The most vivid memory of this date (besides the horrible photos) was how it made me feel. The cocktail of emotions – Horror, Disbelief, Fear, Profound Sadness – Mixed with Anger, Patriotism and yes, Vulnerability.
That day changed everything for me – the way I see the world, how I have approached the way I live my life, not taking anything for granted, and realizing I live in a world that is fragile at best – and world where none of us will ever feel truly “safe” again.
Now I realize that most of the people around world have long ago learned to live with such feelings. But it was the first time there had been such a brutal attack by others on our contiguous 48 states – so yes, I’d likely been pretty naïve before that date. I’d had this perspective that wars, famine, profound fear – those where things that happened “over there” not here in the USA. 09.11.01 made me realize that was no longer the case.
The 13 years since have been a roller coaster of conflict. Our Presidents (both of them) and congress have debated where to get involved, when to get involved, how to get out, how to stabilize – but the gnawing in the pit of my stomach has never really gone away.
When I saw the video of a member of ISIS beheading American journalist James Foley – those same emotions came flooding back – and I wanted action. Immediately.
Last Night, I watched our President – who had run his entire campaign on a somewhat naïve “anti-war” message (that resonated with many people because we had all grown weary of the whole thing) – a man whose hair is now more grey than black – choose his words as carefully as an advance team searches for “land mines” in enemy territory. He had to deliver a message that no one wants to hear - but we all know in our gut – we MUST lead the world in fighting ISIS. There is no other way. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been. To make campaign promises you now know you have no ability to keep because the President is not in control of the world – he must deal with the reality of the day.
Listening to his speech was profound for me. Not because I’m necessarily a huge fan, but because as a CEO and leader of people – I know what it means to make promises and work so hard to keep them when the situation changes. I know how it feels to want to share all you know but you cannot because it could cause harm or put the people you are entrusted to protect at risk (even those who are criticizing you for not telling them everything). I know what it means to feel the enormous stress of making a decision that many will not like – all the time knowing that there is not "great" option.
While I could have certainly “picked apart” his speech (as CNN, FOX, MSNBC and every other 24/7 talking head news show does) – I simply stopped what I was doing and prayed for our President, our Country and the young men an women who will be deployed to try to destroy this terrible enemy. I prayed that my children and my future grandchildren will be able to live in a world one day where they feel “safe” as I did in earlier decades. I don’t know if this can ever happen again, but we must try.
The President’s underlying message was simple if you stop to listen and read between the lines: “… I wanted to be the anti-war President. That’s not going to happen. I could not predict this. I hoped it would go away. It didn’t. ISIS is a real threat – to all of us. We – the United States of America – must deal with this…”
Funny thing, the only anger I felt last night after the President spoke was driven by 2 things – (1) Anger that we must spend both human capital and money (we don’t have) to fight ISIS rather than build our own country’s infrastructure; and (2) Rage at my own Congress Person (I live in Williamson County TN) who was telling CNN what “her constituents wanted to see in the President’s strategy before she could vote for it…” Really? I’m your constituent – I want to destroy ISIS before they destroy what’s left of a civilized society. I don’t expect the President to either have a full strategy or share it with me. The best military strategy will come from our military leaders. Get real sister!
We’ve had 2 Presidents that – in my humble opinion – were qualified to be great war strategists – George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower. Do you really think any President (or member of Congress) is better qualified to talk about war strategy than military leaders like Douglas MacAuthur, George Patton, Norman Schwarzkopf? Besides, this is neither a game of checkers nor a football game – it’s war. It’s unpredictable. These are folks who want to harm us. Strategy? No matter what we “hope” to do – it will change. Day to day, it will change. Strategy is dynamic. As we learn the facts and the situation changes – so does good strategy. So – with all due respect to any member of Congress – ifyou really expect to know all the details of a war strategy – you’re an idiot. Try to run even a small start-up company – you’ll discover that your strategy must change and evolve every 90 days. In war, it’s hour by hour.
So – on the anniversary of 09.11.01 – here we are again. We’re all a bit older and a bit wiser. Congress is more cynical and less likely than ever in our history to have the guts to say what they really think nor "do" anything. We have a President who is being forced to break the key promise of his entire candidacy – to end our presence in the Middle East. And our world feels just as fragile as it did the day I saw the American Airlines plane fly into the World Trade Center and the building come crashing down. We need bold leaders who will deal with this awful situation - without worrying about being re-elected. This is not a game. This is real.
I feel thankful to live in this great Country. I feel gratitude every day to the men and women who serve to protect us. I feel sadness that we must do what we must do – but I also feel hopeful for the future that someday we will live in a world again where all of our children and grandchildren feel safe. So, Mr. President, if you can hear this - go be a bold leader. Ignore the campaign promise. Don't listen to the cynics. Just Lead. Listen to the outstanding military generals who have earned their position through years of thoughtful leadership of our troops. They will give you great counsel. They will win over this enemy if you will listen to them. And finally - God be with us all.
Michael is an executive coach, entrepreneur, investor, and strategist with 30 years of experience leading investor-backed, high-growth organizations.
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