Go to previous post:
New words from an old controversy.

Go to Electrolite's front page.

Go to next post:
The end of advertecture.

Our Admirable Sponsors

April 13, 2005

What conservatism is. Fred Clark of Slacktivist is impressed by the news that Gen. Tommy Franks has been going from city to city, delivering a talk to “motivational” business seminars entitled “From the Battlefield to the Business World: Strategies that Get Results.”
Apparently, there’s a market for this.

Local business leaders have apparently been sitting around in their chambers of commerce wondering, “How can I make my business more of an insoluble quagmire?” Or “In today’s competitive marketplace, how can our company create a situation in which we can never win and never leave?” Or “My employees’ morale is at an all-time low after I lied to them into order to launch a massive campaign they now recognize as meaningless—can I force them to stay and pretend they’re happy with some kind of private-sector variation on ‘stop-loss’?” Or “Our company controls only a tiny sliver of market share, we’re completely reactive and we can’t even safely step outside our fortress-like headquarters, what’s the best way to pretend we’re actually in charge and in control?”

It’s almost too obvious to comment on, but the plain fact is that for millions of people, the idea of Gen. Franks delivering a talk on “Strategies that Get Results” doesn’t in fact produce boggled astonishment. Gen. Franks is a gruff-talking American military man; of course he’s an expert on “getting results”, no matter what kind of results he has or hasn’t actually got.

Welcome to rule by middle-aged white guys who, by definition, can do no wrong. [03:30 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on What conservatism is.:

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 03:44 PM:

Thanks. I needed the laugh.

Jerry Kindall ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 04:14 PM:

So you're saying Franks somehow managed to get promoted from 2nd Lt. to General during his thirty-six years of military service -- earning more than seventeen medals in the process -- without ever getting any results?

Or are you saying that his ability to lead should be judged only by your impression of what he's accomplished in the last few years of his career?

Either would, obviously, produce "boggled astonishment."

Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 04:22 PM:

I can't speak for Patrick here, Jerry, but I'd say that no one outside the Army had ever heard of Tommy Franks until his last job put him in the public eye, and he failed miserably at that one.

I've still got my National Defense medal from my time in the Navy; some of that stuff you get for showing up (not all, by any means, but some..."theater" medals, for example).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 05:16 PM:

I am saying that if you're going to sell yourself to the business world on the basis of your notable success on the battlefield, you should have some, yes, notable success on the battlefield.

Even the most upbeat imaginable narrative of Franks' career doesn't really offer a lot of evidence that the man has more result-getting advice to offer than innumerable other career military officers whose careers didn't culminate with one of the greatest tactical and strategic military fiascos in the history of the United States.

Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel served with distinction in many capacities prior to December 7, 1941, but if he'd followed that day's events with a national lecture tour on "My Secrets of Preparedness," there would probably have been a snicker or two.

Hal ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 05:35 PM:

Welcome to rule by middle-aged white guys who, by definition, can do no wrong.

Um, hasn't this always been the case? Did I miss something?

Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 05:48 PM:

Hal beat me to the question.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 06:05 PM:

Perhaps Patrick should have written:

"welcome BACK to rule by . . ."

. . . because to the crowd we're talking about Clinton was an exception to the can-do-no-wrong clause.

Thank goodness that long nightmare of peace and prosperity is over.

Ray Ciscon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 06:59 PM:

I think what Jerry Kendall is trying to say is that regardless of what is perceived here, there is in fact a huge market for Tommy Franks as a speaker.

The man has sold a best-selling book, "American Soldier", and according to the last election, there is a good chance that at least half the country thinks he is capable of, and in fact has done a good job.

Iraq has had a democratic election, they are working on a secular Constitution that will guarantee rights to women, and peace and democracy are threatening to break out all over the middle-east... yet some still choose to perceive the situation as a 'quagmire'.

We live within the worldview of our own creation.

I for one wouldn't mind hearing Tommy Franks talk about his experiences in the U.S. Military... I just don't think I'd pay to hear it though. :-)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 07:23 PM:

Wow, I see the baloney truck just arrived.

Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 07:44 PM:

What I object to in the line Jerry pursues is his apparent view that we should not judge leaders by what they do at the times of greatest pressure and responsibility. Rather, when the consequences are much more important, their decisions are magnified, for better and for worse. Iraq is not an aberration in the general's career; it is the essence of his leadership.

