The if-Bush-were-a-CEO test

No board of directors would praise his incoherent management of Iraq war

I wrote the following article about a year after the invasion of Iraq. It was published in The Orange County Register on May 26, 2004. Although much has transpired since then—most notably, a re-election—much remains the same. Therefore, the principles this article speaks to are as applicable today as they were back when I wrote it.

No reputable organization would embark on a major project without taking some basic steps. First, there would be a clearly defined goal and the objectives that lead to accomplishing it. There would also be a project plan complete with a specific timeline. The plan would establish milestones that identify the completion of interim steps. Each milestone would have a projected date of completion, as well as a finish date for the project. The project would have objective metrics of success. Finally, the project would have unambiguous criteria defining completion and a strategy for ending the project.

What happens when an organization attempts a major project without taking these steps? The project goes way over budget and well beyond the deadline. The final product will be poor quality and will not meet the original objectives and goal for the project. Ultimately, the board of directors will likely terminate the chief executive officer for allowing an important project to go forward without a project management process.

What is the largest, most powerful, and most respected organization on the planet? The United States of America. What is the most important and risky project that organization can undertake? The hostile deposition of a head of state followed by the forced occupation of the country and the subsequent implementation of a new government—a project referred to as war. Let’s look at what happens when this organization undertakes a war project without a project management process.

Before the war, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said Iraq could finance its own war reconstruction from funds realized by selling its oil. Nonetheless, President Bush asked for $1.7-billion to support the resolution allowing him to depose Saddam Hussein for possession of vast stockpiles of WMDs. This was to be all that was required to finance the war. After the war started, the White House changed its story, saying the cost of the war would be $50-billion, but would not require sustained aid. Nonetheless, President Bush recently requested $87-billion more. Budget director Joshua Bolton claimed he would make no further requests for funding the war in 2004. Now President Bush is requesting another $25-billion, having made no progress restoring the peace in Iraq, if not actually being further behind.

Experts are now speculating that the U.S. will be in Iraq for years to come. The commander-in-chief and chief executive officer of the U.S. has no clear plan to win the peace in Iraq other than to “stay the course.” Nor has he presented an exit strategy from this war. He has not even established objective criteria that constitute having accomplished his mission in Iraq. In other words, the project is way over budget and well beyond the deadline. Continuing on this course, this chief executive’s board of directors—the voters that put him in office—will terminate him this November.

It’s not too late to apply project management principles in the war in Iraq. Fortunately, Bush’s request for another $25-billion is a perfect opportunity to apply pressure. Congress should refuse the president’s request until he first meets a number of conditions:

  1. He provides an unambiguous plan for winning the peace in Iraq.
  2. He provides milestones and objective metrics of success with each milestone.
  3. He provides an exit strategy from the war with a projected timeline for achieving it.
  4. He provides unambiguous criteria as to what constitutes the completion of the mission in Iraq.

Any responsible CEO of any major corporation would provide no less to his board of directors for any major project. Would President Bush have to make estimates and projections to meet these conditions? Of course he would, but that’s part and parcel of planning for the future. To meet these conditions, will the president have to create an environment where his performance would be much easier to assess than it is now? Of course, but isn’t that the least we should expect from the president of the greatest nation on this planet half a year before the next board of directors meeting?

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