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Iraq and Management 101

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One of the more difficult aspects of managing any organization, or – if we care to get philosophical – one’s life, is managing the “what if.” What if we take this road versus that one? What if we decide to do this over that? There are opportunity costs to all decisions and to be a successful manager, one must examine the horizon and constantly weigh alternatives, the “what ifs.”

This simple reality is sorely missing in the ongoing debate regarding the war in Iraq and the larger war against the Islamofascists. It goes without saying that mistakes been made, that was guaranteed the second we started. I’m just a simple self-employed management consultant whose main work is top-to-bottom reorganizations of small privately held businesses. Before starting any job, I explain to the owner a number of realities that must be understood before we begin:

  1. Mistakes will be made.

    Things that every person believes to be true will be disproved. Ideas that seemed reasonable will not be quite what we expected when we put them on the street. And finally since we are dealing with significant change in a complicated system, some people will simply drop the ball. That’s the way it is. Get over it and move on.
  2. It’s not the Garden of Eden today, if it were I would not be here.

    We are starting the process of making significant change because the present is unacceptable. But as we begin the process of change, many employees will forget why we started in the first place and reminisce about the good old days. When I begin a job, I also interview every employee in the company; I want to understand what’s really going on, not what’s perceived by management to be reality. In almost every case, the employees who bitch and complain the most about their present situation are the first who want to cut and run when glitches show up in the improvement process.

  3. It will take 12 months (longer for large companies) to reach peak performance.

    People have to grow and change, learn to use new tools, think differently. Some of the personnel decisions will turn out to be wrong. Once again, that’s business as usual. Accept it and move forward with your eyes wide open.

  4. You can’t look at change/improvement as a project with a beginning and an end. It is a process that never ends.

Which brings us to Iraq; the most probable “what-if” scenario has Saddam Hussein and his crazy sons in power, with the total collapse of United Nations sanctions (and as we now know, the sanctions were a farce anyhow). Does any sane person believe Saddam would sit idly by while Iran developed nuclear weapons? He most likely would have his biological and chemical weapons programs in high gear alongside his nuclear ambitions. Mr. Kahn from Pakistan would still be free to peddle his nuclear wares, thereby enabling Iraq’s efforts to proceed unabated. Saddam most assuredly would continue to stir the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and would help terrorists worldwide where it suited him to do so.

Compare this to the present situation in Iraq: How would this scenario progress? How would it end? If this scenario were reality today, any honest analysis would have to come to the conclusion that the US and the world would gladly exchange it for the present situation. “Just” 2,000 US dead! The most likely other scenario could conceivably create a situation where the magnitude of US soldiers dying is in the tens of thousands, in addition to millions of civilians.

When assisting with a reorganization, I take my responsibilities very seriously. The actions I direct affect many people’s lives, from the owner down to the janitor. They in many ways put their lives in my hands. It is a serious responsibility, but nothing compared to the Iraq War.

It is far past time for those cheering for our failure in Iraq (and it is sad to see how many there are), to step to the plate and either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way. Dreaming about some Garden of Eden doesn’t make it so, nor was it ever the reality on the ground. Thinking that an entire country of 27 million can be changed overnight is simply willful ignorance. Thinking that every action, that every plan can be both designed and executed flawlessly (all while people are shooting real bullets and bombs at you) shows a determined desire to ignore reality.

The war in Iraq and the broader war against the Islamofascists is an honest attempt to deal with the “what if.” And guess what? Often there are no good choices, so you’re left to make do with the “runts of the litter.” It’s hardly an exaggeration to state the future of the world depends on these wars; all the other most likely “what ifs” are a whole lot worse. It is way past time for the grown-ups here and around the globe to stop their political power-idiocy and support these wars and the greater goal of spreading freedom around the globe. If we chose not to, the “what ifs” are very frightening indeed.


The author is president of Conlin Beverage Consulting, Inc., a national management-consulting firm providing services to the beverage-distribution industry, and the founder and CEO of E.I.C. Enterprises, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing a quality fact- and science-based education to the poor and disadvantaged here and throughout the world.

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About John

  • Common sense! What a breath of fresh air!


  • I think John McCain makes this particular case on the war better than anyone else I’ve seen.

    John — Do your re-orgs take on the flavor of that seen in the film Office Space? Just curious!