Universal Law or Not: Why the US Isn’t Leaving Iraq Anytime Soon

An incredible photo by tread

While reading this weekend, I suddenly realized that the US isn’t leaving Iraq anytime soon.  And why.

It’s a combination of Universal Law and Parkinson’s Law.

I’m not arguing that the US should be in Iraq.  I’m not arguing that the US shouldn’t be in Iraq.  I’m not saying to pull out or stay in.  I’m just saying that the US won’t be leaving Iraq until a few things happen, and yes, I’ll tell you what one or two of those things might be.

I was reading (re-reading, actually)  Lauren Hartford’s Fire Burning in Water which explains, via a love story, the different Universal Laws.  The Law of Expansion says that if you put your attention on something, then it expands.  My Southern Baptist mother liked to remind me of this when I was a kid learning to play the piano and that if I didn’t practice regularly, then my talent would shrivel and die, but if I dedicated my time and energy to frequent practice, then my talent would increase tenfold.  (Did I mention I grew up Southern Baptist?)  But I preferred writing and I eventually stopped practicing the piano–and, alas, I no longer play the Hayden sonatas of my childhood with any appreciable skill.

But the principle was a good one.  The same speech about talents has certainly been true regarding my creative writing.  The more I write, the more it just seems to flow, like water bursting through a dam.  There’s no writer’s block, no dry well.   My creativity expands because that’s were I put my energy.  That’s the Law of Expansion at work.

So what if you’re not fond of touchy-feely “New Age” ideas?  Let’s look at a slightly different version:  Parkinson’s Law, though not a Universal Law, is respected by many a businessman who understands its universal applications.

Parkinson’s Law is the idea that work expands to fit the time allowed  to get the job done.  I saw this happen last year in the Defense Department  with a small project that could have been finished in 3 weeks but the team was given 9 months to do it, and it took every last day of those 9 months to write and rewrite the project and with no better results than could have been achieved in 3 weeks.   That’s just my opinion, but I’ve seen it many times in both Government and in private industry.  I’ve almost always met my deadlines and never advertised a timeline with any slack in it, but I learned to set aggressive schedules so that I could move on to the next project and manage that deadline very tightly.

It’s not just about schedules expanding, though.  There are several similar versions regarding money, material, and energy, but it’s Parkinson’s Law that Timothy Ferriss based his bestselling Four Hour Work Week on.  We’ve gotten used to having 40 hours a week to get the job done when, without all the useless meetings and reports and the exponentially-breeding emails, we could probably get everything that must be done accomplished in 4 hours, yet the boss isn’t going to allow us to go home with a week’s pay unless we’re lollygagging in the office, at least physically present. One thing Tim talks about in his book is how we make work.  I got a dose of this at 21 when I was finishing my work tasks in 5 hours and my coworkers doing the same tasks in 8 didn’t like me too much–and I liked it even less when I was paid for only 5 hours.

You see Parkinson’s in full effect with the way people treat their bodies and healthcare.  Sure, they know they need to quit smoking, but until they get the ultimatum from the doc, they keep going.  Yes, they need to lose those 50 pounds, but it’s the cardiologist’s frown that gives them a limit, a boundary, to the time they have to get it done.  Bounding a situation forces completion of the required actions–or forces the action to change. 

What do Universal Laws, Fire Burning in Water, four-hour work weeks, bad health habits, and an observation made by Professor Parkinson in The Economist in 1955 have to do with the US leaving or not leaving Iraq?

Right now, there is nothing (yet anyway) to bound the time the US is going to be in Iraq.  There’s no deadline.  That means there’s plenty of time.  The idea of “not leaving until the job is done” sounds admirable but without something to bound the job, then the job will continue to expand and it takes on other missions as well, such as humanitarian or protection or reconstruction and they all begin to mesh into an ever expanding “job.”  There’s also been plenty of money.  Or maybe not, if you’ve watched carefully.  But there’s been no financial boundary yet, not really.  The wavering economy will likely become a boundary, though.  That may force a decision, too.  There’s enough energy, too, in the form of warfighters, even if they’re deployed longer and more often. All the things necessary to keep the boots on the ground indefinitely have been in plentiful supply.

But for now, the deadline is open-ended, funds are available, soldiers are available, the job is still ongoing and ever expanding.   Looking back over history, I don’t know that any open-ended war can be finished until it’s bounded by something, even if it’s the passing of generations.