When the “Coalition Of The Willing” rode into Iraq and “liberated” the country from Saddam Hussein there was a lot of backslapping and self-congratulations in Washington amongst those who had sought to use 9/11 as an excuse to remove him from power.
On the side-lines were a handful of analysts and experts who dreaded what happened next, because they knew that winning “the war” was not a tenth as difficult as winning the peace was going to be. When Bush gave his preening press conference on the USS Abraham Lincoln for that announcement of his with the Mission Accomplished banner behind him they knew their nastiest fears were going to be realised in the very worst possible way.
Within weeks, Iraq had disintegrated. More than 15 years on, the whole region is still on fire. The Iraqi civil war which followed emboldened Iran, inflamed Libya, spread to Syria and in the maelstrom Islamic State crawled out of the primordial ooze.
Nobody who counted in DC had thought past getting in there and getting Saddam out.
There was no plan for the aftermath.
Those in the shadowy Project For A New American Century believed that the chaos would be a good thing and that something positive would surely rise from it.
They were wrong about that as they were about so many other things.
This is not the only example of people squandering victory because they hadn’t thought through what a real victory would look like and what it would have to involve.
But I use it here because it is the best modern example that we have to warn us about bad leadership and lack of strategic thinking.
Should Celtic lose the title this season, people are going to point fingers at players, the manager, Peter Lawwell, Dermot Desmond … and all of it will be true, and there will be justification for wherever those fingers are pointed, because we’re being let down at every level right now.
But the real reasons, those which matter, will be because of mistakes made years ago.
Back in 2012, we were the Last Man Standing.
We were the biggest club in the country by far, something – by the way – that hasn’t changed and won’t change regardless of who wins this title. Celtic is the biggest club in Scotland, that’s a fact … it is borne out in hard numbers and by every metric you care to use.
It is not even up for serious debate by serious people.
Our stadium is bigger. Our revenue dwarfs that of our rivals. Our financial model is solid and proven.
Our merchandising deals are top of the line and professional.
Our club is progressive, open and inclusive, and has been the most dominant in the game over the course of the last two decades.
That’s all fact. If we find ourselves losing to the Ibrox operation, over the course of this campaign, we will have lost from a position of strength, which is why it will be a Year Zero event for those who are in charge of the club both off the field and on it.
If there was real parity between the two clubs in terms of their commercial strength, the quality of their squads and the professionalism of their directors, any reversal we suffered would be understandable even if it weren’t particularly forgivable.
But there is no way in which we should be losing titles to their club, and that we are in this position is directly the fault of those whose job it is at Celtic Park to plot a forward path using every tool at our disposal and every mechanism we have to hand.
And at that, this club has lamentably failed thus far … and it’s too late for a course correction as far as this season goes.
This is now in the lap of the God’s and with the global health crisis, the possibility of an early end to the campaign and the advantage our own carelessness has handed them it’s up for grabs whether or not we’re going to be able to win it.
Had our board planned for this properly, and utilised our full strength, we would not be in this position. None of what has come to pass was particularly difficult to predict. The Ibrox operation has spent money, because that’s what clubs at Ibrox do.
They have risked everything, because traditionally they always did. We, in the meantime, have made critical mistakes, ignored pass precedents and failed to take our strategic opportunities whilst crowing over tactical victories.
But it’s strategy, not tactics, which wins wars.
Our first and most comprehensive failure has been a failure to use our power and our influence at the top of the game to alter football governance and make what the Ibrox club has done subject to proper scrutiny and regulatory control.
It was entirely predictable that our failure to insist on and push through robust financial fair play regulations would come back to haunt us.
In their eight years of existence the Ibrox club has posted losses in every season; the total sum must be enormous.
If people wonder how they “caught us” then look no further than what we and the SFA’s current regulatory framework has permitted on our watch.
This was the key task that lay in front of our board in 2012; Celtic had won the war.
All they had to do was win the peace.
We were pushing on an open door at the time.
