Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The only way to Lose is to Quit

I am surprised by the large number of people who believe situations in life must always be improving or life is getting worse when the lesson everyone learns about life as they age is that there are no straight lines to success.

How many couples can claim to have never broken up during the courtship process? Almost all couples go through periods of certainty regarding a lifetime together and periods of panic regarding a decision to spend a lifetime together. The certainty creates more intimacy while the panic creates fears, but both are part of the process of becoming a married couple. Life is not worse due to the panic periods; life becomes better as the periods of panic lead to the end result.

Most of the media and opinion makers focus on individual events when reporting about the success and failure of Iraq. Political punditry believes that bad news is proof of the failure of American involvement and good news is proof of the success of American involvement. I don’t look at the situation in Iraq like most of the pundits look at it.

To me, the situation in Iraq is progressing the way I would expect it to progress on the way to success; which means lots of unexpected and unforeseen events, many setbacks, a determined and sophisticated enemy, and a whole lot of Americans and Iraqis who are ready to quit. This is all part of the process of becoming a functioning democracy; life is not a strait line. The only way to lose is to quit.


Kevin said...


David wrote: "life is not a strait line"

My first thought was that you misspelled "straight", but I guess "strait" could work too in the sense of "narrow".

David wrote: "The only way to lose is to quit."

I agree that this is true in the case of Iraq, and marriage in general. Actually, diligence is often central to any success.

I haven't read a good analysis of how the US or Iraq would be better off in the long run by unilateral US withdrawal. Sometimes quitting is not even a rational option. I think most people see this and are more interested in changing strategy as needed rather than abandonment -- if not in reality then at least in rhetoric.

I also agree with you that there seems to be some naive expectations regarding such massive endeavors. What's worse is that motivation, the fuel of diligence, is affected by these expectations and by the limited perceptions which are often selected for us. Such complex endeavors cannot be well understood with so few representative data points, and optimism is often needed regardless.


David M. Smith said...

Hi Kevin,

Oops, I did mean straight, but strait will do. : - ) Where is an editor when you need one?

Over and over again we have heard about how President Bush and the neocons [sic] didn’t have a plan for rebuilding Iraq after the invasion. Yet, those who want to leave Iraq don’t seem to have a problem with not having a plan.

I am starting to feel better about Americans sticking it out in Iraq. The leading Republican Presidential candidates are all committed to success and Senator Clinton is too calculating to just pick up and leave.

Rick and Gary said...

I agree that Iraq is ultimately winnable. But even now, our President is not being honest and forthright about what it would take to "win", which is probably about 8 years, a trillion dollars, and at least as many deaths and serious injuries that have already occurred -- an additional 3,000 and 20,000, respectively.

I just don't agree with this game that's been tried at least three times in the last 110 years: start a war on fabricated provocation and keep it going with fear mongering and high school football analogies. (The others being Spanish-American war with USS Maine and Vietnam with Gulf of Tonkin)

People should get an honest assessment of the costs and benefits of a war and, if they don't want it, you don't do it. Most people don't want the Federal government to try to save the world in the name of God or Bush, and, in a democracy, they shouldn't be tricked and then hectored into trying to do so.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

I think we have some areas of agreement and some areas of disagreement.

It is fair to say America as a whole, not just President Bush, did not adequately assess the danger, risk, and cost of removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. If I knew then what I know now, I would still say go for it, but I understand why many Americans would not think removing Saddam was worth the cost.

It is fair to say America as a whole, not just President Bush, has still not adequately assessed the cost of what it will take to finish the job in Iraq. However, I don’t think it is fair to call President Bush dishonest or for you to claim you know exactly what it will take to finish the job. It may take ten times your guess or it could end very soon without many more lives lost at all. It is the nature of war to not know when the enemy will quit, but every war that is won is won when the enemy quits, not when the victor declares victory. Wars usually end quickly and unexpectedly when the enemy decides to quit. This is why perseverance is the most important attribute to victory. Like you, I think we have a long way to go, but I could be wrong.

And finally, most people in the world want to be free of tyranny. Only recently, we have started to learn about how the words and actions of President Reagan meant so much to the dissidents in the eastern block countries. Freedom has been a gift to Americans from those who were willing, and did give their lives, for the cause of freedom. Freedom is a gift I feel morally obligate to share with Iraqis and other oppressed people in the world. I wish others felt the same way.

Rick and Gary said...

Hi David -- I should have sourced my numbers. Various histories of counter-insurgencies, including France in Algiers and the U.S. in Philippines, suggest that beating them takes about 15 years. I believe that the the Pentagon's own manual on counter-insurgency says the same. Because of some unique issues in Iraq, such as sectarian violence and the insurgency's easy access to vast caches of weapons and money, I'm sure that 8 years could be huge low-ball. But I can't see how things could end sooner under any rational definition of victory.

But the bottom line, as you imply, is how one views our moral obligation to spread or impose freedom on other peoples.

I view the former Eastern Europe differently than I do the Middle East, because Eastern Europeans were a culturally-religiously and historically free people whose tyranny was imposed by a foreign power.

It's instructive to see how the Poles, Czechs, etc. are blossoming while Russia is reverting to a petro-terror tyranny.