Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Backing Up Belief

It's time we start demanding people back up their beliefs with some evidence. I'm not talking about religious beliefs, which are impossible to prove, but statements about actual events and predictions for the future. It is easy to say you believe something will happen. But for all I know, you're just making something up unless you can back it up with some rationale.

There are two instances that come to mind in this. First, is an episode of "The Apprentice" that I saw a few weeks ago. The two teams were holding competing marking events for Sam's Club where the objective was to sign up more new Sam's Club members in one day than the other team. After it was all over and Trump had them all in the board room, he asked the each of the team leaders if they thought they won. Both said something to the effect of "I believe we won because we put in incredible effort and worked really hard. I'll be absolutely shocked if we lost." That rationale was absurd. You don't win by putting in effort, you win by signing up more members than the other team. It doesn't matter how hard you worked, but you damn well better know how many members you signed up. I realize that it's all scripted and edited to be dramatic on television, but it was still just stupid hearing these people puff themselves up about their beliefs when they should just come straight out with the relevant number and why they predict that the other team got fewer new members.

The second instance is a little more serious. In his press conference today, President Bush says this:
I am confident -- or I believe; I'm optimistic -- we'll succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out. If I didn't believe we had a plan for victory, I wouldn't leave our people in harm's way....I can understand how Americans are worried about whether or not we can win. I think most Americans understand we need to win. But they're concerned about whether or not we can win. So one of the reasons I go around the country to Cleveland is to explain why I think we can win. And so I would say: Yes, I'm optimistic about being able to achieve a victory.
All we need to do is believe we have a plan for victory, not actually have one. We have to be confident, and optimistic. But the only way to build confidence and optimism is to see evidence that we can actually achieve the goals of "victory", which are never really defined anyway. Certainly there is the fog of war to account for and of course no prediction will be completely accurate, but shouldn't we base war decisions on a little stronger rationales than simply being optimistic?

If you went into a real business meeting to propose a plan, you'd get laughed out of the room if you didn't provide a convincing explanation of your goals, resource needs, schedule, risks, and rewards. Simply saying you're confident you can do it because you believe you have a plan just doesn't cut it. Shouldn't we demand the same kind of thoughtfulness on issues of war and peace?


At 11:03 PM, Blogger Thomas said...

I think in your first example it is the question that is stupid. how the fuck do you know if you won or not. you can say we signed up 100 members but with no context that can be a lot or a little. The question begs an answer like this. Though maybe that is what the question is looking for.. who can say the right thing about their effort.. who knows.. but as you pointed it out it is television not real life

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Bud Morgan said...

'All we need to do is believe we have a plan for victory, not actually have one.'

'...but shouldn't we base war decisions on a little stronger rationales than simply being optimistic?'

Come on D.C. - I expect more from you than this!

(for those who don't know, I went to a big 12 college, almost didnt graduate, and am a law school dropout)

By taking Bush's optimism about our inevitable success and construeing it in such a way that Bush has no plan is incredibly stupid. Whether you agree with the plan or not, there is a plan in place. To use sarcasm to suggest that there is no plan is absurd. Is it wrong for a President to have a plan AND be optimistic about it? Should normal guys like me and yourself be privy to the details of the plan? I think not.

And for the closing sentence: I have one question. What decision was Bush trying to justify with optimism? Unless I missed something, he wasn't going into tactical details and just saying he felt good about it.

In closing, I understand the want for measurable goals. I myself wish that I was privy to all the information that goes in and out of the war room. But, as in business, unless you're on the inside, you're out. When was the last time the the big wigs at Avidyne and Garmin sat down to talk strategy and justifications for that strategy in a casual atmosphere? The bottom line is, they havent.

Since we are on the outside, we have two ways of getting information on the war. The liberal media or directly from boots on the ground. From personal experience, the boots on the ground paint a vastly different picture than CNN.

At 5:11 PM, Blogger Dan Craig said...

Buddy, glad to see you jump in the fray. It's always a good time.

The quotes come from an exchange when the reporter was asking about Bush trying to rally support at a speech given in Cleveland. The reporter had been interviewing people there who had voted for the president but were losing trust, and asked the president what he would say to people like them.

Obviously, he should not be giving away any tactical information or detailed strategy because that would endanger our troops and our goals. But explaining from a high level why we will win is much more effective than just saying over and over that I believe we will win. Avidyne and Garmin don't discuss details with each other, but if you read all the aviation magazines, you'll get a pretty good idea where each company is going, what strengths it's playing to, and what kinds of products it intends to release in the near future. Likewise, FDR didn't say that we would defeat the Germans because we were going to invade Normandy on the morning of June 6, but he could build confidence by saying that we would win beacuse we could outproduce and outgun them. At least you have something to point to other than solely the president's optimism.

Obviously, big campaigns like this don't happen without some planning, but the question of whether Bush has a winning plan is very much in question and has been since before the war. Far-left anti-* people aside, there were serious questions raised by generals about the required size of the invasion force and by State Department planners about the internal social and political implications of removing Saddam suddenly. A lot of good thought went into how all these issues would be addressed after an invasion, but it was all blown off by the administration. In particular, the looting of government infrastructure and the failure to secure the weapons depots that now provide the insurgents a seemingly endless supply of IEDs to kill and maim our troops is particularly shameful.

