On not publicly planning to fail

Condi Rice: “It’s bad policy to speculate on what you’ll do if a plan fails when you’re trying to make a plan work.” Right. (If “speculate” means “talk publicly” rather than plan ahead.” I don’t think it’s fair to tag her refusal to point to the roof the last helicopter takes off from as a refusal to consider the possibility of defeat.

There’s a story about a defense lawyer whose client was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. As the guards came up to take him away, the defendant said to the lawyer, “Well, what do we do now?” To which the lawyer replied, “Well, son, I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna go have lunch.” The lawyer, after all, had a Plan B in case of defeat. The client, not so much.

Much as I hate to defend Condi Rice, I can’t share Greg Sargent’s outrage, or Mike O’Hare’s, at her refusing to tell an open hearing what Plan B is when the Prez gets his head handed to him by the Iraqi civil warriors on both sides. “Well, we figure we can get all of our guys out. Of course, we’ll have to leave most of our Iraqi friends behind to get slaughtered.” Not exactly a morale-building statement.

The more prepared we seem to be for failure, the more likely we are to fail, since our allies and enemies alike, in Iraq and nearby, will be less willing to defend, and more prone to attack, a position we are seen to be only weakly committed to. One of our problems in Iraq is that we can’t, in fact, credibly commit to sticking it out. We always have the option of going to lunch. (I’m not saying that I wish we were really and truly stuck there, only that being really and truly stuck would shift our friends’ and foes’ calculations in a direction favorable to success.)

Now it’s possible that the Administration actually hasn’t done any contingency planning on the political/diplomatic side, though I’d be surprised. (The military certainly has operational plans.) But, as I understand it, Rice didn’t say they hadn’t done it; she said, “It’s bad policy to speculate on what you’ll do if a plan fails when you’re trying to make a plan work.” Quite right, too. If she still has no answer when asked in closed session, I’ll share the outrage.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com