Friday, December 01, 2006

Nightmares and Analysis

I was sitting in our then CEO of Intergraph Public Safety's office before he was ousted by the current gal holding his job and explaining why I was so livid about Bush's speech at the UN which made it very clear that Bush was going to take us to war in Iraq. I was frustrated by the bloggers I was reading some of whom I knew personally who supported this, and I was angry in a way I am uncomfortable with given my right wing colleagues and boss who kept insisting this would be a short profitable war, that we would get their oil, they would welcome us, Saddam was evil and we are the good guys and what about the Kurds, and on and on. They saw the war in the same mythology and terminology as they see the Iron Bowl contest between Alabama and Auburn every year. With the exception of my boss and CEO, none had a memory old enough to include the debacle known as VietNam. Even if they did, they were of the ilk that 'Hippies and the liberal media lost the war'.

I said, "Doc, these people don't live in a historically real country, they have hundreds if not thousands of years of grudges to settle, and our only reason for being there is oil. This is a booty raid. You know that but you don't have a child old enough to fight it but he may be by the time this turns into the civil war because that's what's going to happen. We'll bust Saddam's chops, have to set up shop there, then all of the dozens of sides, sorry there are more than two, are going to start shooting with us in the middle. We'll have to pull out and then they'll have a proper civil war. At the end, whoever is left standing will sell their oil to the Chinese."

He looked at me incredulously as only the Brits can when their conversation is with a redneck primitive and asked, "Do you REALLY believe that, Leeeeen?"

"Yeah, Doc, I do. I've seen this movie before. It ends badly for us."

I was never a popular guy at Intergraph and wasn't bothered by that. An analyst makes the case, watches the decision makers do what they do, then analyses the results. He lost his job to someone more ambitious than he is, and she may lose hers when the risky behaviors of her direct reports come to the surface as the new owners evaluate their internal management problems, and so it will go. As an analyst, that will be studied and factored into the next study. Ad nauseam. It won't change anything until the culture of having one set of rules for one group and nothing but 'positive relationships' for the others changes into a company where the employees respect their managers for their fairness and even handed approach, as well as their insistence that the policies HR publishes are something they are bound by themselves. It could happen.

As for Iraq: this is not precisely VietNam. When we finally withdrew, we left a country where the outcome of the civil war was not in doubt, where there really were essentially two sides and ours was losing because it had no legitimate mandate from the population, where democracy was as it is in Iraq, something the people don't care that much about, but with the major difference that other than its people, it has little of value that the rest of the world cares about. The Middle East has a very different history with respect to its conquerors and with how it tolerates that. They don't tend to want to do business with them three decades hence.

Iraq has a different basis in religion. Most of all, it sits on a sea of oil that the rest of the world covets. In VietNam, we could withdraw reasonably confident that no other major power was going to screw around in there because there wasn't that much to gain.

In Iraq, that simply isn't true.

I'll pray for the Iraqis, but my analytical instincts are pessimistic. One thing the cops teach: a domestic violence call is the most dangerous of all. We can call for backup and work our way out, but the conditions that make it violent will not change as long as there is power to be had or money to be made from the sea beneath the desert. If we want to win the war on terrorism, we need to work as hard as we can as fast as we can to take out its engine. They will still kill each other over their history, but we can remove the reasons for the rest of the world to care past decent compassion for the suffering of the innocents there.

If we have the time... and that is where my worst nightmares come from. In America, we need to think about the rules we say we live by. Prior to Iraq and after the Mexican War, we have not been a modern country that practiced first strike warfare. In Iraq we allowed ourselves to be led to break a rule that keeps us out of the small wars that lead to the big wars. When we broke that rule, effectively our leadership made the case that for their party, there are no rules by which we will conduct business legitimately. This is a problem for any culture because it is the road to indecency, to infidelity, to loss of life, talent, skill, and the will to succeed. It turns a nation or a company into a collection of "show up when expected and do the minimum necessary to take home the booty", and as both of the subjects here should know by experience if not analysis, that is how companies and countries fail often led by precisely the same kinds of people with exactly the same goals.

Qui bono? No one. Nada. It's a wasteland.

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