Ramadi – of tribe and nation

The fall of Ramadi in Iraq to ISIS has some haunting echoes in America this Memorial Day. A city with over 400,000 residents, it was “won” from the Al Qaeda insurgency in 2006-2007. Americans died in that months-long battle and it featured some an alliance with some 40 Sunni tribes in the Anbar region. In the words of , Major General James Mattis: “if Ramadi fell the whole province goes to hell”.

Ramadi refugees flee from ISIS

America has divided over the entire war in Iraq. Originally touted as necessary to removed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) from Saddam Hussein’s regime, it suffered a drop in popular support when such weaponry was not found (or was it?). In the post-9/11 national mood, it was not hard for the US to both be belligerent and direct that towards well-established enemies. Many call the Iraq war a mistake; I call it a fact. Once it happened, it created a situation for America and Americans with which to grapple. And I know people who served in the conflict and I honor them for their service (on Veteran’s Day, not Memorial Day, which is for those who died in war).

Given the American political polarity and as an action to undo that “mistake”, the Obama administration withdrew American troops en masse. This exposed and increased the larger tribal divides that define the Iraqi people – Shiite vs. Sunni Muslim.

In the US, we have had and presently do have divisions marked by violent conflict. Race is one of the most persistent points of such division. But to the credit of the nation and its people, most people do not engage in violent behavior towards those of the other side. We may vote differently, promote partisan causes and ideology, but when the national sovereignty is threatened, Americans band together.

Not so Iraqis. I view the tribal organization society – not only that of Iraq but all tribal areas – as inferior to one which but very political process mixes people across tribes. That mixing is not solely an American phenomenon; it is a democratic one. The cloistering of Muslim populations in Europe vividly contrasts the two types of society. And Muslims lose out. I say that wishing they did not.

The rise of ISIS is the rise of Sunni Islam over and against Shiite Islam. In the wake of the American occupation, the Shia rose to power over their former oppressing, ruling tribe. And they did so shedding blood and maintaining the violent schism that marks the region. While the savagery of ISIS is well-promoted and boasted upon, it is hardly a feature of that group alone. But the outcry it has produced in the west has caused even those on the left to rethink the withdrawal of its forces. And the air campaign has recommenced and will continue into the foreseeable future.

Now the “threat of ISIS” toward American people and interests is real and growing. The group is a well-defined enemy of the west. So far, despite the declarations of commanders, strikes from the air have not been enough. Ramadi has fallen, with the Shiite Iraqi army retreating, fully displaying its unwillingness to fight hard given its confused, light loyalties.

That’s easy for me to say I know. I’m not a soldier on the ground there. But it’s accurate to observe that ISIS is more determined than most of the armies they fight. They die on purpose to advance their cause and take some of their enemy with them. The same was true of Al Qaeda in 2006 and by uniting the area’s Sunni tribes, they were defeated. The willingness of the current Iraqi government to do anything like that is suspect. The Sunni tribes therefore have no affinity. Those who could turn the tide are instead left to be swept up by it.

So what does does the US do? Let’s learn, ok?

It’s become obvious that the Iraqis have no taste for democracy. But it’s the only system that will bring their society out of its darkness. I don’t believe Americans know what these tribal divides are like, but I do believe Americans can unite in saying they are wrong, and destructive to the Iraqi nation forever. Even if the former Hussein-ruled territory is dissolved into tribal states, the conflict will go on.

So I believe Iraq needs democracy. Not American democracy, Iraqi democracy. And bringing democracy to Iraq requires a generation or two of investment.

Iraq most of all needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. Muslims would absolutely recoil at the thought, but the faith that spreads forgiveness from the cross is the only one that will bring peace. Again, not American Christianity, Iraqi Christianity.  If this is seen as just another sect in the tribal mix, then the gospel is simply misunderstood.

Ephesians 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility

I believe Americans will again fight in Iraq as I believed they eventually would when Saddam Hussein ruled, for some reason and under some circumstance. ISIS will not be allowed to reign and advance unchecked. I believe the Shiite influx from Iran is no better than the Sunni influx from ISIS. Iraq is broken, and it won’t be fixed quickly, easily or cheaply. But it will be fixed.


Master of the bad-news graph

I have a good friend in a difficult job. When he describes the details of the position, he eventually moves to summarize – “I’m really trying to change the culture”. He’s a leader of a transforming team. And it’s like that. Hard.

