The news is full of political candidates, pundits, demonstrators, and citizens polarized around the issue of the United States Military presence in Iraq. I seem to hear is Stay! vs Leave! at every turn. The at-home battle lines are drawn and the tug-of-war over this issue is at full tilt. To be sure, our sons and daughters are in harm’s way. Many have been lost and many more are returning physically and/or emotionally injured from the war. Because of this, it is easy to see why so much fervor surrounds this issue.
In my mind, however, Stay! vs Leave! is the last question we should be debating at this point. This debate all-to-often appears to be focused on the answer to this question as being an “end” in and of itself. Further, there is little spoken in the debate about what might be expected to happen in Iraq as a result of choosing to Stay! or Leave!. The truth is that the answer to Stay! vs Leave! is a means to an end in Iraq. In my view, if we are debating Stay! Vs Leave! we are being shortsighted. The real question we should be addressing and debating is what the real long term “end” or outcome in Iraq should be.
The first question we should really be asking is: What outcome do we want? There are facets to this question. Certainly any vision of Iraqi future starts with the Iraqi’s vision of their own future. With the formation of a government, albeit a bit tenuous, there is, in fact, the genesis of a vision internal to Iraq. Do we share or can we support the Iraqi vision or not? Does the outcome we collectively envision include a specific outcome or goal in Iraq or is the outcome focused solely on national self-interest? There is plenty of “debate fodder” here, but I think this debate would be better focused on the real issues at hand.
I have no doubt that the result of this debate would be multiple views of the Iraqi future. Each of these envisioned futures would have a set of strategies and actions that, if implemented, would most effectively achieve that vision. I also have no doubt that the question of Stay! Vs Leave! would emerge as part of one or more of the means for achieving the future views. So if the question of Stay! vs Leave! remains unanswered, what has been gained by this exercise of trying to divine or craft a future for Iraq?
The value of defining a vision for the future lies in something that author Steven Covey identified and stated very well as the first of his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind”. If you pick strategies and actions to implement without knowing or fully understanding what will result, you have a real chance of achieving an undesired outcome. Always pick your strategies and actions with the purpose of achieving a specific long term goal.
In short, I believe that we need to shift the focus of the Stay! vs Leave! debate to one of building a shared vision for the future of Iraq. Once we can share the vision, we can begin a constructive dialog on the most effective strategies and actions to help achieve that vision.