Tom Ricks's Inbox

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Some observers have taken a page from urban planning theory to describe Iraq as a "wicked problem" -- a term coined to describe complex and divisive issues, such as building a new highway through a city or finding a location for a large homeless shelter.

Here is one expert's explanation of the rules governing this kind of conundrum. They do indeed seem to illuminate the current U.S. policy impasse in Iraq:

* * *

1. You don't understand the problem until you have developed a solution.

Every solution that is offered exposes new aspects of the problem. . . .

2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.

. . . The problem-solving process ends when you run out of resources, such as time, money, or energy, not when some optimal or "final and correct" solution emerges. . . .

3. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.

They are simply "better," "worse," "good enough" or "not good enough."

4. Every wicked problem is essentially unique and novel.. . .

5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation."

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