The Domino Point

For Iraq, I blame the managers, of course, but I also blame their reading lists. More than once, while predicting victory, Donald Rumsfeld has used the magic words "Tipping Point." This new pop formula for achieving vast results from relatively limited efforts has turned out to be one disastrous abracadabra. Saddam goes, they all go. We don't need a huge army. Iraq is ready for democracy -- just give it a strategic nudge. The entire Middle East will follow.

Behind every failed war is a failed metaphor (remember The Domino Effect, the Vietnam-era version of The Tipping Point?) that mesmerized its masters into waging it, kept them waging it once they started losing it, and immobilized them with disbelief when it turned back into intellectual smoke. From business-section bestseller to Pentagon battle-plan. Only in America. And it was a phony, decrepit notion to start with, despite being updated for today's executives and cleverly remarketed to every no one who ever dreamed of being a someone by working at home, in his or her spare time. The idea that one straw can break the camel's back, that one well-placed lever can move the world, that one added particle can bring on "critical mass" is the delusion that wears a thousand faces. It's the manic creed of the assassin: fire a single bullet, alter history. The principle rarely works when applied on purpose, but because it quite often works by accident (or seems to have worked, when viewed in retrospect; Henry Ford built his Model T and, presto, freeways!) it never loses its appeal.

What's next? The Freakonomics war? The Six-Sigma attack against Iran? The Blink campaign against global terrorism? Capturing Osama the Warren Buffett Way?