Recently he told me of a meeting he had with an executive manager. He had all kinds of quips ready like “I report to my boss, who reports to his and then that manager reports to you, but we all report to reality”. But he told me that line never came out. There was no opportunity.

What did happen was a confrontation with impatience and knee-jerk escalation.

My friend calls himself the “master of the bad-news chart.” That’s because he graphs dysfunction. Not to expose incompetence or mismanagement. But to forge a plan to make things better. And he’s a realist enough to know that takes time. He tells me he wishes management was like that.

At his most cynical, he says that really all graphs given to the senior levels of management must conform to a pattern. It goes like this:


That is, things are only improving. Things CAN only be improving. Ever.

It sounds like bad news is not tolerated, but he says that’s not true. It’s just that he has to make the bad news into good news somehow. Without people, power or resource. It is the economy of scarcity I wrote about here. It’s an absolutely real, and soundly described phenomenon.

Now, he presented a systemic pattern of failure. The graphs he displayed could have been produced any time over the last 25 years usually with even worse numbers. But they were taken as a present crisis only. And present crisis means to drop what you’re doing and fix it. I’ve been told enough of the situation to know that this will not be fixed like that. So he was understandably frustrated, concluding that either the executive was naïve or was playing games.

Neither is probably true. The greater the seniority of the management, the more the job can only be accomplished by exercising impatience. People need to be driven, or so the philosophy goes. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, name your corporate tyrant who accomplished great things. Also, the day is not complete without a crisis. I believe there is actually an adrenaline addiction happening. But the executives also hate crisis because it is not convenient.

At the same time, they talk about improving process, about doing things with higher quality and more economically, which always takes time to accomplish. That’s the side my friend was trying to appeal to. He was suggesting a systemic change, backed by bad-news graphs, to fix a huge problem long term. And he failed because of the projected pattern of crisis. Ugh.

So taken together it’s an impossible contradiction, but such are the forces that drives management.

But my friend has the best trait to battle impatience.  He is patient, which I count as one of his most useful attributes, particularly in that environment. He tells me he has never exercised patience and not seen beneficial results.  That’s a testimony I believe; I have seen that also.  His current position is unusually tenuous since culture transformation always has the chance of being rescinded. Particularly if it based only on what is in vogue and not solid business rationale. So he’s toughing it out.

Good for him.

It’s not about Tom Brady

So it goes like this.

Sports fandom gets emotional. People crow about their winning teams and players and say varying levels of disparaging things about their losing teams and players. People live vicariously through the teams. Sport is analog. I believe that can be healthy; if the Sunnis and Shiites had football teams they might kill each other less.

Tom Brady and deflating footballs is a different kind of crowing though. It’s an accusation; complete with shame. And it’s crowed by those who root for the teams the Patriots (NOT just Tom Brady) regularly defeat. Now, Tom Brady hears and reads maybe 001% of the haters’ comments. That’s ok, because he’s not their real target. His fans are. Some are obnoxious crow’ers, but most just really enjoy watching a sport well-played (and they’re suffered through years of NOT seeing that)

Shame cast upon winners tries to tear down their accomplishments. It’s an attempt to qualify achievement by those who didn’t achieve. It brings down the great and is thought to elevate and honor the not-so-great, for at least they played the sport without compromise.

Since the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, all scandals are suffixed with -gate. The names of Woodward and Bernstein may not be familiar to some. But their work was known by almost everyone; it brought down a president. Their kind of investigative reporting has been vaunted as the activity of heroes in our day. There was a day it was called “muck-raking” because it is so dirty and accusation-centered. It seeks only to destroy.

But scandals have since had names with the -gate suffix in honor of Watergate, And for the Patriots we have 2 – Spygate and Deflategate. Inasmuch as there was wrongdoing I do not defend the parties involved. I will say emphatically that they were not the only teams doing what they did but that exonerates no one.

If Tom Brady “probably” knew about deflated footballs, he “probably” should get some disciplinary action by the league. And he will. But to call out why he is such a target for the shamers requires a list after which you should add “and they are not” because that is the source of jealousy after all:

  1. He is good looking
  2. He is hard-working and focused
  3. He is married to a supermodel
  4. He is incredibly successful
  5. He is wealthy

The point? It’s not about Tom Brady, it’s about shaming those who you envy. People do it within families, companies, neighborhoods, houses of worship, marriages and well, everywhere.

And here’s a secret – It destroys the shamer more than the target of the shame.