What I object to in the line Ray pursues is his apparent view that only partisan Republicans really understand Iraq and the awesome power of this fully operational general. Forgive me, Ray, for remaining in my own worldview; never the twain shall meet.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 07:48 PM:

Remember when Japan, Inc., lectured us all on how to run a high-tech economy?

My experience from 20 years working in the belly of the beast, a.k.a. the Aerospace Industry a.k.a. The Revolving Door a.k.a. The Military-Industrial Complex:

Management, including Generals, fail upwards. What the outsider sees as grotesque failure is seen internally as a basis for increased funding. Throw more money at it. Throw more troops at it. I've seen top managers hideously botch a thousand-person million-page ten-million-dollar Proposal for a billion dollar DOD project. I've seen that manager be promoted, on the basis of: "he did have 1000 people working under him, and has contacts high in DOD."

I think highly of the sooon-to-be-confirmed new NASA Administrator (has Ph.D., known the technology, managed successful projects embedded in the vast political hoax called SDI). Yet it irked me that top NASA brass (The Administrator included) used to tour legislatures and Fortune 100 corporations to teach principles of modern management. Of course, that's before it was established that the core competence of NASA is in killing astronauts in batches of 7. As they will again, fairly soon.

Daffy Duck: "Batten down the hatches."

Porky Pig: "They've already been battened down."

Daffy Duck: "Well, batten them down again. We'll show those hatches!"

Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 08:45 PM:

Ray Ciscon posted: they are working on a secular Constitution that will guarantee rights to women...

Under Saddam "Satan" Hussein, the well-known evil dictator, the Iraqis HAD a constitution that guaranteed rights to women ... and women actually exercised those rights; Iraq was the most middle-class country in the Arab world, not least because its women were educated and working. Now they're "working on" this, while rabid fanatics make it impossible for women to even leave their homes without a male escort. Kinda makes you wonder whether deposing an evil dictator was even worth it ... or it would make you wonder, if you were capable of coherent thought.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2005, 09:09 PM:

Looking at Gen. Franks' record (and admitting that I served under (and way under) his command twice) I'd have to say the skills being sold are not what I'd be pitching.

His work in Desert Storm (the Left Hook only those with some semblance of tactics expected. To hear Blizter tell it, it was the most striking thing since Schlieffen swept through the Low Countries, to the rest of us [and I wasn't in yet] it was painfully obvious, but then again that may have been me. I called the invasion before the deadline passed, some three weeks before it took place, by looking at the phase of the moon), was pretty good.

His work at Tradoc, shaping the Training and Doctrine of the Army was pretty good.

His work as CentCom commander was very good. That's the part of his career which needs the most focus, the years he spent with more power than a Roman Conul and Tribune Combined. Working a strange blend of diplomacy, without portfolio, but with huge budget and vast discretion in how to use it to attain not only the ends of the nation, but the ability to create his own ends (the various Com Commanders are amazingly powerful people) ought to be looked at.

The outcome of the present Messinpotamia isn't something I am willing to lay at his feet, entirely. He was hamstrung by both the stupid prognostications of his bosses, and the speed with which they pulled him out of being in charge. Yeah, he might have done some of it better (and he ought to have demanded some things which either weren't requested, or for which he wasn't willing to go to the mat; for those he deserves full blame).

Perusing his awards, the plentitude of Purple Hearts, and the Air Medals he gor for being an airborne FO, those are worthy of note. To give real credit for the rest, I'd have to read the citations. In, and of themselves, most medals don't mean much. One has to be able to put them in context (someone below the rank of E-7/Sergeant First Class, with a Legion of Merit, that speaks volumes, someone above the rank of Colonel having one can mean about the same as an E-4/Speecialist with an Army Commendation Medal).


PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 12:56 AM:

I'll have to remember to frame the Iraqi war in business terms the next time I talk to some of my more conservative friends and family.

That said, I'm kinda curious as to how much power General Franks has over a situation when the President informs him we are going to war. Does Donald Rumsfeld override Gen. Franks in terms of strategy advisement? Does Gen. Franks get to lay out the majority of the strategy and tactics? Can he put a kibosh on the whole enterprise if he thinks it is ill-advised? Please bear with me--I'm not very well-informed as to how chain of command works. I can tell it has broken down heavily during this war, if Abu Ghraib is anything to go by, but I still know very little.

Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 07:08 AM:

PiscusFiche says: That said, I'm kinda curious as to how much power General Franks has over a situation when...

Assuming you can bear up under the incredibly tedious writing (I confess, I could only get 1/2 way through the book), all your questions (well, most) will be answered by reading Woodward's Plan of Attack. A lot of time is spent on the relationship b/w Franks & Rumsfeld.

Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 08:59 AM:

I love the winger logic: Women in Burkas and Taliban regrouping = Democracy breaking out.

And why is a secular Government good for them, but not for us, I wonder?

Anyway, it's good to see Tommy Franks has taken the old Military strategy known as FUBAR and shown us how a career soldier can make it work for them.

lightning ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 10:57 AM:

I'll have to remember to frame the Iraqi war in business terms ...

But the Iraq war is a prime example of how business works! Everybody has had this conversation at one time or another:

Boss: The schedule's fine, but you can't have the resources.

You: Without the resources, it'll fail miserably.

Boss: Do it! And to the schedule you signed on to.

You: But the schedule assumes the resources.

Boss: Do it anyway. Remember, we pay you for results.

You: It'll be a disaster!

Boss: We don't like quitters and whiners in this organization.


In business, you will usually go ahead and walk off the cliff. I would expect an "ethical" general in this situation to resign. Note that this is an option only at the top levels of the military -- below that, you follow orders even if you don't like them.

Jerry Kindall ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 03:03 PM:

My point was, the idea that Franks wouldn't have anything worthwhile to say to businesspeople is shortsighted. Any man who has reached the rank of general knows lots of things about getting things done and has undoubtedly developed strategies for leadership worth listening to and considering. That's true whether you think Iraq is a disaster or not, and obviously, a lot of people don't.

PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 05:38 PM:

Thanks for the recommendation, Michael. I'll have to see if I can look it up somewhere.

Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 06:52 PM:

Jerry, any man (or woman) who has reached general/admiral knows how to get things done with people who are not able to refuse to do them.

That's not the same as civilian leadership.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 07:20 PM:

Department of Defense parallel to Department of Desire?

What distinguishes the genre of pornography is that it is set in an alternate universe where people have evolved to never be able to say no for very long, and are predisposed to do whatever asked, with no apparent fear of consequences.

The parallel to the worldview of a high-ranking General or Admiral desrves to be pointed out, but should not need elaboration.

A battle plan is the first casualty of the encounter with the enemy. Romantic fantasies are the first casualty of sustained contact with the beloved.

By all means (pace Ms. Dworkin) read pr0n -- but don't expect great literature (granting exceptions such as Nin, Cleland, and Silverberg). Similarly, be willing to hear Gen. Tommy Franks delivering a talk on Strategies -- but don't expect those strategies to work in your universe any more than using a pickup line from a novel will get you laid.

OTOH: “From the Battlefield to the Business World: Strategies that Get Results” doesn't say what KIND of results. The USA is certainly getting some kind of results. Just not what a majority of Americans desire.

Lois Aleta Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 07:38 PM:

What Lightning said reminded me of this headline I just saw : Bush Defends Embattled DeLay, Calls Him Effective.

This is what we get with an MBA President. (Note that I didn't say, "when we elected an MBA President.") Ethical? No. Effective? Yes. That's all that matters.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 07:47 PM:

lightning: \some/ businesses don't work that way. Up The Organization has a quote from Napoleon about resigning rather than follow orders that will be disastrous, with brackets converting the military ranks to management; from everything I've read, Townsend practiced what he preached. But I have no idea how commonly the better way is practiced rather than preached; one of the few people I have heard use "Theory Y" in conversation is happy to resort to bullying if he doesn't get his way.

Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2005, 08:01 PM:

lightning's dialog above misses one thing, in a business environment, when faced with a project and no resources, the clever manager goes out and plays Tom Sawyer, getting others in the org to buy in and commit their resources based on the (perceived) benenfit their own group will derive. That's what I've done in every job I've ever had.

I don't know anything about a military environment because (thankfully) there hasn't been a crisis severe enough to either draft me or cause me to volunteer. That said, I imagine that the beg, borrow or steal to resource your project model stands in the military as well as in the private sector.

