For Brinkley, it all began in May 2005, when he came to Iraq from Washington for the first time. It was an official trip, and he was part of a team of five people that had come to Baghdad to check up on things, analyze flows of money, look for weaknesses in the system and find ways to save money. Operation Iraq was already costing $9 billion (6.9 billion) a month at the time, $2.5 billion less than it does today.
Peter Chiarelli, one of the commanding generals at the time, took the opportunity to get some advice from the economic experts from Washington. He asked Brinkley's group to take a look at the enormous government-owned automobile plants at Iskandariyah. He wanted to know what could be done with Saddam's legacy, and how to put the Iraqis back to work instead of losing them to the insurgency. The war was still in full swing in Iraq in May 2005, and in the midst of this war, the civilian Paul Brinkley was driven to Iskandariyah in an armor-clad vehicle. There, in the midst of an impossibly huge city of assembly buildings, power plants and various types of factories, he met a former director who welcomed the Americans by spending an hour and a half cursing them for their stupidity and lack of responsibility.
The problem, says Brinkley, was that the man was right -- and that he and his team quickly came up with ideas on what to do with complexes like the one in Iskandariyah. "Now that was really a problem," he says. "After that, we couldn't simply go home and carry on with our lives, with the knowledge that we knew a way out and that we had not taken it, while soldiers were dying in Iraq."
The effort yielded documents and memos, and led to the establishment of the Task Force to Improve Business and Stability Operations in Iraq, a part-military, part-civilian body whose value was difficult to define, an experiment that took place, not coincidentally, during the rise of General David Petraeus. Petraeus, as head of Central Command today, is now in charge of US military operations in more than 20 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brinkley and Petraeus know each other, and one can assume that they get along well. It is rumored that the general made sure that Brinkley's group would survive the transition in Washington from Bush to current President Barack Obama. Petraeus needs Brinkley, and not just in Iraq. It doesn't take much to imagine similar task forces in Afghanistan or crisis regions in Africa, in fact, in all asymmetrical conflicts. They are an important component of modern warfare and counterinsurgency efforts, as Petraeus himself wrote as co-author of Field Manual 3-24, which focuses on counterinsurgency operations. The goal is to put an end to the old-school way of doing things, to dispense with the shoot-first, build-later philosophy. And the goal, paradoxically, is to use civilian aid as a weapon of war.
Petraeus wants to see economic assistance brought into a crisis region while major military operations are still underway. He wants to stabilize the economy and its potential while the shooting is still going on. This, he argues, is the only way to gain the support of the population and to defeat insurgents with tangible successes, namely work and food. Seen in this light, Brinkley and the 250 members of his task force represent a new kind of special forces, who look for ways to resolve conflicts and shorten wars through nonmilitary means. It is an important experiment.
Brinkley can even map out the experiment in coordinate systems. He devises functions as a factor of violence, resources and time, and says things like: "I would talk about stabilization until this point, after that real development begins." Brinkley believes that Iraq is close to reaching the point where "real development" begins.
But concerns about stability are growing once again. The Sons of Iraq, a 94,000-strong Sunni militia paid for and equipped by the Americans in the hope they would become allies in the war against terror, have been heading in the wrong direction in places. Since last fall, they are no longer on the American payroll, but instead are being paid by the Iraqi government, which is sending dangerously mixed messages to them. Originally it was promised that one-fifth of the group's members would become part of the police and military, but so far this has failed to materialize. Although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has apparently decided to guarantee payment of the militia's wages, it is not keeping other promises. And because of the sharp drop in the price of oil, the government is now stumbling from one budget shortfall to the next.
The current budget -- approved under the assumption that the average price of a barrel of crude oil in 2009 would be $70 -- is nothing but a piece of paper today, when the oil price is around $50 a barrel. Investments directly related to security have had to be postponed, restructured or scrapped completely. There is talk here and there that some groups in the country can hardly wait for the day of the US withdrawal, that the Baath Party is reemerging and that a new Sunni-Shiite civil war could be next.
Of course, anything is possible, and many things make for a good read in editorials in the Western media, but a new collapse in Iraq is unlikely. The traditional forces of Iraqi society -- sheikhs, clans and tribes -- support a new economic and political beginning. They will not support a return to the days of fighting, and even if the elected government were to fail completely, they remain the decisive social force.
Most of all, there is the possibility that the current efforts to stabilize Iraq will succeed. If they do, and Iraq becomes a peaceful, stable democracy in the Middle East, the world will face a debate over whether, for example, a wrong war can yield the right results. There will be debates, too, over how long historical processes can last before they produce an acceptable outcome and over how much expense and how many victims can be tolerated in order to end the despotic rule of a dictator and turn a country around, steering it in the direction of democracy and human rights. And, finally, there will be much debate over whether an American president who was wrong can be vindicated in the end. Discussions about such issues can last a long time with Brinkley, who refuses to make final judgments. It depends on the individual case, he says, and on the details. Blanket statements are rarely true, he says.
In euphoric moments, Brinkley likes to quote people like George C. Marshall, the father of the Marshall Plan, and his impassioned speeches about the situation in Europe after World War II. This constant focus on great words of the past helps him to survive the tough routine in Baghdad, the often exhausting detail-oriented work, the minutiae of factory visits, and all the face-to-face meetings with directors, ministers and generals. He focuses on the big picture and keeps his eye on the prize. He can already claim credit for the fact that 250,000 people are back to work in 66 government-owned companies which were still moribund just three years ago.
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from World section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2009
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH