Sunday, June 26, 2005

What's in it for America (W.I.I.F.A)

One of the nuggets of modern management wisdom, at least as it is taught in business courses, is that employees respond to leadership directives in proportion to the what's in it for me? (W.I.I.F.M.) factor. It's usually pronounced as wiff-em. Sounds kind of selfish when laid out directly, but it is also an honest acknowledgement of human nature.

I want to relate human nature in the same way to the ongoing conflict in Iraq and ask what's in it for America. Not just in purely selfish ways like oil, influence in the region, and business profits for highly connected corporations, but in terms of American democratic ideals and the desire we as a people have to spread those ideals globally?

First, American democratic ideals are far from clearly defined right now. Michael Ignatieff provides a great description of how and why that's the case in his piece today in the NY Times Magazine.
American democracy has ceased to be the inspiration it was. This is partly because of the religious turn in American conservatism, which awakens incomprehension in the largely secular politics of America's democratic allies. It is partly because of the chaos of the contested presidential election in 2000, which left the impression, worldwide, that closure had been achieved at the expense of justice. And partly because of the phenomenal influence of money on American elections.
Simply put, the American people are seriously divided about just what freedom and democracy actually mean to us, much less what of it we need to spread around.

Second, the cost in the bodies and lives of our servicemembers is just too dear when the outcome in terms of Iraqi political variables is so unclear. A structured withdrawal of our troops tied to the timetable we have already set for the development of an Iraqi government is not cutting and running as, of all people, a chicken-hawk like Karl Rove would say. It is acknowledging the realistic limits of what one people can do to free another.

The regime has been changed in Iraq at the cost of thousands of American lives. It is now both reasonable and natural to ask what's in it for America to continue indefinitely the present level of military involvement there. The falling support of the American public should be accepted and understood by the Bush administration for what it is, the political equivilent of a bottom line assessment in business. The cost now outweighs the perceived benefit, so there's not enough in it for America.


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