"Facts are stupid things," President Ronald Reagan said in a famous self-parodying moment. (He'd meant to say "facts are stubborn things.") At the time, a common criticism of the Reagan presidency was that the Gipper tended to ignore facts and act instead according to the dictates of ideology. Since then, sentimental revisionists have come to praise Reagan for paying facts little heed.
Although it flatters President George W. Bush to suggest he possesses anything so grand as an ideology, Dubya emulates the Reagan technique. But he's advanced it one bold step further. Rather than simply ignore information, Bush and his minions have resolved to suppress it or, better yet, to prevent it from being created in the first place. The following three examples illustrate Bush's unique contribution to the war against empiricism, which continues to escalate.
The Pentagon Spanking. In the January/February issue of the Atlantic, James Fallows reported that in May 2002 the Central Intelligence Agency began a series of war games aimed at predicting conditions in Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. This was, in light of the chaos that later descended on Iraq after the United States victory, a very wise thing to do. Citing "a person familiar with the process," Fallows wrote,
[O]ne recurring theme in the exercises was the risk of civil disorder after the fall of Baghdad. ... The CIA ... considered whether a new Iraqi government could be put together through a process like the Bonn conference, which was then being used to devise a post-Taliban regime for Afghanistan. At the Bonn conference representatives of rival political and ethic groups agreed on the terms that established Hamid Karzai as the new Afghan President. The CIA believed that rivalries in Iraq were so deep, and the political culture so shallow, that a similarly quick transfer of sovereignty would only invite chaos.
This analysis turned out to be correct. One year after the invasion, Iraq is not yet self-governing. Back in May 2002, though, the Pentagon took a very dim view of the CIA war games:
Representatives from the Defense Department were among those who participated in the first of these CIA war-game sessions. When their Pentagon superiors at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) found out about this, in early summer, the representatives were reprimanded and told not to participate further. "OSD" is Washington shorthand, used frequently in discussions about the origins of Iraq war plans, and it usually refers to strong guidance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, [Deputy Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz, [Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas] Feith, and one of Feith's deputies, William Luti. Their displeasure over the CIA exercise was an early illustration of a view that became stronger throughout 2002: that postwar planning was an impediment to war.
Because detailed thought about the postwar situation meant facing costs and potential problems, and thus weakened the case for launching a "war of choice" (the Washington term for a war not waged in immediate self-defense), it could be seen as an "antiwar" undertaking.
Back in the Reagan era, Defense Department employees would likely have been permitted to participate in such an exercise; if what they learned from it displeased Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, he would have simply ignored it. In the Bush administration, though, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon boldly declared it unpatriotic merely to know how the war games turned out.
The Medicare Lockdown. In a recent series of articles for Knight-Ridder, Tony Pugh reported that Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster, was ordered last June by Medicare administrator Tom Scully not to share with members of Congress his estimate that the then-pending Medicare drug bill would cost $156 billion more than they'd been led to believe. (After Congress passed the bill, the White House budget office revised its formal estimate by $139 billion.) According to Foster, Scully threatened to fire him if he showed his cost estimate to anyone in Congress. Foster considered resigning in protest.
Scully, now a health care lobbyist in the Washington office of the law firm Alston & Bird, told Pugh that he'd stopped Foster only on one specific Democratic request that was blatantly political in nature. Otherwise, he said,
I don't think he ever felt—I don't think anybody [in the actuary's office] ever felt—that I restricted access. ... I think it's a very nice tradition that [the actuary] is perceived to be very nonpartisan and very accessible, and I continued that tradition.