Pffiner’s case study, “The War on Iraq,” is a concise explanation of how the Bush administration made the decision to initiate a war against Saddam Hussein. Given that the daily news remains focused on the complexities and casualties of this war, one might think that the background and specifics of this case are well known; however, such an assumption would be erroneous.
As the introduction to the case makes clear, the roles of the stakeholders in deciding a course of action, their relationships with one another, and the various historical and political issues exerting influence over their decisions were “hardly neat or clear cut” (p. 203). Beyond the failure to identify their respective roles and responsibilities, the numerous parties who participated in the planning and implementation of this decision also overstepped boundaries and committed ethical violations that contributed to an ongoing public administration dilemma with serious repercussions. While understanding the nuances of this case will not solve the present crisis, its lessons may help prevent future public administration disasters.
First, it is important to understand who, exactly, the stakeholders were. In addition to the members of the executive branch of the federal government, military officials, national intelligence agencies, foreign service officers, and international organizations including the United Nations all had an opinion and a role to play in the planning and implementation of the decision to go to war. It is important to point out that there were significant differences of opinion and degrees of influence among these disparate groups, and even within the groups themselves. While many of President Bush’s Cabinet members were hawkish and eager for war, others were cautious and openly advised the President against a declaration. The reasons for their divergent opinions were as diverse as the number of stakeholders themselves, but those who advocated an active and aggressive policy against Iraq all had ties, in one way or another, to the first Bush administration, and they argued that “the decision not to remove Saddam Hussein [in the early 1990s] was a profound mistake” (p. 204). The hawks did not want to make the same “mistake” twice.
On the other side were those stakeholders who advocated a more cautious and studied approach. Many did not understand why the President conflated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 with a renewed pursuit of Saddam Hussein; their puzzlement was compounded when a United Nations’ inspection team found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, which was another way that Bush and his supporters attempted to justify the war. Among those opposed to attacking Iraq were Colin Powell and a number of other high-ranking military officials and intelligence analysts who had found little tangible evidence that could support the administration’s claims against Iraq. Nonetheless, with the support of yet another group of stakeholders, the members of Congress, a war resolution was passed. Democrats who might otherwise have been opposed to the war, and many of whom are now renouncing their support of the resolution, nonetheless voted in favor of the war because of their “fear that a negative vote could be used against them in the upcoming elections” (p. 206).
Those stakeholders who were most intimately involved in the implementation and execution of the plan to go to war exhibited clouded judgment and questionable ethics throughout both processes. The President himself did not announce the war plan to the American public until four months after the decision was made. Once the announcement went public, the rhetoric used to build up and justify the war was astonishingly effective; Pfiffner reports that the results of a Time/CNN poll indicated that 78% of the respondents believed that Saddam Hussein had been involved in the 2001 terrorist attacks. Even when the evidence of two independent investigation teams substantiated that Iraq had neither been involved in the terrorist attacks nor had weapons of mass destruction, the administration did not retract its claims. Similarly, when the CIA produced an administration-requested intelligence report on the threat level posed by Iraq, the Vice-President and his advisers repeatedly pressured analysts to change both their data and their conclusions in order to support the administration’s position. When the analysts refused to do so, Secretary Rumsfeld created an Office of Special Plans to circumvent the established institutions of intelligence.
While all of these ethical matters are troubling, the administration made other serious blunders. Rushing into war, there was a failure to plan for the impact of the invasion upon the infrastructure and psyche of the Iraqi people. Bombing and the widespread looting that followed it caused certain utilities and services to be severely compromised; in addition, ancient cultural treasures were lost, some forever. As those who opposed the war resolution predicted, there were three significant outcomes of the war decision: (1) resources, both human and economic, from the “real” war on terrorism were diverted to fight the war in Iraq; (2) other nations in the Middle East and throughout the rest of the world were alienated by the hostile U.S. foreign policy; and, (3) a backlash of extremism was spawned in the Middle East. All of these outcomes might have been avoided had another set of alternatives been identified and pursued.
As Pfiffner explains the background to the current war in Iraq, public administrators only
identified two possible policies; one was a disengaged diplomacy, while the other was an aggressive, all-out war. Perhaps, though, there might have been other alternatives that were never considered. The most responsible course of administrative action was never taken because the administration rushed into its decision. It would have been more prudent to have directed concentrated resources and efforts to fighting the war in Afghanistan and then, later, if necessary, addressing Iraq. All of the available evidence suggests that despite the human rights abuses Hussein perpetrated against his own citizens, the threat posed by Iraq to the United States was exaggerated, and there was no clear reason to fight two wars simultaneously.
Those in the positions of decision-making power, however, were acting too quickly based on historical motives. Advocates of Bush’s plan wanted to finish what his father had started more than ten years earlier. Indeed, many of the younger Bush’s advisers had been in the elder Bush’s inner circle, which raises ethical concerns about what is identified as the key issue in Pfiffner’s case study: “the vital role political appointees play… both in setting policy and in carrying it out” (p. 202). Clearly, there were numerous conflicts of interest at play in the decision to initiate a war against Iraq. Rather than rely upon the studied assessments of professionals and experts, however, the administration made a grave decision with high-stakes domestic and international consequences by relying upon its own emotions and motivations.
At present, the future of the ongoing war is in question, with members of Congress debating whether they will approve additional funding and troops to fight a war that is being compared to Vietnam with increasing frequency (Raum, 2007). It is unlikely that the President will learn any important lessons from an analysis such as Pfiffner’s; indeed, the President still believes the war in Iraq to be justified (Watson, 2007). Nonetheless, it is possible, if one can set his or her politics aside, to glean some insights into the public administration process, for Pfiffner’s case study of the war on Iraq is a study on the opportunities and dangers of governmental and organizational decision making in general. No one would argue that the job of making such significant decisions is an easy one. However, with a clearly articulated set of principles, values, and measures for planning, implementing, and evaluating outcomes, it is possible to make the process of making serious decisions, if not easier, then at least more transparent to all of the people that the decision will affect (Denhardt, 2003).
As a public administrator, it is crucial to recognize that one’s decisions affect a large number and a wide range of individuals, and the decisions made can literally mean the difference between life and death. In a democracy, the citizens entrust their individual decision-making powers to a representative body, and there is the assumption that decisions will be arrived at by thoughtful, deliberate processes with the intention of advancing national interests. In the case of the war on Iraq, such a contract of trust was broken. There were other options available to President Bush and his war-favoring advisers. A more effective administrator would have seen that one viable alternative would have been waiting to take action in Iraq until more evidence was gathered and until the war in Afghanistan had been completed. There were no real time constraints pressuring the decision makers, other than the imaginary timeframe they imposed upon the decision and its implementation. This alternative was not chosen, however, because it did not fit the underlying motives of the most powerful decision-makers. The ethical sequelae were severe, and the nation, as well as the world at large, will be dealing with the consequences of the decision for many years to come.
Denhardt, R.B. (2003). Theories of public organization. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth
Pfiffner, J. ( ).
Raum, T. (2007, January 28). Iraq War still being compared to Vietnam, as the war in Iraq
drags on, comparisons with the war in Vietnam grow. CBS News. Retrieved on
February 10, 2007, from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/01/25/ap/politics/ main D8MSEFVG0. shtml.
Watson, I. (2007, January 23). Bush set to focus on home front. BBC News. Retrieved on
February 10, 2007, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6290927.stm.