May 18, 2007

regarding timetables, software, and Iraq

I have had mixed feelings about the president's insistence that there be no timetable for leaving Iraq. Any timetable, he opines, would simply embolden the terrorists and undermine the work of the American (oh, sorry, "coalition") generals and their soldiers in Iraq. How can they plan and work effectively if there's a timetable for when they have to stop? How can you expect such a chaotic thing as war to fit into a neatly budgeted and politicized timetable?

My problem with these questions is that they are a political smoke screen for the fact that Bush has no definition of "success" in Iraq and no idea how to achieve it.

Anyone who has ever had to deliver a product knows that you can't realistically do it without a deadline. And you can't set a realistic deadline without knowing your definition of success. I've been involved in the delivery of several software products in my career, and the ones that always failed miserably were the ones where the end result was not well defined, and the approach involved "it will be done when it's done." They invariably took far too long to market, and they invariably failed to meet the precise needs of the target market... or in many cases did not have a defined target market. That is, they had no clear definition of what success looked like, so the developers kept building until finally someone said, "We need to sell something in order to keep paying you all, so let's release it."

That's how Bush is approaching Iraq. There is no clear definition of success towards which the soldiers are working, so they just keep plugging away. Because there is no definition of success, there is no way to set a realistic timetable; any timetable would appear arbitrary.

A far better approach would be to state clearly and unequivocally what goal Bush hopes to achieve in Iraq. Then, given that goal, determine exactly how long it will take and how much it will cost. Then commit the adequate resources.

I am not naive enough to think that war is as clean and predictable as software development. Hell, we can't even end homelessness or poverty or hunger in our own cities. We can't even graduate 80% of our children with the skills to read and write. How can we expect to build a thriving country on the other side of the world in a hostile environment with an aggressively hostile population? Yet that appears to be Bush's goal, with the ultimate intent that a positive cycle will result and the rest of the Middle East will westernize and become our friends.

If a stable Iraq is the project, and the US military are the developers, then Bush is the CEO of the company developing it and Congress are the venture capitalists who have been funding it. In business, which is something most Republicans seem to understand and appreciate, venture capitalists eventually pull funding from failed projects and especially from failed management. And always, always, venture capitalists have a timetable in mind when they approve funding. Bush and the Iraq project have failed all but the earliest milestones, and we are now in a neverending cycle of paying for something with no hope of success. It's time either to manage it properly or to pull the funding. Since Congress appears to have decided they can't manage it properly and be reelected, they have decided to pull the funding.

What a tragedy for the Iraqi people that this has all gone so wrong.

1 comment:

Lily said...

Well said. Your analogy of a software company might seem simplistic but I am not so sure.

Your discussion of goals and deadlines for measuring success is right on track. You also touched on the the needs of the target market and I think that is probably where we have screwed up the most in Iraq.

I think in our all too typical American arrogance we have attempted to decide "what is best" for Iraq, completely ignoring huge cultural and social differences that are completely adverse to our own. It's like bringing coats to people on the equator and telling them their life will be better if they would just put it on. It makes no sense.

It's great that the lying, murderous dictator is not in power anymore but if the people of Iraq had really wanted a democracy, they would have found a way to get one.

America did it.

Granted sometimes, people need a helping hand but at some point, they have to stand up, be strong, and choose their destiny.