow interests and pulled into a situation of war that it could not in control; that its great military might could be bogged down interminably by a foe with little advanced military materiel, unable to control the skies or the seas, yet able to inflict disaster upon American troops.

    This is Vietnam. This is Iraq. American power is laughed at around the world because we are considered ignorant of history and world realities, and because we have a yahoo of a president who, dressed in a flight suit that never saw combat, cynically announced “Mission Accomplished.” That is, that mission: getting GWB elected and elected again.

    I am embarrassed that someone like Robert Taylor can go on Open Source and repeat the phony wisdom that is no wisdom. Please announce to him that regarding the American people being misguided by the pansy liberal press, instead “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. On them has light shined.”

    Also shame on him for repeating the canard against Wilson, that he lied. The Senate Report did NOT conclude that at all.

  • sources

    We hear them only as a whisper, as

    a half-forgotten conversation we think

    we once heard but are no longer sure–

    the voices of the dead, whose names we touch,

    the voices of the dead who walk the dark places

    of our cities with hollow eyes, whom we cannot

    touch or save.

    But, oh look! It’s a parade! And look

    how smartly the brave soldiers march

    to the cargo planes, these new coffins.

    And listen! the stirring speeches of our Great Leader!

    And see him surrounded by the sages of power

    and reality whispering into his ear all

    the truths he believes without knowledge.

    Ah! The Drums! Yes the Drums! They tell us again

    how mighty we are, invincible. The uplifting words of the Great Leader,

    the Great Leader who talks with God every day and says:

    “Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!:

    And so the whispered, half-heard voices

    of all war’s dead we do not hear.

    Why should we? They’re dead

    and we have a Leader, at last whom we can trust.

  • UtahOwl

    Robert Turner is indeed doing a classic mindf..ck. So far, I’ve heard him blame the anti-war movement and the Democratic Congress for the Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot genocide in Cambodia, and claim that “scholars agree now” that “we were winning in Vietnam”. Well, in a following paragraph he qualified it to “we were winning militarily in Vietnam.” I wouldn’t dispute that we were winning “militarily” in Vietnam. I wouldn’t dispute that we have been winning “militarily” in Iraq. What I would point out is, it’s not clear that the problem in Iraq…or in Vietnam…was susceptible to a military solution. I did live through the Vietnam war era, and those of us who did are in great danger of projecting our intense feelings onto the present Iraq situation – a danger that should be acknowledged and compensated for.

    To dispute Prof. Turner’s point of view regarding the ancient history of the Vietnam conflict, it seemed to me that our major problem in Vietnam was that the only functional Vietnamese leadership was VietCong, and specifically Ho Chi Minh. This is not to say Ho Chi Minh was necessarily a good guy, it is to say that he appeared to be leading the only functional group. And unfortunately, it was not a group on our side. We ran through quite a number of South Vietnamese potential leaders, none of whom had the right stuff, and we propped up ARVN for years, never found a South Vietnamese political-military force capable of standing up to Ho & the Viet Cong. So it came down to a choice – occupy South Vietnam for the foreseeable future, or get out. I should remind Prof. Turner that many of us had lost all trust in both our civilian and military leadership – I lost the last of mine when I realized that Gen. Westmoreland’s body count had surpassed the majority of the North Vietnamese population. He lied like a rug, and he couldn’t come up with rational alternatives except MORE, MORE MORE MILITARY. Probably we could have nuked the entire country, but short of that, I wasn’t convinced there was a successful strategy for controlling the advances of the Viet Cong.

    Also, I absolutely do not buy the direct connection to the Khmer Rouge genocide and our leaving Vietnam, nor have I seen the “consensus of scholars” that Prof. Turner claims exists. I would greatly appreciate references to peer-reviewed papers and respected scholarship that makes this argument. Otherwise, I am tempted to consign Prof. Turner’s “consensus” to the same trash can that contains the “scientists who contest that global warming is real.” Flat-earthers will always be with us, but that doesn’t mean we have to consider them in analyzing or setting policy.

  • Upper West

    I agree with all of the last few posters about Professor Taylor. His digressive filibusters were maddening, and his willful ignorance astounding. His rant about Plame/Wilson as a rebuttal to whether Bush lied was especially galling.

    I wish he would have been asked how Bush’s statement: “We had to go to war because Saddam wouldn’t let the inspectors in” was not a lie the several times Bush repeated it.

    And that lie goes to the heart of the Iraq debate that is rarely mentioned. Congress authorized the war to disarm Saddam. The inspectors were doing exactly that (finding nothing and actually destroying non-complying weapons). Bush nonetheless started the war. In that sense, he betrayed Congress’s authorization of the war. In light of that, Congress certainly has the right to step in and prevent fruther damage.

