With seventy percent of Americans telling pollsters that they would like to see the US pull out of Iraq within 12 months, the insistence by our military leaders and the White House that it will take much longer—maybe as much as 20 months—is frustrating. What’s the hold up? Why can’t the military speed things up?
We thought about these questions watching the Sunday morning political shows and found ourselves thinking that the intellectual exercise of how to improve the withdrawal was a lot like the kind of questions we used to ask when we were working on private equity turnarounds. Managers often have confused priorities based on poor incentive structures. New ownership can spur rapid change by changing these priorities.
We’re not sure how to fix the incentives for the military to pull out more quickly, though. But we’re sure it can be done. According to Greg Cochran writing in the American Conservative, one of the reasons that the withdrawal is expected to take to so long is that the military is trying to figure out how to remove all the stuff we’ve brought to Iraq.
From this point of view, decisions about moving day become straightforward. For example, what should we do about the vast amount of non-combat materiel in Iraq? We’ve accumulated dentist chairs, chapel pews, swimming-pool filtration systems, office complexes, multimillion-dollar fitness centers, air-conditioners, refrigerators, prefab latrines, Coke machines, even 50-inch plasma TVs. We have stockpiles of 50-gallon oil drums full of battery acid, contaminated oil, and industrial solvents. We’re being told that it all has to be shipped home. I have a better idea: leave it all behind. I’m sure that the Army bureaucracy thinks that we’ve got to move these refrigerators, got to move these TV’s. They’re wrong. Maybe they fear that leaving a single vending machine behind means that they will have to personally answer to the Coca-Cola Company.
The longer we stay, the more men we lose. How can anyone believe that piles of junk are worth anyone’s life?
The private equity chiefs we know would instantly slash plans to engage in non-essential activities like removing air-conditioners from Iraq. Iraq is not a national park. We’re not camping. We don’t have to carry out what we carried in. Instead we should concentrate on what Cochran emphasizes: removing weapons and people. All the junk gets left behind.
But we still can’t figure out how to change the incentives inside the military that have people making stupid decisions like remaining there for an extra 8 months just to remove junk. Any suggestions on how to improve the pullout performance from you turnaround guys out there?
Easy Out [American Conservative]