Saturday, October 25, 2003

Lileks had an interesting bleat the day before yesterday, one that the Good Professor praised. As he updated later, some people liked it and some people really didn't. I think this is the rare Lileks column I have real problems with. In general, I enjoy reading Lileks a lot. If you don't read the bleat, you're missing one of the handful of truly irreplaceable blogs as well as a daily lesson in how to write well. In this case, though, he's dead wrong. Lileks wrote, in response to the Rumsfeld memo:

Shouldn’t these things be obvious? And of course they are to Rumsfeld, but not to many in the great immovable bureaucracy that
apparently regards national defense as a 9 to 5 job whose purpose is a pension, not the survival of liberal democracy.

He's dead wrong. There may be a few people in the great immovable bureaucracy who regard national defense that way, but I don't know any. I've never worked in the Pentagon, but I have a few friends there and they are, very simply, the hardest-working people I know. My investment banker friends - even the ones at Goldman Sachs - aren't even in the same league. 100 hour weeks happen for me, but they're not exactly common. For these guys, for the last few years, they _have_ been common, and they aren't paid banker salaries to make up for it, either.

The Rumsfeld memo was wonderful - it's the sort of thinking that management consultants always want their clients to do. We really need Rumsfeld to be asking questions like the ones in that memo. But the failure to ask those questions has nothing to do with not taking the job seriously. It has to do, more than anything else, with time pressure. My guess is that Lileks has never worked in a really high pressure company. I have no doubt that his current job involves incredible pressure - just reading about his four column Tuesdays makes my head hurt. But one of the things that you learn from working as a management consultant - one of the handful of most important things that I have learned in my year in the industry - is the extent to which the behavior of people in high pressure organizations is driven by the fact that they don't have time to do anything but operations. They are usually running flat out just to get the bare minimum of what is necessary to keep the company going done. They _don't have time_ to think about the larger picture or come up with new and innovative strategies. In a sense, that's why they hire us. It's not because we're smarter than our clients - we're not. It's not because we bring special expertise - sometimes we can, but in general our clients (for obvious reasons) know their business better than we do. It's because we have distance from problems, so we have the opportunity and capacity to do this sort of thinking when they simply do not.

This is, I think, even more true in the government. In my old job at the Kennedy School a senior member of the State Department came to speak to us in a small group discussion. He commented, at one point, that "academics always tell us that we should keep this issue on our front burner, and these things on our back burner. You guys don't know what you're talking about. I've worked in the government for 30 years, and every day my desk is on fire. I don't have time for back burners." This is one of the fundamental problems of the way the Defense establishment has been forced to operate since September 11th - essentially, in a state of perpetual crisis management. What little ability there is to think about the bigger picture has been sopped up by the various efforts of planning for Afghanistan, Iraq, and so on. I agreed with all of those. But they have many costs, and not all of them are immediately visible.

Gregg Easterbrook is a phenomenal journalist. He's had some problems lately, but his firing by ESPN.com was absolutely indefensible. So I feel sorry that the first post I'm making on this blog is criticizing one of his first posts back from his hiatus. But, well, that's how it goes, I guess. Easterbrook wrote a post on the Easterblogg on Iraq that really doesn't make any sense. He argued that if WMD were the reason that we entered Iraq, then we should immediately leave Iraq, as that is the only honorable thing we can do. Otherwise, the Administration should admit that other reasons were the real reason all along.

But this doesn't make sense. It is certainly possible for stopping WMD to have been our chief reason to go into Iraq _and for there have other, secondary reasons, which were still important enough to warrant the invasion_. This is, I think, a perfectly reasonable position - it happens to be mine, and I believe that it is the Administration's as well. The most important reason was our belief in the WMD programs. That was a sufficient reason to invade. Another reason was Saddam Hussein's support of terrorism (suicide bombings in Israel). This was a sufficient reason to invade. Yet another were his barbaric abuses of human rights. These were a sufficient reason to invade. Finally, another is the potential beneficial impact of a democratic Iraq on the rest of the region, and the beneficial impact of an object lesson on other world leaders. These were sufficient reasons to invade. _Even if the first reason and most important reason turns out to have been a mistake_ the others (in my mind) more than justify the invasion, and are certainly more than enough reason to continue the occupation in full honor. Indeed, it is removing ourselves from Iraq and allowing it to collapse into anarchy - whatever the initial reasons forour action - that would be dishonorable.

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