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Bush Incorporated: A case study in irrational exuberance

PM Carpenter | July 26, 2005

Republicans used to argue that government should be run more like a business. Well, they got their wish in Bush Inc., a bunch of middle-aged white guys intent on strutting their years of private-sector experience both here and abroad. Problem is, the Bushies haven’t demonstrated an ounce of business smarts, either here or abroad - and especially abroad.

In fact, we’re the New Coke of world power. In executing a business plan of textbook witlessness, Bush Inc. rushed the product of Imperialism-Lite onto the Iraqi market with no thought as to its inherent potential or long-term cost, no marketing research to speak of, a mere assumption of consumers wanting to lap it up, and, of particularly lethal repercussions, no concept of how the competition might respond.

But the competition had its own business plan.

“They just keep getting stronger,” reported the New York Times last Sunday of Bush Inc.’s quite astute adversaries, who as far I know employ no Harvard Business School MBAs. “Despite months of assurances that their forces were on the wane, the guerrillas and terrorists battling the American-backed enterprise [in Iraq] appear to be growing more violent, more resilient and more sophisticated than ever.”

While CEO George W. Bush was prattling on about “staying the course,” which meant doing the same unproductive thing over and over, the competition regrouped at opportunistic moments and initiated new business strategies to actually create more favorable market conditions for itself.

“After concentrating their efforts for two and a half years on driving out the 138,000-plus American troops, the insurgents appear to be shifting their focus to the political and sectarian polarization of the country - apparently hoping to ignite a civil war - and to the isolation of the Iraqi government abroad,” continued the Times’s report, which could have, perhaps should have, appeared not in the international section, but the business section.

You want to stay the course? asked the competition. Fine, it answered. Stay all you want. We’ll adjust. And adjustment meant employee recruitment, investment in management training, a sharpening of distribution techniques, and a concentration on worker motivation and short-term productivity.

“We are capturing or killing a lot of insurgents,” said a senior executive of Army Ltd., a Bush Inc. subsidiary. “But they’re being replaced quicker than we can interdict their operations. There is always another insurgent ready to step up and take charge.”

The competition also understands efficient means of disrupting Bush Inc.’s attempt at horizontal integration. “The violence could overwhelm the intensive American-backed efforts now under way to draw Iraq’s Sunni Arabs into the political mainstream, leaving the community more embittered than ever and setting the stage for even more violence and possibly civil war.” Divide and conquer - a fundamental principle well learned.

The competition understands as well the proper division of labor and the best timing for spinning off subsidiaries. “American commanders believe that the rash of diplomat kidnappings came after the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi formed a cell in Baghdad specifically for abducting diplomats.”

And, of course, there’s the importance of a good publicity department in attracting human capital and knowing how to piece together a good, honest prospectus. “One other recent development in the insurgency - and a possible explanation of its ability to bring in recruits from around the Arab world - is the reach and sophistication of its public relations. Most of the main insurgent groups … regularly post updates of their exploits on the Web.”

I’ve never taken a business course, but even I can see that the competition can’t take all the credit. There are external variables in play that not every upstart enterprise can bank on, such as its adversary’s world-class ineptitude. This venture has turned out like all the ventures that CEO Bush was ever involved in - a complete and unmitigated failure. Before, there was always someone higher up to bail him out. This time he was on top; his failure had no place to go but down.

A complete listing of Bush Inc.’s miscalculations is beyond both my ken and patience. In a nutshell of cinematic metaphor, though, it’s enough to say this gang came out of the world’s executive washroom with nothing but phallic ideology in its hand. Successful Yankee know-how has always been about pragmatic means in achieving pragmatic goals. The Bushies, however, substituted an ideological whirlwind of muscle-flexing and masculine bravado.

Despite all the disappointments, there is one thing that Bush Inc. can be thankful for. Shareholders don’t normally tolerate incompetent executives simply staying the course and hoping for the best.


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