All of the President's Yes-Men - WSJ

Infighting in the White House can be a bad thing. But when advisers refuse to disagree with the president, an administration can run the...


Infighting in the White House can be a bad thing. But when advisers refuse to disagree with the president, an administration can run the risk of group thinking. The history of the US presidency has shown that it can lead to disaster. We now see how the fear of disagreement with President Biden has doomed the decision-making process for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The problem with group thinking was evident during the Vietnam War, when Lyndon B. Johnson was mostly intolerant of divergent views on Vietnam. An adviser, George Ball, was named as the internal skeptic, but that role made Ball an outcast among his colleagues. As Johnson’s aide, W. Marvin Watson, wrote of Ball: “The arguments he made – always calm but forcefully made – were, to say the least, boring to the President’s other advisers. .

And if you weren’t Ball, staying away from Johnson in Vietnam was dangerous. Johnson maintained a tight circle of advisers on Vietnam, dismissed internal dissidents, and berated those, like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who have become more skeptical of the war over time.

Johnson called McNamara’s proposal to stop the bombing in Vietnam a “charge of s—”. He suspected that McNamara was more loyal to the “Kennedys” than to him, and eventually Johnson fired him. Staff members who disagreed with Johnson’s Vietnamese policy were to meet secretly in what they called the “non-group” so that he was not privy to their conversations. If Johnson had refined his thinking with dissenting opinions, he could have reduced the 35,000 Americans who died in Vietnam under his watch, prevented the bitterness of American public opinion on Vietnam, and remained in power after 1969.

There is a historical example of an administration that fell into group thought, saw dire consequences, and turned the ship around. The Bay of Pigs debacle of 1961 happened in part because no one among John F. Kennedy’s advisers was prepared to play the devil’s advocate. As historian and Kennedy collaborator Arthur Schlesinger wrote of the decision to send ill-trained Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro, “Our meetings were held in a curious atmosphere of supposed consensus, [and] no one spoke out against it.

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Newsrust - US Top News: All of the President's Yes-Men - WSJ
All of the President's Yes-Men - WSJ
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