A reanalysis of the eleventh draft of the working document
Cobweb, by Stephen Bury. Stephen Bury is a pseudonym for Neal Stephenson and his uncle, George F. Jewsbury. Very nonscience fictional, compared to other Stephenson works. An alternative history of the months prior to Gulf War 1, it concerns an Iowan deputy sheriff uncovering the possibility that the Iraqis may have infiltrated the University for nefarious research purposes. Despite various aspects of the government also discovering the plot, action is stymied.
The first selecting explains cobwebbing: covering your own ass by bogging down others with mindless procedural details. In other words, forming a committee.
August 1 was not a good day for James Gabot Millikin. Saddam Hussein was marching into Kuwait. Millikin was being clobbered. All of the geopolitical brilliance he had expended in the service of his country was for naught. First he had been tripped up internally by a GS-11 who should have been shot for disrupting the elegance of his carefully laid out policy scenario, and then externally by the imbecilic actions of Saddam Hussein, who had not played the role he should have played.
...As he laid out the national-security arrangements for the President's vacation, he knew that his middle-eastern scenario had failed. The question now was how to change policies in midstream without getting wet, how to find someone to blame for the debacle....it was apparent he had to do something to maintain his high ground....As he gazed over the top of his workstation out the window at the White House, it suddenly struck him what his salvation would be.
It was at moments like this that Milliken always felt a certain sense of satisfaction and renewed self-esteem. He drafted a National Security Council Decision Directive setting up an interagency task force....They would start work immediately, in Kenebunkport. He typed it up for that morning's meeting. He knew that it would be approved without question. If American boys were going to die, the administration had better look as if it at least knew there was a danger. If they died, Millikan looked good, because he'd been on top of it from the beginning. If they didn't die, Millikan looked good, because his task force could claim the credit.
Later, in an Iowa coffee shop, Hennessey is explaining how this affects Clyde.
"Your problem with this Iraq thing is that you've got tangled up, unwittingly, with people who long ago decided it wasn't sophisticated to be sincere, that sincerity was for fools, that sincere people were put on earth to be manipulated and exploited by people like them -- for the greater good, of course. This is currently the most common character flaw in the Washington establishment -- atempts to be Machiavellian by people who lack the talent, the panache, to pull it off. So here you are, good old Clyde Banks, desperately trying to deal with this very real problem here on the ground, and it's as if you're in a nightmare where these fucking bush-league Machiavellis listen to what you're saying but don't really understand.
"You and I know that something is going on in Forks County, and we would like to do something about it, but between the two of us are about ten thousand of these people who are too busy looking down their noses at us to actually grasp the problem and take action. You must know that taking action looked down upon, Clyde. This is the postmodern ear. When events come to a cusp, we're supposed to scew our courage to the sticking place and launch a reanalysis of the eleventh draft of the working document. Actually going out and doing stuff in the physical world is simply beyond the comprehension of these people. They're never going to do anything about the Iraqis in Forks. Never."
And whatever you do, don't read today's Bleat.