A curious thing happens when conservatives are elected President of the United States -- particularly if they have the temerity to govern as conservatives: Non-trivial numbers of federal civil servants oppose the President's agenda and work to scupper it through quiet obstructionism, anonymous but highly critical press leaks and, on occasion, public disagreements over policy and programs.
Rarely has this phenomenon been more evident than in the run-up to and aftermath of the Mr. Bush's decision to liberate Iraq. In particular, the past few weeks have seen a number of present and recently retired government employees coming forth to castigate the President and his national security team. The charge: selective utilization and willful distortion of intelligence about the nature and the imminence of the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States.
This gives rise to the perception, at best, of an incoherent, if not incompetent, presidency. At worst, it strengthens the hand of other critics -- in Congress, presidential candidates, the media and the public at large -- who cite the Administration's own personnel in making their attacks on the President's integrity and judgment.
This sort of thing seems to happen much less when Democrats are in charge of the executive branch. At least in part, that fact is attributable to a profound difference between the parties: Governing is an avocation for Democratic partisans. Their Republican counterparts tend to view it as a public duty, to be performed only as an interlude in a career otherwise spent in the private sector.
Democrats consequently fare better when it comes to staffing administrations -- under GOP as well as Democratic presidents. This is so, not least, because the latter often make a concerted effort to convert political appointees into career civil servants who then "burrow" into the permanent bureaucracy. When GOP political appointees take over, as they did in the months after Bill Clinton left office, they often find themselves saddled with individuals of a profoundly different ideological stripe who hold senior staff positions and who, under civil service rules, cannot be easily displaced.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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