16 January 2007

Iraq and the Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

I remember how frustrated conservatives would get talking to liberals in the 70s. "Sure it would be wonderful to end poverty," they'd say. "But the question is whether it can be done with policy."

At the time I was what you might call politically agnostic. I lurched about from Libertarian to Socialist views before settling down into what Rush Limbaugh would call a "racial liberal" and what the Europeans would call a moderate. I no longer believe that markets or governments offer one-stop panaceas.

The left began to lose their lead in politics in this country was when they stubbornly held to the pursuit of policy that was noble (e.g., ending poverty) but for which they had no real solution. That is, while a majority of voters may have agreed that their policy objectives should been pursued, they stopped believing that the Democrats could have achieved those objectives. At this point, they cashed in their idealism for practical promises.

I say all this because George and his defenders have gotten themselves trapped in the “should have” box. It almost seems irrelevant to them whether the democratization of Iraq could be done - what matters to them is that it should be done. Yet the world is full of should be done tasks (Darfur not the least among them) that are not being done. There are a variety of reasons for this but one is that policy makers don't know how they could do the task.

And perhaps this is the definition of an ideologue - someone who sees adherence to practicality as akin to selling out. And ideologues do get their followers. But the critical mass of Americans are ultimately pragmatic and are, finally, less interested in the woulda and the shoulda than the coulda.

It is, finally, not George's intentions that are going to put his political successors into the dust bin of irrelevance. Rather, it will be his refusal to acknowledge that, in the end, the success of a policy must be realized outside of the minds of voters and in the real world. That is, no matter how "should have" it is, a policy must prove that it qualifies as"could have."


Life Hiker said...

Ron, this blog takes me back to my corporate days of problem solving. I was initially skeptical about adopting a more formal problem solving process, having been fairly successful without consciously using one, but I ultimately became a convert.

The first step is determining "What is the problem?" It's amazing how often the perceived problem is not the real problem, but just a symptom or even a misunderstood situation.

Later in the process one identifies potential solutions, and then, most importantly,impediments to executing each solution are ferreted out mercilessly. I suppose this is the "coulda" step. Sometimes the process stops right here because no feasible solution can be found.

Looking back at Iraq, it's pretty clear the "What is the problem?" step was short-circuited. Down the road, show-stopping impediments were brushed aside with comments like "cakewalk". The coulda part just never got much attention, except for the "could we defeat their rag-tag army" question.

Toyota expects their assembly line people to problem-solve in a formal way. I guess that's too much to ask from the Office of the President.

David said...

Oh now you two guys. "It ain't over till it's over" - Yogi Berra

Ron Davison said...

David .. at the rate it is going, it'll never be over .. and maybe that's the plan for avoiding failure.

LH .. regardless of what actually happened, this president has still never really explained his process for making key decisions. I have come to believe that he can't distinguish between a declaration and an explanation.