The price of arrogance: Steve Bannon and the best and the brightest

On the day after Christmas, Marc Tracy ran into Steve Bannon in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Bannon was reading David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest which documents the Kennedy administration’s failings leading to the Vietnam War. Tracy writes: If “The Best and the Brightest” is a brief against the East Coast meritocracy, though, its proposed alternative is not pure ideology. It is expertise.

Time and again, in Mr. Halberstam’s telling, lower-level government officials who understood Vietnamese politics, sentiments and even geography assessed reality accurately and offered correct policy recommendations to the major characters — who shunted them aside.

In early 1964, for instance, a State Department study concluded that bombing North Vietnam to reach a favorable political settlement would fail. The finding “reflected the genuine expertise of the government from deep within its bowels,” Mr. Halberstam writes. But the higher-ups favored bombing, and so there was bombing. (Which failed.)

“You’ve got these guys that are so brilliant, but they’re generalists,” said Mr. Logevall. “There’s a distinction to be drawn, he concludes, between this abstract quickness, this verbal facility, and true wisdom, which he says was missing.”

Such a reading prompts thought of the more than 1,000 State Department employees who signed a dissent cable opposing the immigration executive order — an order that, according to reports, was written by Mr. Bannon and the Trump adviser Stephen Miller, neither of whom are counterterrorism experts (or lawyers).

In this light, Mr. Bannon seems less a repudiation than a reincarnation of the tragic protagonists of “The Best and the Brightest.” [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email