There are good bureaucracies and there are bad bureaucracies, but they all share at least one thing: Parkinson’s Law. They will expand over time, regardless of the workload.
NATO was always a good bureaucracy, at least during the Cold War. Designed to keep the Russians out, the U.S. in, and the Germans down, it served its purpose, was efficient and well respected by both the Russians and west Europeans
I had dinner in Paris on New Year’s Eve with Joe Harriss, the Spectator’s man in Europe, and despite our wives’ best efforts the conversation turned to European security and, eventually, to NATO (what else would you talk about on New Year’s Eve in Paris?). Harriss, a seasoned and well-connected foreign correspondent (he is a former European correspondent for Time magazine and later Reader’s Digest), thought it was time for a serious piece on NATO, its lack of mission and its burgeoning bureaucracy. The result? A glass-shattering article, far ahead of the media curve, on one of the West’s most sacred cows. The sort of thing The American Spectator does best.
With the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 and with it the threat of Soviet tanks breaking through the Fulda Gap, NATO has spent the past 20 years floundering about, looking for a mission and, not to let Cyril Northcote Parkinson down, reconstituting itself as a huge and incoherent bureaucracy. Not least among its efforts is the construction of a new headquarters in Brussels, one of the largest and priciest buildings in Europe. As they say in the corporate world, when a CEO starts to build himself a fancy new shrine, it’s time to short the stock.
NATO, Harriss explains, has been in an existential crisis for the past 20 years, desperately looking for something to occupy the time of its thousands of bureaucrats and some use for its untold billion-dollar budget. The result is a “global, pro-active, security, crisis management, peacekeeping and humanitarian organization able to commit Americans to fighting and dying in any hotspot on the planet.” With U.S. taxpayers footing much of the bill, NATO may be just what Washington’s new budget-cutters are looking for.
Moving on, I am beginning to conclude that there are no perfect politicians to run against Obama in 2012. In another of our profiles of potential GOP presidential candidates, readers will find this month’s timely piece on Mississippi governor Haley Barbour instructive. Washington insider, political operative, former chairman of the RNC, governor, and good old boy from Mississippi, Barbour would bring a strong dose of Washington professionalism to the race. Our reporter Philip Klein spent a couple of hours with Barbour, and spoke with lots of his friends and critics to find him surprisingly wonky-but in a pragmatic rather than ideological sense. At best, Klein concludes, Barbour is a competent full-spectrum conservative who is an experienced and effective manager and who will be good at using his Washington know-how to push conservative policies through Congress. But at worst, his white Southern background and lobbying ties will be the sort of fodder the Obama-adoring media will devour. And if elected, he could prove to be a Bush-style crony capitalist who is willing to sacrifice limited government principles when they conflict with big business.
One thing about Barbour is certain: he is one of the most affable, nicest people in politics. Not only does he have no bad words for others, it’s hard to find anybody (except those media types) who will say a bad word about him. For all the criticism he’s sure to get, he’ll just fight back with a smile and a good dose of down-home Southern humor. For that, he’ll be a welcome addition to the national scene.