Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Recent Congressional testimony about the situation in Iraq reminded me of a strategy I used to see over and over in industry. Incapable of admitting that it had set a goal it was incapable of reaching, management would do everything possible to deflect blame, finding as many alternative explanations as possible for the lack of achievement.

Whenever I hear someone say, like General Petraeus told Congress, that progress has been “fragile but reversible,” I see a big red flag that reads “I can barely treat the symptoms of the problem, and I am incapable of dealing with its cause.” With thousands of lives and billions of dollars being spent in the unsustainable occupation of Iraq, is this a strategy that we should support?

If citizens are to government as stockholders are to management, as is arguably the case in our representative democracy, then perhaps we should do what a company’s stockholders would do if they had the guts: Convince the Board of Directors (Congress) to fire management (the administration) and redefine our goals so that they align with reality. The main tool that stockholders and citizens have is the vote, and as “stockholders” we can change the makeup of both the Board and management. Clearly too many members of our “Board” don’t have the stomach to fire management, especially with an election so close, which makes a good case for replacing them as well as management.

When the tools you have are not doing the job, you need to find other tools. A growing parade of people with experience in foreign affairs and the military has been screaming that the military can only set the stage for political progress in Iraq, it can’t substitute for it; and political progress is absolutely required for a satisfactory conclusion. The Bush administration’s inability to “play well with others” (or more specifically, to respect and work with those they dislike) guarantees that it will not be politically constructive. It promised something that it could not – or would not – do, but that doesn’t mean that the goal of a stable and non-threatening Iraq is fundamentally unachievable. Replacements for the administration (and its minions in Congress) must recognize that we and our culture are not gods to be emulated by the world, but simply parts of a larger whole that must work together, and entertain changing in fundamental ways, in order to survive and thrive.

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