When I ponder whether smart people cause more trouble, the question of how you define "smart" comes up. A related question is what constitutes "real science". Some suggest that "math" ability is an indicator for being "smart". I would suggest that a commitment to true scientific process is a better indicator for being "smart." You can come up with all manner of wonderful ideas and prove them in your head, but analysis of real-world data is a more powerful metaphor.
To me, science is supposed to be all about experimentation and analyzing results, and most importantly refraining from drawing conclusions which are not fully supported by the data. Unfortunately, real science has gotten watered down with far too much posturing and rhetoric and pandering to political interests (on both sides of the fence).
Take global warming. Sure, it is intuitively obvious that modifying the composition of the atmosphere will result in changes in weather and climate. That said, real scientists aren't even close to have a validated model of how the atmosphere, weather, and climate work over extended periods of time. Thus, the wild claims of some "scientists" (e.g., that the polar ice caps and Greenland will completely melt in the coming decades) simply aren't supported by "real" science. Extrapolation from sketchy data is not science.
It is one thing to come up with a "brilliant" theory that seems to be supported by fragmentary data, but it takes decades and even numerous generations of real scientists to fully test a theory and to eliminate biases that may have poisoned the science. The power of a true theory is that it accurately forecasts outcomes over an extended period of time.
If a scientist really follows the data and faithfully pursues the experimental process, their religious (or political or cultural) beliefs matter not one wit. The problem is that a lot of so-called scientists have a lot of trouble focusing on that "real", experiment and data-driven science.
Maybe that's why I would modify a faith in math as an indicator for "smart" to a faith in real science.
So, the problem with the guys in Washington, D.C. (the "other" Washington!) is not that they aren't "smart" in a math and intellect sense, but that they don't use enough real science in their decision-making.
A big part of the problem is that politicians and those who are at their mercy have no room for patience. The political process of frequent elections simply doesn't square with scientific process that depends on excruciating patience.
Whether it is Iraq (or Iran) or terrorism or global warming, the rhetoric of "smart" people is a poor substitute for real science.
A "real scientist" would have said to wait and see how Afghanistan holds up over five, ten, or even twenty years and then decide whether the experimental results support a conclusion that radical democratization really works.
BTW, Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the infamous Iraqi National Congress (INC) which was a big part of the lobbying for the "liberation" of Iraq is... a math guy! He got a BS from MIT and a PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago. His dissertation was On the Jacobson Radical of a Group Algebra. Would anybody suggest that he's not a smart guy?
Although the truth may be that if the administration had actually listened to and followed his literal advice, Iraq might be in much better shape.
Maybe that's one limit for even the smartest and best advice: if you start cherry-picking it and combining it with other "advice", the "proof" of the original advice is likely no longer valid.
Chalabi was originally part of one of the coup attempts in Iraq back in the early 1990's that the CIA promoted and then the higher-ups refused to support, back under the first Bush administration. That's covered in the book See No Evil which was credited as the basis for the movie Syriana which starred George Clooney, but that portion of the book did not find its way into the movie.
-- Jack Krupansky