TOWER NEVER MET TWAIN, BUT . . .

In a biting essay on James Fenimore Cooper's literary offenses, Mark Twain said There are 19 rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction - some say 22. In 'Deerslayer,' Mr. Cooper violates 18 of them.

In its devastating report on the Iran/Contra affair, the Tower Commission found that President Reagan and all the other key officials involved fared no better with the rules for successful management.At times, the report's account of the breathtaking scope of those managerial failures calls to mind an even more critical Twain scorecard: In one place in 'Deerslayer,' and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Mr. Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

It's already been said that the commission report would serve as a case history for a business school. It also suggests a good checklist of questions that just might be asked about a major project in almost any field of endeavor. Examples:

1. Can we really kill two birds with one stone or will we miss both and

break a window?

The commission said that selling arms to Iran was not appropriate for achieving both the basic objectives of opening a strategic relationship with that country and of freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon.

The panel maintained that the timing factors of the two objectives did not match. While it thought that an arms-for-hostages swap might have been possible immediately, it said arms should not be sold for strategic reasons until after a bilateral relationship had begun.

Moreover, each of the two goals would require dealing with a different and rival Iranian faction, the commission said.

2. What are our choices and what could go wrong?

Among the many shortcomings the commission found in the National Security Council staff proc ess of reviewing the Iran initiative and presenting it to Mr. Reagan were the deficiencies in the only staff work he apparently reviewed.

The Tower board saw a portion of that staff work and said it was frequently striking in its omission of the failure of similar efforts in the past.

The commission also maintained that the staff work did not discuss alternatives and did not adequately present either the risks involved or the views of those opposed to the idea.

3. What does everybody think about this?

The commission contended that the meetings involving such NSC members as the secretaries of State and Defense were too few - and in some cases, after the fact - to allow for a full hearing on the issue before the president.

Such deliberations should have been virtually automaticat each step in the affair, in part because they could have compensated for the flaws in the earlier staff work, the commission said.

4. Who will run the show?

Such top-level deliberations also might have given the president an important piece of information he told the commission he lacked at a critical period - how the plan would be carried out and by whom.

5. Has this been cleared with anybody?

In the case of the Iran plan, the commission said the the legal questions were never adequately addressed and there was a failure to notify Congress as required by law. In other circumstances, the answers might be a board of directors, a key bank or corporate headquarters.

6. How are we doing on this?

This question, the sort that might be asked once a project has been under way, was never fully addressed in the Iran affair.

The commission said the president did not insist on accountability and performance review and neither he nor anyone else called for a re-examination of the plan either when it failed to live up to expectations or changed direction.

7. Where did everybody go?

The Tower board found that the secretaries of State and Defense, who had opposed the plan, after a time simply distanced themselves from the program.

Such departures from the field may offer the ultimate warning signal that a critical project is moving ahead rapidly, toward a brick wall.

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