After Words 3/24/2007
Broadcast by C-Span
An interview of Fred Ikle about his most recent book, Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations. The theme of the book is that the government has failed to put in place useful contingency plans for events such as a nuclear bomb, biological weapon, etc. In both cases the impact of an event could be substantially mitigated by having a contingency plan in place. For biological weapons, this would cover the mass production and distribution of appropriate vaccines. For nuclear weapons, this would cover coordination with other nations on response and doctrine. Ikle fears that a nuclear detonation could cause a world war much like an assassination set off WWI.
The problem as Fred sees it is an incompetent civil service, too many people following the letter of bureaucratic code and not getting anything done. Example: Part of the reason there are so few Arabic translators is that many translators have spent time in the Middle East, either as students or visiting family. To get a security clearance someone from the FBI has to go to the country visited to investigate what was done, who the person talked to etc. Consequently, the vetting process can take years.
Ikle cites the confirmation process as the biggest roadblock to bringing in qualified people at the top. I think that is only partly right. A bigger problem is the lack of incentives. Government (if not corrupt) does not pay well. The primary motivation of good civil servants has been a sense of duty, people felt proud of their service to their fellow citizens. Nowadays high level positions are reserved for people loyal to the President personally, there is no sense of pride or responsibility independent of politics. That discourages the most duty-minded from seeking government work, and precludes their selection for high level positions. The current scandal over federal attorney firings is a prime example.
Ikle has written at least one other highly influential work, Every War Must End back in 1971. Sadly that is as relevant today as it was then.
Ikle touches on budgeting priorities, but I think Stephen Flynn has a more complete analysis on this topic.