Lesson 6: Get the Data

In order to make good decisions, we cannot simply depend on rationality or our intellectual gifts. Just as dangerous as operational mistakes are structural mistakes. A bad process will spell disaster just as quickly as a mistake in a good process. After all, as much as people enjoy using hindsight to validate or condemn decisions, good decision-making is determined by the process, not by the result. McNamara certainly believes that in order to make good decisions, one must get the data.

McNamara uses his time at Ford Motor Company to prove his point. He discovered that 40,000 people died in car accidents every year, most of whom died not as a result of the impact, but from being thrown into the steering wheel. The egg carton inspired him to think about packaging, which led to all sorts of tests, and eventually, the seat belt. Thanks to McNamara and Ford’s research, some 250,000 lives have been saved.

This is an idea easy to relate to foreign policy. Continue reading

How Do We Know When It’s Time to Leave?

When you promise the world, people expect the world. When you promise “light at the end of the tunnel”, people expect the end of the war. They don’t expect the largest enemy attack of the conflict. They don’t expect fighting inside the US embassy compound. They don’t expect this. They no longer believed a word you said. We left. And we did so “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

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Every once in a while, I am reminded that fairy-tale romances are just that. It only takes once to shake any illusion to the contrary. As happy as things can be, it only takes one issue. My issue. She can try to help. She can do what she can. But if it’s not enough, who can blame her for leaving? I can be upset over how it happened, but that it happened? No.

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How do you leave a place you never should have been in the first place? Awkwardly, I assume. “Hey, guys. Yeah, so I guess there weren’t weapons of mass destruction or Al-Qaeda… uh, sorta like you said. So, yeah, sorry about the militias, the sectarian violence, and the 150,000 dead. I don’t know what else I can do, so see you round, I guess…”

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It’s not always my fault, though. Sometimes it isn’t. If you aren’t happy with something, do something about it. We can’t choose our trials. We can’t choose our tribulations. We can choose our attitude. We can choose how to confront life’s difficulties. Taking it out on me until I dreaded conversation probably wasn’t the best way to do it. In the end, there was just nothing left to talk about.

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Sometimes, there isn’t that moment. That instant where everything becomes painfully clear that this isn’t going to end the way we wished. Was it when we bombed that wedding? Or tortured that taxi driver? Or lost the police power? When you put it that way, it’s amazing we’re still there at all. But, come the end of 2014, we’re done.

Why? Just like any anything else: When you’ve done your best and you’re out of ideas, it’s time to leave.