Friday, July 01, 2005

Timetables, Schedules, Process

Timetables are for trains, not wars.

I've been reading a lot of blog talk about disengaging and finding a way out of Iraq. Blogs like
Atrios: "The only thing that will work is to say "we were wrong to invade Iraq."
Informed Consent: "the UN and the global South can solve the problem, that they have every incentive to solve the problem, and that they will be richly rewarded for solving the problem."
Political Animal, "make the deals you need to make. Form a government. Get your troops trained. Because by the end of 2006, after nearly four years of war and occupation, coalition troops will be gone."
Just World News "It is now becoming increasingly clear that the US position in Iraq is, quite literally, unwinnable."

I'm encouraged that there is talk of coming to grips with reality in Iraq and finding an end to the war. Its no longer fringe. Its clear to a lot of people. We need to imagine a way to step back and try a different approach. I heartily recommend each of those posts.

But when I hear talk of timetables, I balk. I write software for a living and in that work I deal with schedules and plans all the time. Not as weighty as going to war, thank God. But it does teach me some lessons about managing chaos, working towards a goal, and reaching the finish line. Schedules are hugely important, but when you start from the schedule and work backwards you almost always guarantee failure. Milestones and deadlines are important, and useful for steering your efforts and validating progress. But they don't solve any problems and they don't guarantee anything.

With Iraq, we obviously need to imagine a way of stopping the carnage, getting our troops out, and leaving some sort of stable, legitimate, pluralistic and viable Iraqi government. Everyone wants that. Bush, Rumsfeld,... Dean, Kerry... Krugman (and Cole, and...) are right to point out that we're not going to achieve the neocon wet dream of a US and Israel friendly, capitalistic, democratic Arab renaissance. But we can't just cut and run. The Pottery Barn rule really does apply. As bad as Iraq is now, it would be so much worse to leave behind a vacuum to be filled with neo-Baathist fascists, metastasizing civil and ethnic war, and regional instability.

Seems to me that what is new, and what is different between the left and the right, is the realization that we will not be able to incubate a new government of our choosing. Our occupation taints any government and any politician we embrace. So we need to do things like standing down our troops, giving Iraqi politicians more responsibility and autonomy, bringing in third parties like the UN, etc. Anything that will allow a legitimate, inclusive Iraqi government to stand up. Anything that will stop the killing and the ruinous war.

But timetables sound like cut and run. I just don't think we can do that. I wish. But there's just too much at stake.

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