Arlington West and the Reality Based Community

On a visit to California I came across the monument to the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan on the beach in Santa Barbara. Each cross representing a war death. There is also one in Santa Monica.


I am currently reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s excellent ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone’ that influenced the recently released movie The Green Zone directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Matt Damon. Forget for a moment whether the Iraq War decision was a good one. What shouts out of every chapter in the book, is the power of neo-conservative beliefs dominating any sense of reality. It is a fantastic case study in the power of ideology to delude. And it was that delusion that free markets, democracy, the American Way could be easily transplanted into Iraq that killed the young men and women commemorated in Santa Barbara. The military hated the Coalition Provisional Authority for its ideologically driven delusions, though Donald Rumsfeld had his own delusions around post-invasion planning.

The lesson this blog derives is the ultimate importance of keeping a grip on reality and not as the famous anonymous White House spokesman said to reporter Ron Suskind on October 17th 2004:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’

This is the arrogance that got so many Iraqis, Afghanis, Americans, British and others killed, including of course those represented by the crosses above. Having worked in less lethal conflict, I am familiar with this sort of wishful thinking. My managers just did not get tens of thousands of people killed by such delusional thinking. Unfortunately there is no sign that conservatism has taken the lessons of reality on board in foreign policy, financial strategy, fiscal approaches or any other area of policy. The post 1989 Fall of the Wall ‘end of history’ arrogance may yet do us all in or at least greatly accelerate the relative rise of China: not quite what the Neo-cons had in mind but the law of unintended consequences is especially merciless to those who deny reality.

And in passing, none of those responsible, not Bush, Cheney (he who had ‘better things to do’ during Vietnam), nor Rumsfeld not once in five years, ever made it to Dover Air Force Base to meet the returning dead.

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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2 Responses to Arlington West and the Reality Based Community

  1. Victor says:

    I feel we need to treat our troops deaths reverentially and not politically– Obamas action is an abuse of their sacrifice.
    In the past the return of fallen soldiers was dealt with by the military and their families, Obamas intruding himself into this sacred ceremony was an abomination– our troops are not his private army– they fight and die for American interests.
    War is hell, but it is what it is.
    We had hopes for Obama— but he will be a one term president like Carter, unfortunately.
    The Neocons want to hustle us into a war with Iran– that is crazy– Iran helped us hunt down AQ after 911 and are our route out of AfPak and Iraq.
    General Petraeus understands this and will be the President after 2012 with a civilian VP.
    Obama is turning out to be the failure of hope over experience and reality.
    He nationalized GM, their car– the Volt– will cost $50,000 and is an out dated Chevy Cruze with an unproven drive train, Toyota sold the Prius at $19, 000 when it cost $ 32, 000 in 2000 $s to make– to gain market share.
    You can buy a Chevy Cruze for $ 17, 000 with conventional drive train—$33,000 extra for the Volt with unproven technology is a bad decision by any criteria.
    Unless gas goes to $ 20+/ gallon it does not make sense– after 3+ years you have to replace the battery for $ 5,000 .
    I voted for Obama, but he is in way over his head, he never took a course in economics and seems to rely on oratory and rhetoric — which the Greeks warned us against as it leads to demagogues in power.

    • Constitutionally Obama is Commander in Chief and part of the military. His going there was understated, largely unheralded, in the dead of night, and to me an early welcome relief from the autistic denial of suffering of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. The latter actually forbade any acknowledgement of the returning dead, and I believe most families of the dead do not want their sons’ and daughters’ return to be denied. The service families I know welcomed the presence of the Commander in Chief to show he knew the price of the decisions he would be making during his Presidency. And on a side note, his visit was also a way to recognize the unit that handles the repatriation of the dead so sensitively at Dover.

      When I visited Arlington West there were many service families visiting, unable to go to Arlington itself more than once, who were very pleased to see their son or daughter being recognized there. Many had posted photos on the crosses, making it even more poignant. But if service families had objected to Obama attending their own son or daughter’s return it would be different; I believe they were consulted and agreed. But it is a sensitive subject and I am not sure what I would have advised the President on this one. Hopefully he will avoid appearing in military dress with the slogan ‘mission accomplished’ in the background, when troops leave a front line role in Iraq at the end of this month.

      I suspect you are right on Obama’s one term. We needed a genius at mobilizing the middle of public opinion and we got an average President after probably one of the worst in US history. I am not sure there will be another term if Sarah Palin gets in….’the sleep of reason produces monsters’. Interesting thought for Petraeus though. Iran as you say is perfectly manageable: you and I could sort it out! Tom Friedman was good the other day about the need to wean us off middle east petroleum: sometimes think he gets things wrong but on this I agree with him.

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