Interagency Feuding Over Iraq Reconstruction

Stephen DeAngelis

May 15, 2007

As I noted a few days ago, Paul Brinkley and his colleagues from the Pentagon were instrumental in setting up my trip to Kurdistan — for which I am most grateful. In some quarters, according to a Washington Post article, Brinkley’s efforts are not so appreciated [“Defense Skirts State in Reviving Iraqi Industry,” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, 14 May 2007].

“Paul Brinkley, a deputy undersecretary of defense, has been called a Stalinist by U.S. diplomats in Iraq. One has accused him of helping insurgents build better bombs. The State Department has even taken the unusual step of enlisting the CIA to dispute the validity of Brinkley’s work. His transgression? To begin reopening dozens of government-owned factories in Iraq.”

Brinkley is operating on a theory to which I also subscribe — that security and economic growth are both essential elements of success in any post-conflict reconstruction efforts. People need both jobs and security. One without the other is a recipe for continued unrest and instability. Apparently the State Department agrees with the premise, but not the strategy Brinkley is implementing.

Brinkley is on the far right, in dark glasses.

“Brinkley and his colleagues at the Pentagon believe that rehabilitating shuttered, state-run enterprises could reduce violence by employing tens of thousands of Iraqis. Officials at State counter that the initiative is antithetical to free-market reforms the United States should promote in Iraq. The bureaucratic knife fight over the best way to revive Iraq’s moribund economy illustrates how the two principal players in the reconstruction of Iraq — the departments of Defense and State — remain at odds over basic economic and political measures. The bickering has hamstrung initiatives to promote stability four years after Saddam Hussein’s fall. Under pressure from Congress to demonstrate progress on the ground, the military often favors immediate solutions aimed at quelling violence. That has prompted objections from some at State who question the long-term consequences of that expeditious approach. In recent months, the two departments have squabbled over the degree to which Iraqi farmers should be aided by subsidies and tariffs. They also remain at odds over State’s desire to deploy reconstruction teams to two Shiite-dominated provinces in central Iraq. Defense officials are balking at providing robust security for the teams, preferring to deploy as many troops as possible in Baghdad. State contends that well-protected American civilians in those provinces will build relationships with future Shiite leaders.”

Brinkley certainly understands that economic growth is necessary throughout Iraq and not just in Baghdad. My trip to Kurdistan is proof of that. But Chandrasekaran reports that tensions are so high between State and Defense that Brinkley has all but stopped working with the embassy in Baghdad.

“The dispute between State and Brinkley has become so pitched that he has effectively stopped working with the U.S. Embassy and is setting up his office elsewhere in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. ‘We tend to not deal with them very often,’ Brinkley said of embassy officials. ‘We have our own mission, and we do our own thing.’ Although the embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Daniel Speckhard, said Brinkley ‘has the support of the embassy,’ Brinkley travels to factories without embassy personnel in tow and holds his own meetings with Iraqi trade, commercial and banking officials. He has also organized trips for U.S. business executives to Iraq and has encouraged deals between Iraqi state-owned firms and U.S. corporations. Brinkley, who was interviewed in Washington, said he expects several factories to reopen this summer. By year’s end, he envisions Wal-Mart stores selling made-in-Baghdad leather jackets and other U.S. retailers stocking Iraqi loafers, hand-stitched carpets and pinstripe suits.”

If you want to get U.S. troops home from Iraq as quickly and successfully as possible, give Iraqis both hope and a stake in the future. That comes with investment not aid and with jobs not welfare. People need to get back to work and children need to get back to school. As I have reported, that is happening in Kurdistan. It needs to occur in the rest of Iraq as well. It’s ironic, notes Chandrasekaran, that immediately following the fall of Baghdad, the State Department recommended doing exactly what Brinkley is now doing and the Pentagon was opposed to the strategy.

“By last year, the positions had been reversed. Military commanders began arguing to restart the factories, even as a new crew of embassy economists, some of whom had been scarred by dealings with state-run firms in Eastern Europe, disagreed. Because State was now running the show in the Green Zone, its opposition carried the day. Then Brinkley arrived in Baghdad. Brinkley, a balding 40-year-old who speaks in rapid-fire sentences [see picture — click to enlarge], had joined the Defense Department as a political appointee in 2005 after serving as an executive at JDS Uniphase Corp. At the Silicon Valley manufacturer of fiber-optic equipment, he had helped the company acquire a factory in China that had been run by the government. The experience, Brinkley said, convinced him that ‘state-owned enterprises can provide jobs, and turn a profit and lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.’ Brinkley’s initial mission last summer was to simplify Defense Department contracting to give Iraqi firms a better chance of providing goods and services to the U.S. military.”

In addition to what appears to be a personality clash between Brinkley and embassy personnel, there is a genuine difference of opinion about how best to jump start the Iraqi economy and increase stability.

“Embassy officials warned Brinkley that if he opened factories in Sunni areas first, he risked angering Shiites. Moreover, the electricity needed by production lines would mean less for residences. Would people really be happier, embassy officials asked, if they had jobs but less power at home? The embassy’s in-house think tank, the Joint Strategic Planning and Assessment Office, also joined the fray, issuing an internal memorandum declaring that ‘trying to give these enterprises a new lease on life will make Iraqis poorer without reducing the violence.’ The memo, written by an economist from the Rand Corp. working on contract for the embassy, added that ‘resuscitating state-owned enterprises is a bad idea.’

Brinkley is pressing ahead doing things like arranging loans to get factories back on line, bringing in U.S. businesses to establish commercial ties and so forth. Chandrasekaran indicates that opposition to Brinkley and his programs is starting to subside (probably because the White House is impressed with his efforts), but skepticism hasn’t completely disappeared. Hopefully, State and Defense will stop their turf wars and start cooperating. There is a lot at stake, including the safety of U.S. personnel and hope for a brighter future for innocent Iraqis. For another take on this very interesting and well-written article, see Tom’s Barnett’s Weblog.