Translating military strategy into business strategy has a strong popular ring (every now and again Sun-Tzu comes back into vogue) but I don't see it. And General Franks is not the one I'd be calling on to build that particular bridge.


Lois - I'd accept the MBA president snark if Bush really did anything to earn the degree except be well connected.

I earned my MBA, and I think of myself as a pretty ethical guy. My MBA peer set (as defined by my co-workers and classmates) contains proportions of arrogant a-holes and fine, ethical and upstanding people in approximately the same proportion as the general population. We're not all bit characters from Wall Street, although I wouldn't mind having the big mop of well-coiffed hair that I could slick back.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 02:05 PM:

Lois, I don't actually think that Bush's defense of DeLay means much about Bush as an MBA. I see it more as an example of how the American right still subscribes (perhaps without consciously knowing it) to the Calvinist Doctrine of Election.

Bush's defense of DeLay (or of whichever Republican happens to be facing criticism this week) is to simply assert that he is a good or successful person, that he has the signs of being among the Elect, and that he's therefore favored by God no matter what actual deeds he may have done.

Not that these two ideas (Bush-as-Calvinist and Bush-as-MBA) are utterly disconnected. Part of the point of the Doctrines of Election, Irresistible Grace, etc, is to buttress the notion that the anything successful businessmen do is right, and anything done to reign in the excesses of successful businessmen is wrong.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 02:32 PM:

Antinomianism rears its ugly head again. Haven't we had this conversation?

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 03:35 PM:

Things that make me go hmmm ...
When Rummy was under fire with the "army that you have" comment, Bush defended him with "he has a good heart." (Coz Bush can see into people's hearts, donchaknow)
When Delay is under fire for, well, having a black heart, Bush defends him as being effective.

Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 06:51 PM:

It's of a piece with admiring leaders for their sincerity ("Once you can fake that....") and passion, irrespective of what they're sincere and passionate _about_.

As to Franks' competence over his career: maybe he has got results, or just kept his nose clean and been a good soldier. In either event, the reason he's being paid to give motivational speeches is that he got famous during the recent adventure in Iraq, during which a good number of people (and a number of good people) believe that he displayed a notable lack of competence.

I'm beginning to think that maybe there _should_ be a draft, if only to get more Americans to stop idolising the military and to teach them how to hate generals.

Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 07:55 PM:

JVP, Andrea Dworkin is certainly at peace, since she died last week.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2005, 10:03 PM:


I'd rather hoped that everyone knew that, from obituaries in major media (L.A. Times, New York Times, BBC, etc.). Although I did not agree with her, I respected the intensity of her convictions and the clarity with which she presented them.

Apparently, there are rapists and killers addicted to porn, but I don't buy into the slippery slope argument that porn causes violence against women (or men), any more than that pot leads to heroin addiction, or violent videogames lead to fatally shooting schoolmates.

OTOH, I have insisted in this and Making Light that Science Fiction led to the actual Space Program...

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 02:16 PM:

I merely note in passing that the title of said seminars merely promises results. It doesn't say what SORT of results.


Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 03:10 PM:

Mary Kay:

Or "what KIND of results" as I posted two days ago. Was the early part of my posting too offensive to get past? In which case, I apologize. But we did have the same spontaneous skeptical response, which is promising.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 07:08 PM:

I kind of spaced out on following this thread, but I do want to point out that Jerry Kindall's claim that

Any man who has reached the rank of general knows lots of things about getting things done and has undoubtedly developed strategies for leadership worth listening to and considering
is kind of one of the core tenets of conservatism. If you make it up the greasy pole, it must mean you're virtuous.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2005, 09:32 PM:


In the decades where I worked on contracts for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, I had numerous interactions with generals of various ranks, and with their subordinates, such as Colonels. In my estimation, some of the most genuinely virtuous people I worked with were Colonels, some of whom had responsibility over a billion dollars worth of equipment. Again and again I met a Colonel who admitted that they had zero chance of ever being promoted to General, despite their extraordinary accomplishments, because of purely political matters. Again and again there was some General promoted because of a combination of the Colonel's merit, and the General's connections, golf buddies, and church buddies. I shall never mention specific names, as much of this was told to me in confidence. But I deeply agree with your "greasy pole" ananlogy.