I am here out of patriotism and a commitment to Iraqis. They have suffered mightily at our hands and I feel a need to do what I can. It was purely accidental that I was given this chance. But once I was asked, I was in an existential dilemma in which to say ‘no’ made me feel like I was running away from responsibility and a my professed principles.
Once I got here I got attached to the dozen or two Iraqis I worked with directly, and a greater number of Iraqis and ex-pats I interacted with casually. I came back in large measure because of the bravery and patriotism of the Iraqis. They paid costs I would not bear. Their commitment strengthened mine. I also felt I could improve on the job I had done before. On the other hand, the money is good. It was not that great on the first tour, but it is on this one. I am not KBR [the subsidiary of Halliberton that’s the biggest US contractor in Iraq] but I am not suffering. Moral commitment is made easier when coupled with economic advantage. You may take my earnings as an offset to my statement about conscience, but honestly, both are true.
My final answer to the question of whether I have been/can be effective is “I don’t know.” The element within the State Department to whom we report is the Iraq Reconstruction Management Organization (IRMO). IRMO has been resistant to a lot of my ideas for good reasons and bad, but is coming around. In “Mythbusters,” a show on TV, one of the characters says, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” Ideology still trumps reality here. On the other hand, good and sensible ideas become irrelevant with one “boom.”
So, here’s the story. As of yesterday, my current mission is to: a) create materials and training for starting business support centers across Iraq when there is enough order for them to develop; b) devise methods for encouraging self-sufficiency among such centers; c) write a program through which the centers can derive income; d) train Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) about how to use the materials when we are gone, and how to integrate resources across local, provincial, “governate” [a regional authority] and even national boundaries. In the process, I have written one book on best practices for business centers and am completing another, a handbook on how to create a business in Iraq….
WIthout going into too much detail, the current plan is the latest of literally a dozen made by me and rejected by IRMO. Plans began with an attempt to extend the Baghdad Private Business Center we initially created and to derive an Iraq Business Alliance of business support and professional associations. That plan “exploded.” Plans since then have varied widely from creating an all-Iraq Internet/electronic business community; distance training both as part of the above and as a free standing resource; pilot business centers all over Iraq within functioning business institutions like chambers to reduce security and other costs; etc. etc. etc. My latest rejected plan, based on wide collaboration within and outside of Iraq (including Jordan and Egypt), plus integration with some of the work done by USAID, was rejected because, I believe, it increased our independence from IRMO, created a situation in which IRMO would have to share credit with AID, and the US share credit with others.
Of course, that is a microscopic and personal view. in a larger sense, the key impediment to any “real” contribution is the violence and disorder. I write about it all the time. Last week, two people I casually knew and siblings of two Iraqis working here died. The Iraqis were strangers. One of those I knew was the South African [Glen] who I described many months ago as the one who fed the cats at dusk and suffered unrequited love.
Glen had two weeks to go, had packed up early, invested all of his earnings (foolishly) in a million pounds of feed for the cattle farm he owns, and to sell at a profit. He intended to retire and be self sufficient. He has a large family. His memorial service was last Saturday. The other was an American, a relative newbee I only saw but never knew. The two died when a mortar misfired and hit them in error. It did not make the news. Nor are Iraqi and contractor deaths counted as war casualties, though these men were engaged in tasks that otherwise the military would have had to do. The Iraqi siblings died in separate car bombings.
The second largest impediment is the U.S. presence and incredible incompetence associated therewith, plus the concomitant Iraqi incompetence that the American presence rewards and even inspires. This week’s example: The good guys basically know who fired the mortar that took Glen. The bad guy fires about the same time – 6:30-7:30 AM – several times a week from spots not far from here. A joke on compound is that if we do not hear a mortar exiting a tube (it is loud pop, sometimes followed by a whooshing sound like a distant public urinal flushing) we figure he’s on vacation and speculate where he might be. The protective forces send Iraqi and American foot patrols, Iraqi police and militia vehicles, American military vehicles of every description, American military and contractor (Blackwater) helicopter overflights, and American jet aircraft every night, but never at 6:30-7:30. I’m guessing the residents and squatters, and maybe the militia, know where he is.
Way more important as elements of the incompetence of occupation are policies that come out of the embassy or DoD, which change without reason, become semi-secret edicts that everybody knows, and still rest more on ideology than reality. I could give a zillion examples…. One of the great difficulties in doing this work is that any Iraqi seen with Americans – as we ride in our armored suburbans and humvees and caravans, drive people off the road, and project incredible arrogance as occupiers – is a marked Iraqi. So is his family. It is not good for therm. Do not doubt that, with few exceptions (excluding most of Kurdistan), we are hated….