  • Slateroof

    The last few posts were really refreshing. Was I dreaming or did I hear Professor Turner say that the Democrats won in a landslide in 1972? On my side of the looking glass, Republican Richard Nixon carried 49 states in that 1972 election.

  • nother

    OCP/CCM, Where the hell ya been, was worried about ya. I saw Jazzman’s post but I didn’t really get it till now (I’m a little slow!) We’ve been taking ourselves a little too serious around here, so it’s grrreat to have ya back!

  • griffy2000

    Professor Taylor, and others, continually talk about “our nation’s interest” in regards to wherever (Iraq, Vietnam, etc) we might be involved militarily. When will we acknowledge that our interests are not the average Iraqi’s interests. It’s not our country, it’s theirs. Oh, and did I hear him say VietMANese?

  • Thank you SOURCES for putting it so well. I also found listening to that wing nut Taylor profoundly disturbing–into the time warp as you put it.

    The American people have two choices here. We can plan to fight forever in the Middle East or choose to come home without VICTORY–there are a billion Muslims who are willing to assure that this is the way it is going to be. So do we want to deal with this unpalatable truth sooner or later. Clearly it is in Bush’s personal interest for it to be later, (and then he can blame the failure on his successor.) For the overwhelming majority of the rest of us, it needs to be sooner.

    Baker–and the group of realists he met with–set down a road map for ending this national night mare, and I hope Congress will see to it that we get on that road. When you have the oversight, you have the ultimate authority. When those charged with managing seem to insist on making bad decisions, those with the oversight become the DECIDER of last resort.

    I think what is happening now is evidence that we did learn from the Vietnam error–we learned that accepting defeat can be our best option. Hopefully after this war, we will move up the learning curve, and raise the congressional bar for getting into these kinds of no win entanglements, so that never again will our collective national stupidity be a basis for spreading our violence around the globe.


    Connecting the Dots: From human behavior to ecosystem collapse


  • djdehner

    Why has no one suggested the possibility that we cannot move forward without global support? It seems more than likely to me, especially considering the road blocks to peace in this civil war, that only a multi-national effort will secure anything but disaster for this once sovereign nation. And, in order to dialogue with religious factions, you need to have leaders who are sensative to religious issues as well as understanding those who confuse religion with real estate.

    As unbelieveable as it seems, we need to at least discuss the power of an apology from the current administration for getting us into this mess unprepaired to get us out. Then, perhaps, other nations may be inclined to come to our aid. There is real power in truth and reconciliation, as proved in South Africa, and we have much to admit and be reconciled to.

    David Dehner

  • tbrucia

    As always, interesting that people use the word ‘we’ interchangably with ‘the US government’ — as if American (outside the Beltway) interests were the same as Federal Government (inside the Beltway) interests…

  • hurley

    tbrucia says: As always, interesting that people use the word ‘we’ interchangably with ‘the US government’ — as if American (outside the Beltway) interests were the same as Federal Government (inside the Beltway) interests…

    I agree, though I’ve made the error myself. Another instance of linguistic kudzoo along the lines of “private contractor” instead of mercenary. What business do journalists, in their capacity as journaliists, have referring to themselves in the collective patriotic “we,” annealing themselves to the very people and processes they’re supposed to maintain (think Izzy Stone) a critical distance from. Difficult to be simultaneously obsequious and presumptuous, but flunkies like Kagan (why oh why was he on the micromanaging show, except to afford Chris the great line “the take off your sunglasses doctrine”…) and others nevertheless manage it remarkably well.

    Thanks for your point.

  • cerebrocrat

    Open Source is generally some of the highest quality public debate around, particularly in its medium. So I have to resist taking it personally when I’m subjected to such flagrantly dishonest dissembling as Turner was up to.

    I don’t have any problem hearing from conservatives, war supporters, etc., and I understand that conflict makes good radio, but it’s hard for me to understand how the debate is served by giving air to someone who spends as much airtime as he can hog, telling outrageous lies as fast as he can.

    We have to do better than this.

  • EricPA

    I don’t wish to hear only people who agree with me. But for “professor” Turner to imply that the only reason anyone opposes the Iraq invasion is because we’re “misinformed” … well, them’s fightin’ words to someone who is confident that he pays more attention to national and international affairs than 95% of this country’s citizens.

  • chefhick


    not often do you let comments slide by you but Mr Turner, like others i have heard on other shows, gives Bush 43 a pass on invading Iraq becuse of the resolution for regime change during the Clinton years. It is one thing to vote to promote efforts to remove a dictator from power and another to drop bombs on the population and send soldiers to die for that cause. We had regime change in the USSR without that.

  • Allison Somer mentioned an interesting aggregator called me-merandum (?). Is there a link to that? I’m curious to see if it could help my information habit.