Random Thoughts

Posted on September 7, 2013 by


Actually I have two topics, one more important and the other just an illustration of how bureaucractic organizations can become pathological or dysfunctional.  So let’s begin with Syria.  My colleague Mark Smith enumerated well the various issues and positions on the question of whether we should use force against Assad’s ruling regime.  It is indeed quite a complicated question.  Like Dr. Smith, I do not pretend to have a definitive answer either.  However, in light of a couple of recent developments I would at least like to add another element to the debate.  Thomas Mullen of the Washington Times of September 6 has asked whether it was really Assad’s regime that gassed Syrian citizens.  This sounds like conspiracy theory at first glance, Mullen has some points.  For example, it is a simple fact that the attacks have not been proven. The attacks have not been confirmed by anyone–apparently.  UN weapons inspectors have not yet confirmed anything.  Mullen reports in addition that there is “strong suspicion that it was the rebels, not Assad” who perpetrated the attack, if in fact there was a real attack.  Once again, I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but at the same time, if there has been no independent confirmation, or at least no publicly reported one, then we must exercise caution.  

Moreover, as Mullen points out, though President Obama insists that an attack occurred and that the Assad regime was the perpetrator, he will not share his evidence.  Why would the president not share such supposedly incontrovertible evidence if he wishes to garner support?  Is it that he has no evidence?  I don’t know.  But it ought to give us pause.

Finally, the motive for an Assad attack seems a mystery.  Why would he sanction such an attack when he is already in such a tenuous situation?  The victims were no threat, they did not present any strategic value, and Assad has allowed inspectors a free hand in Syria.  Assad, if he did order the attack, committed political suicide–possibly–unless he simply gambled that no action would be taken.

I have no conclusive answers.  But I urge no rush to judgment, especially in this situation, where to support the rebels is also to support Islamic radicals and potentially open Syria to a new Islamic “republic.”  

My second random thought is about the Washington, DC city government.  Recently I published a blog on microcosms of life in DC.  Here is another good one I think.  My wife and I were driving back from Alexandria on a Saturday afternoon about 4 PM.  Traffic was heavy but buzzing along.  Suddenly everything came to a halt and then crawled along for about half and hour.  We thought of course that there had been an accident ahead.  Traffic inched along.  When we arrived at the “scene” what did we see?  Workmen had totally blocked two of the three lanes of I-395 to paint the interstate symbols over.  At 4 PM on a busy Saturday.  Couldn’t this have been done at night?  It could have.  But one thing you will often find over time is that bureaucratic agencies tend to see their jobs less and less in terms of the client and more and more in terms of the employees.  This problem is not confined to DC, but the example here is a microcosm of typical bureaucratic service.  Then again, maybe I’m just a crank.

My thoughts for today, for what they are worth.