The One Percent Doctrine
Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
The following is the beginning of an article that can be found in its entirety at VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com
Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine is not a good book. It’s a Washington book. There’s a big difference.
Washington books are a genre that started, I think, about 50 years ago with Alan Drury’s Advise And Consent. Drury’s work was a novel and, if memory serves, some other novels followed in its train. Then, in the 1970s and ’80s, the Washington book morphed into the kind of works written by Bob Woodward, books that tell you in excruciating dull detail more about everything than you want to know about anything. Washington books became a kind of who shot John work detailing that at 9 a.m. Ted told X to Paul, who at 9:15 relayed it to Sam but changed it slightly when doing so, with Sam then telling the undersecretary who immediately ordered an airplane to fuel up and then got on the plane with General Smashskull, who was for taking out Mr. Z as soon as possible, but the plane returned to the tarmac before taking off because the Secretary herself had heard incorrectly that General Smashskull was a good friend of Z’s and would protect him, and by the time all this was straightened out Z had escaped to Swaziland, where a green 1993 Land Rover was waiting to take him to the molybdenum mine where he secretly met with Ted’s undercover agent Yabbadabba, who later took a slow freighter back to Baltimore where Sam, having uncovered Ted’s duplicity, had three counter-counter agents waiting to -- well, you get the point.
Being a Washington book, the points Suskind wishes to make are not always crystalline, because they are spread here and there in the book and the writing is sometimes sort of wiseacreish or smart mouthed or patois-like rather than straight on. (I really don’t know how to accurately describe the style of writing: wiseacreish and smart mouthed and patois-like are not exactly accurate but are the best I can do.) And sometimes, as best I can tell, Suskind seems to be discussing the same events hundreds of pages apart without being entirely clear that they are the same events. Even so, however, he does make many points that I wish to summarize here because this writer finds them particularly important, or because they are new, or because they seem to be at risk of being overlooked in all the other “noise” that permeates Suskind’s pages, or because they confirm somewhat unusual thoughts this writer himself has put forth from time to time. (Scores or hundreds of other points are not summarized here, sometimes because they have been extensively discussed elsewhere (e.g., the failure of cooperation between the FBI and CIA).)
Suskind repeatedly says that a governing principle of the Bush administration, a principle pushed extensively by Cheney, is that if there is a one percent chance that terrorists or enemies may try something, then we must act as if it is a certainty. (Pp. 62, 81, 166, 170, 214.) This frees Bush et al. from having to assess competing evidence. It frees them indeed from even having to act on evidence as opposed to suspicion or hunch, since there is always a one percent chance of almost anything. This freedom from evidence is a freedom Bush seeks. (Pp. 62, 81, 170, 214, 225-226, 308.) As well, it helps elide a major Bush weakness -- ineptitude at analysis (sometimes called stupidity by mean people like this writer) -- and enables Bush to act on the basis of his gut and the (religion inspired) attitude with which he is comfortable. (P. 308.) Persons who are old fashioned, i.e., who believe in analyzing competing pieces of evidence, and in acting on evidence as opposed to emotion (like the CIA), find that their reports are not read, that their oral views are ignored, and that they are excluded from the inner circle. (P. 308.) Although lots of evidence-oriented people in government haven’t understood the point, Bush doesn’t want to hear rational analysis of competing pieces of evidence, because this just confuses him and undercuts the certitude with which he wishes to act.
We are, one would say, in the hands of people whose thinking is preenlightenment, is a throwback to medieval religious certitude instead of being evidence-based. This does not, of course, distinguish us from enemies like Islamic fundamentalists -- the bin Ladens, Imams, and Wahabists.
This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at email@example.com. Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.
Articles may be quoted or republished in full with attribution
to the author and harvardsquarecommentary.org.