28 February 2009

Out of Iraq: The Good, the Barack, and the Confusing

Before I launch into criticism of Obama's planned withdrawal from Iraq, let me set the context. I don't think that we should have invaded. I don't think that we should be there. I am happy that Obama is serious about leaving Iraq. There. With that said, I find myself once again cringing at one of Obama's plan.

Obama said that combat troops will be out of Iraq by August 31 of next year. I find this announcement nothing but confusing.

I work with project plans for a living. In order to launch a new product, teams have to make a series of events take place: products get designed and tested or molecules manufactured and tested, and factories get set up, etc. Lots of things have to happen between now and when a product launches. It is popular but wildly misleading to simply say, "Oh. We'll launch this product in May of 2014." In the world of development, teams face so many unknowns that declaring that they'll hit a date 5 years out is just silly.

When we plan product development, it is not unusual for us to put together a plan that predicts 2 years, say, for tasks and 1 year for uncertainty. That is, we'll make two years out the goal and three years out the commitment, but we can only say that we have about a 5 to 10% chance of being done in less than two years and about a 5 to 10% of being done in more time than three years. If we want to hit market quickly we don't want to settle for 3 years from now. If we want to bring to market our best product, one in which the features and quality are great, we can't commit to two years because resolving issues may require more time than we hope. So, we forecast a range.

By contrast, leaving a country we've invaded is messy, unpredictable, and complicated. If Obama has certain prerequisites to troop withdrawal, it boggles the mind that he can predict with such accuracy exactly when those prerequisites will be met. He can, however, predict this moment 18 months from now to the day. If, instead, he just wants to leave by a certain date, regardless of what prerequisites have been met, why wait 18 months out? Why not leave sooner if the date is a commitment of his regardless of prerequisites met?

Getting out of Iraq is a great idea. Too bad that Obama either doesn't know what he means by that or hasn't bothered to tell us.


Anonymous said...

I read the he wanted to leave the numbers high to provide security for the Iraqi elections at the end of this year. The bulk of the withdrawal- if it really happens- is supposed to take place in the final four months.

I have no doubt, though, that even after the "withdrawal" we'll still have tens of thousands of troops stationed throughout the Middle East, just in case there's some killin' that needs to be done.

(And there will be.)

Big Al said...

Please remember our POTUS is a politician, which means what he declares today can always be changed because of "extenuating circumstances". And his statement of "Combat troops will be out of Iraq" has also left him plenty of wiggle room because he used the word "Combat", meaning he can easily keep some troops in Iraq and call them "Trainers" or "Peace-keepers".

Folks like you and me, Ron, help people build realistic schedules such that these people can make a commitment and finish early or on-time to that commitment. In the Corporate world it's all about delivering a Quality product On Time, At/Below Budget, with all committed Features. For Government officials it's all about making Promises. Can you even IMAGINE attempting to help any Government official/team through a schedule-build process? YIKES!

Gypsy at Heart said...

He's forced to give a date Ron. It was expected. He promised it during his campaign. So there you go, the date is August 31st of next year. The thing is, no matter what the date, the mess will still be there. You are so right in pointing out that he could leave right now or a year after the cutoff date he has just stated and Iraq and the Iraqui government and people will be pretty much in the same place. But he can't withdraw troops right now. Can you imagine the clobbering he'd get? And he can't withdraw them three years from now. Can you imagine the outcry about his backtracking of campaign promises? So what does he do? He puts an in-between time. Won't make a lick of difference like I said but people need their dates defined and the semblance of goals outlined.

I can imagine he'll try to stick to it but like Big Al pointed out, it is all about the wording of what defines "troops". And like Thomas observed, there will still be US troops in the Middle East no matter what.

Liked your title by the way... the Barack and the ugly. ;-) Great. Oh! The post was good too. ;-) ;-)