Does an Evidence-Based System of Performance Evaluation Exist in the US Security and Foreign Policy Establishment?

State of the union Biden

Any efficient, well-functioning government establishment anywhere is supposed to have an evidence-based system of performance evaluation concerning not just its officials, advisers and collaborators but also independent experts. On this basis those whose performance turns out to be poor are given less important roles, and those whose actions and words turn out to be very wise and visionary are selected for more important roles and assignments, even if they are not currently a part of the government establishment.

While this would be true of any government establishment, the importance of such careful and evidence based performance evaluation would be particularly high in the more sensitive government establishments such as security and foreign policy establishment.

While this would be generally true of any country, this would be particularly the case in the context of the USA whose foreign and security policy have very important implications for the entire world.

Despite this the surprising and sad reality appears to be that such honest and evidence-based performance evaluation, as well as actions based on this, have been neglected to a shocking extent in the security and foreign policy establishment of the USA. Hence we see that those who took such decisions on very important issues as the invasions of Iraq or Libya, or the eastward expansion of NATO, Ukraine coup and proxy war that turned out to be completely disastrous have  continued to enjoy very important positions of strength and even authority in the establishment. This is true not just of officials but also of collaborators of the establishment in think tanks, academics, media and elsewhere several of whom with a shameful record of saying and doing the most disastrous things have continued to receive the patronage of the establishment, sometimes on even more generous terms. At the same time those experts whose timely warnings and cautionary advice was inexplicably sidelined or ignored by the establishment despite having great merit and was subsequently proved by the actual turn of events to have been visionary and invaluable still continue to be neglected and sidelined.

At times, when taking decisions of great importance, the establishment is not interested in carefully considering all available opinion, particularly of several very learned experts whose past record of valuable and visionary opinion is well-established but who happen to be somewhat critical of the establishment and whose views differ from those of the establishment.

This could be seen, for example, clearly in the context of the decision taken in 2001 to invade Iraq. It appeared then and also in some other contexts that the establishment is just not interested in what several very well-informed experts are saying. Its decision in favor of invasion was a given fact with which it started, and then the role of the various members and collaborators of the establishment was merely to somehow justify the decision and to implement it, ignoring also all the early warning signs of the disaster-in-the-making.

Again in the case of the decision of very extensive eastward expansion of NATO and finally trying to extend this to Ukraine too, the decision was taken despite very widespread advice being received against this by several of the top diplomats and strategic experts of the country.

When the folly of such decisions becomes apparent, still those who were behind the disastrous decisions continue to enjoy power and privileges with the establishment while those who went out of their way and took risks while trying to give very timely warnings which turned out to be of great value continue to be ignored or sidelined.

In such a system rationality and evidence-based approach does not have a high chance, something which has been reflected in the US security and foreign policy establishment jumping from one disaster to another.

Instead there seems to be too much room for very powerful persons being allowed to hold on to highly distorted, misplaced policy decisions long after the immense harm caused by these has been very clearly revealed. In fact the powerful persons seem to be saying—how can I be seen to have failed or made disastrous decisions. To avoid admitting failure and mistakes, they keep on prolonging wrong policies and avoid taking remedial actions for too long. Hence the situation keeps going from bad to worse, with very high costs for the country and all too often even more so for the people who are suffering in terrible ways in various conflicts. Such highly distorted systems which increase the chances of making wrong decisions and then persisting with them for too long in the most powerful country can have the most terrible consequences for world peace and safety. This is particularly the case when many of the decision makers are known to be very close to the military industrial establishment.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.           

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