As you say, we are not on the inside, either in Washington or on the ground in Iraq. I think you overplay the myth of the liberal media and also underplay how much synthesis of information people do themselves. The president and the conservative media have no shortage of airtime or pundits to tell the optimistic stories. Even the Washington Post has hired a vitrolic conservative blogger to write for them daily. If anything, the press failed in their job to ask tough questions before the war started. As for boots on the ground, I personally only know a couple people who have served in Iraq and I try to soak up what they have to say about it. Add to that all the solider's blogs, some of which are even published on NYTimes, and I think it's easier than ever to get a full spectrum view of the world that is not opressivly filtered by the government or the media.

But that causes a problem for governments, because you have to earn trust from people. A lot of people trusted the president about the war, including myself. To maintain that trust, you have to make sure that the story you're trying to convince people of is not contradicted by things they see elsewhere. Preferably, you tell the truth and try to explain things realistically and people will trust you. When you start to diverge from the reality that people are seeing out their window, it's much harder to maintain their trust. People need evidence, they need something to rationlize and explain why they should have faith in something. The president is not giving them that, and he is suffering in public opinion of both himself and his handling of the war.

At 10:19 PM, Blogger Bud Morgan said...

Danny, you're my boy, but we disagree on a fundamental basis.

Here is the direction we are going

This hasnt been a secret and I have not had to obtain special clearance to access this document. Unfortunately, the strengths and weaknesses of the plan get little or no air time. Instead the left portrays each death as a lack of a plan.

While the loss of any American soldier saddens my heart, I must have faith in our President and God that we are in Iraq for a good reason. Here are a few that make sense to me:

1) Iraq was forming ties with Bin Laden. This is actually taken from a liberal media outlet. However, I could not access it from their homepage, I linked it from Drudge.

2) The Iraqi people are better off without the mass graves and torture underneath Saddam. (Call me crazy!)

3) This is the most important and I think the least talked about... I think the real reason we went to Iraq as opposed to other nations whose dictators are oppressing their people is because we need to spread democracy in a region whose leaders have hijacked a religion. If we can isolate the countries that are calling for jihad against us, then we have a much better chance of victory.

As far as I'm concerned, any nation that is hostile towards Americans, beheads Americans, exploits a religion for an agenda against Americans, and anyone else that threatens my security, my families security, or the future of my beloved nation should be subjected to a military action... even a pre-empted action.

What I have noticed is that there is no optimism in the media or from liberals in general. Every time I turn on one of the big three networks, there is nothing positive being reported. The doomsday attitude does nothing but demoralize the folks that are risking their lives for us to sit and blog about this. Two stories that came out today drive me insane and illustrate my point to the T.

1) Charlie Sheen: Guys a fucking lunatic, but he get's on tv.

2) Yesterday, OUR TROOPS RESCUED 3 Christian 'peacemakers'. If you read the statement prepared by the organization, I noticed two things. There was not a single mention of our troops SAVING THE LIVES of these people, and they didnt acknowledge that a rescue had even happened. Instead they said that the hostages were 'freed'. I took offense to this and I didnt risk my life for these people. I can't imagine how those troops must feel. Speaking of trying to be uplifting.... These folks effectively glorified these terrorists by claiming that they freed the hostages. Here is the link

My advice D.C. is to ditch the doomsday attitude. How would your opinion differ if there was a Democrat in office?

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Dan Craig said...

I've read the strategy document. I wasn't impressed as it reads like a collection of bullet points from a marketing pitch. I wrote about it back in December.

I hope you don't lump me in with the critically thinking mind of Charlie Sheen. A lot of people with no qualifications get on television. A lot of them even have their own shows. That's one of the main reasons I don't watch news on TV. From either side of the political spectrum, it's all short attention span hype.

To address your points, I would agree completely that the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam. We should have finished the job in '91, but that Bush administration was worried about exactly what is happening now and instead chose to play the balance of power game. There are plenty of cruel dictators running countries around the world sadistically oppressing their people. We deal with the ones that are in our interest to do so. I don't see anything wrong with declaring the Middle East to be a region of national interest to the U.S., in fact that's been stated policy since the days of FDR.

I'm not one of the far left peaceniks who tend to protest whatever action the government happens to be taking. What really bothers me about this war is that I don't think Bush and his administration took it as seriously as they should have. They deluded themselves into thinking it could be done on the cheap, that they'd greet us with flowers and there would be a pro-American bastion of demoncracy in place by the 2004 election. I still don't think they are taking it seriously. It's been three years now, and reconstruction money is still just trickling in.

If we wanted to do this right, we should have listened to the Gen. Shinseki and the State Department and gone in with 300,000+ troops and planned ahead for dealing with a lot of the problems that should have been dealt with at the beginning. If we wanted to do this as a country, we should be selling Iraq Bonds to helf finance the construction. The president should have activly asked for America's best young people to join the military effort. But I don't think they had the confidence in the American people to ask that of us, which is sad.

None of this has anything to do with the party affiliation of the president. I'd feel just the same if Bill Clinton or Al Gore or John Kerry were running the war the same way. Bush took what should have been a good cause and botched it through poor planning and execution. I don't think we should suddenly withdrawl, maybe we should increase our presence, I don't konw. There's a great article by Robert Kaplan(it's subsciption only, but I'll still link to it) in the Atlantic Monthly about the ground level efforts put in by the troops. Specifically, he follows a Stryker brigade that's done an incredible job bringing stability to Mosul. The commitment from the troops on the ground is there. They need their government and country to really commit to rebuilding Iraq, not just getting by on the cheap.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Flora said...

i think the following quote summarizes your point best... "a gift bag with no gift"


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