The game had been brought to its greatest moment of crisis up to that point by a club at Ibrox that had spent two decades spending more money than they earned. All of Scottish football watched this happen, although a handful of us in the blogosphere had warned that a crash was inevitable.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The need for new and robust regulations was, at that time – and still is – obvious.
They were necessary for the good of the sport.
Financial fair play was only the start of it. Craig Whyte was never a fit and proper person in his life, and his year in charge there should have ended the SFA’s ridiculous policy of self-certification and yet the system was not altered at all and Charles Green followed him to Ibrox with his parade of dodgy characters and he was replaced by Dave King who arrived with a bunch of tax fraud convictions and went on to earn the black spot from the City of London.
He was still a certified “fit and proper person” when he stepped down. That shows you how big a shambles these regulations are … and we have sat on the side-lines and allowed the game to be run this way. How many lessons do we need?
Our failure to push for the kind of regulatory system that would have made what happened at Ibrox prior to 2012 impossible anywhere else in the game has allowed the current Ibrox board to play games with their finances and use sleight of hands techniques to assemble a squad that has put us under real pressure.
This is no small error. It is a scandal of major proportions which may very well have a momentous impact on our club. We cannot alter it in a way that will have an impact on this campaign – we have to let this one run as it is, but even now it’s not too late to act for the future.
And I’m not convinced that we’re ever going to do it.
Another major strategic blunder was in the selection of the manager. Lennon’s appointment was a dire sign that our board had absolutely lost any notion of long-term thinking. It screamed short-term, a decision made when the Ibrox operation was still a shambles and where the only thought seemed to be having a Celtic-minded figure in post for the ten.
They ignored the obvious truth that it was a decision which threatened that goal.
Regression takes time. I praised Lennon last season, when he was still effectively running Rodgers team, and when these players were still buzzing and full of self-confidence. But these things have ebbed away as I worried they might, and Lennon’s negative traits are more and more coming to define and determine our course going forward.
Players look unfit and under-coached. If we work on game plans and basic tactics I see no evidence of it some weeks. Our players often look like a group of guys thrown together with no obvious idea what they are doing and expected to get by on their talent.
They have talent and sometimes that’s enough. But more and more I worry that it won’t be.
Here’s a statistic to scare you into wakefulness if you still believe this is just a blip; over 30 league games last season we won 26, drew 2 and lost 2.
Already, after 11 games, we’ve drew 2 and lost 1. That’s a hard stat, and the proof that we’ve gone backwards.
Brendan Rodgers was a fundamentally modern coach, believing in excellence, and when he was at this club we had the very best in standards … and those standards have by now almost completely collapsed and it is time we accepted that and understood that when we took such a backwards step it was always the most likely outcome, whether we won ten in a row or not.
We may still get away with it, for this campaign, but that erosion in standards could take years to fix and that alone makes it one of the largest and most obvious failures of progressive thinking and of strategic outlook in our recent history.
Between these two failures we have conspired to bring us to a point of crisis; make no mistake about it, we are on the edge of the precipice and it’s only going to take one slip to put us in freefall. When you look at in its totality it’s hard to resist the feeling that our board has been complacent here and relied on the Ibrox operation never getting its act together.
In many ways, they haven’t. They’ve simply chosen to gamble all over again, putting the club’s 12-year history in jeopardy in the same way as the previous Ibrox club’s board under David Murray did. The results might well end up the same … but that will be of no comfort whatsoever to our supporters who have set their hearts on seeing ten in a row.
If these twin failures cost us that title, then everyone at Parkhead will have to reconsider their positions.
For some, they will be untenable.
We are on the brink of blowing the greatest advantage any club in this country has ever held.
This is what winning the war and losing the peace looks like.
Bush and his cohort got rid of Saddam and made no plan for dealing with what came afterwards.
ISIS replaced him as a far graver threat to global security and peace.
When Rangers died we ought never to have seen a club from Ibrox with the tanks parked on our lawn ever again … but this board blew it and there those tanks are, and after some of us have spent years decrying the lack of regulations which would have made it impossible and calling for a quality manager when Brendan Rodgers left.
I’m scunnered that we’ve got here, but I am not surprised.