Sunday, April 05, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan: "Predict Success and You May Fail. Predict Failure and You Will Fail"

[syndicated from my non-security blog:]

I read an article this week which made me think. It took a generic phrase for success right out of a business self-help book, and covertly showed how it applies to current events with specific examples from politics and international relations. Tying it together at the end to show President Barack Obama where the author believes he went wrong. While the phrase was not specifically mentioned I was inspired and impressed. I am not sure this was intentional, but non-the-less "ME like".

In this post I will examine both what the article said (part which inspired me, anyway) and why I usually tend to disrespect others who say the same thing. If you want to read just about Barack Obama, skip to the right section below. Hint: it's the same as the title of this post.

It was in the last Economist (March 26th, 2009). There was a section examining President Obama's progress during his two months in office. I can't find the precise link online at the moment (I will look for it), but these were the two main articles.

"Just Think Positive"
When someone spits out a buzz sentence for instant success as a Tao of living one's life, I get suspicious. Most of the time these would be people who learned to believe in these buzzwords and take them to be The Tao of Life. Copy-cats who went to some workshop for three days and believe they discovered the answer to life's mysteries, religiously. They didn't learn how to think, only how to default to a "safe" programming routine which shows them what they should do, and where they went wrong.

No matter the circumstance (particular incidents or events which may be special cases) and never mind perspective (truth changes depending on point of view). It's all The Truth. Replacing one religion for another.

Useful, and pathetic. Yes, at the same time.

"Always Look Forward. Never Look Back"
You know the type. This is not to diss on all "workshops" or self-help courses and books, only on the Fad of The Month ones, and the people who get reprogrammed there.

I first encountered the phrase "Fad of The Month" when I purchased The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry (very thin at 63 pages. Packaging cost me more than the book, and of course Amazon put it in a new box before mailing).

In it the author mentioned that when the developer of this organizational development and change method (I believe David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University) was asked why he didn't write any popular article or book on the subject, he replied he didn't want it to become yet another Fad of The Month (my addition: think most self-help books and workshops).

Always Keep Trying
Question these folks who believe this is their truth and they will retort with the same buzzwords, in a circular logic. They may also blame you for being unenlightened (or an a-hole).

Try and accept their premise to be able to hold a discussion, trying to show them how always thinking positive is OKAY, but doesn't apply to this specific case, and you get more of the same. Logic escapes them. Strike that, thinking escapes them.

"Predict Success and You May Fail. Predict Failure and You Will Fail"
Barack Obama is starting to waver on Afghanistan. He was referred to as saying that the war may not be winnable. Through-out his campaign he mentioned how Afghanistan was a Just War (Casus Belli) and a Must War, as that's where the enemy is. To illustrate why this is important, Iraq he treats as a war of Choice.
Disclaimer: All of the above is my understanding of what he said, in my own words.

It is true that NATO and the United States are not winning in Afghanistan. It is also true the strategy employed there does not seem to be working, and that while said strategy is currently under review, [apparently] no one has any idea how to win it.

While the above can be acknowledges, saying it is not winnable is far from advisable:
1. If you don't want to get out, don't show signs of weakness to an enemy that watches for them with the strategy of "out-live the West's (or the American's) will to fight.
2. If you want to get out, don't tip your hand.

Further, as President Obama is currently looking for support to conduct war in Afghanistan, at his own party, in both houses (especially Congress?) and in Europe, displaying such a poor outward appearance is appalling.

Beyond not showing leadership, it shows those you want to commit to your cause with soldiers who may die fighting for it, that you don't really believe in it, or that they may get stranded without you.

Appearances aside, what's missing is called Resolve, and it is called Leadership.

Showing this example of diplomacy and international relations and tying it with the quoted phrase
"Predict Success and You May Fail. Predict Failure and You Will Fail", makes it one of the most inspiring articles I read this year. I wish that the Economist mentioned author names so I could email with thanks.

Any entrepreneur and business major, MBA and CEO, should read the articles in this section.

Gadi Evron,

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