Paul Brinkley's War Pacifying Iraq with the Weapons of Capitalism
Paul Brinkley is the head of a special American task force that aims to bring lasting peace to Iraq using the tools of capitalism. He represents a new approach to waging war, where the economic experts come in with the ground troops. And it's working.
Nowadays, Baghdad is a place where two very different things can be happening at the same time. While a special Iraqi police unit is engaged in a gun battle with Sunni militias in the Fadhil neighborhood, old men and young women play tennis in the relatively tranquil surroundings of the Alwiya Club on Firdaus Square, where a statue of former dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled six years ago.
This is the situation in these two Baghdad locations on the last Saturday in March. Under a bright blue sky, some people are shooting guns while elsewhere others are perfecting their serves. Somewhere in between the two, the hero of this story, the bald, angular American Paul Brinkley, is being driven through the virtually empty Green Zone in a heavy, armor-clad SUV. Brinkley is on his way to old palaces to meet with the newly powerful.
It is not a particularly good day. Major government deals are falling apart and Brinkley is spending a lot of time talking on the phone, saying things like: "Yes, I'm just as shocked as you are," and "believe me, I was pushing every button I could." When he hangs up, he says nothing and looks grim. As he gazes through the vehicle's plate-glass windows, Brinkley sees the once-magnificent buildings of the Saddam regime, the crossed swords, the al-Rashid Hotel and the world headquarters of the Baath Party.
The no less imposing American architectural embodiment of the era of former President George W. Bush stands directly on the banks of the Tigris River. After the massive new US Embassy opened its doors recently, American officials cleared their offices in Saddam's palaces and moved into their new, earth-toned buildings, tucked behind walls and rolls of barbed wire. The new facility is the spitting image of some large, eerie, maximum-security prison. (Editor's note: Paul Brinkley has contested a quote that appeared here in the original version of this article. It has been removed by the editors.)
Brinkley is 42, no longer young but not yet old. For the past 35 months he has commuted between Washington and Baghdad, spending two weeks at a time in each place, his stays punctuated by the 12-hour flight and a seven-hour time difference. He has developed a theory about his biorhythm. He believes that it's healthy to exercise at the same time, no matter where he is. So he hits the exercise machines in Baghdad at one in the morning, because this corresponds to 6 p.m. in Washington, when he normally exercises. Encountering Brinkley late at night in Baghdad, it is not hard to imagine him later in life looking like an elderly Orson Welles: beefy, portly and positively demonic when he's in a bad mood.
According to his business card, Brinkley is a deputy under secretary at the Pentagon, responsible for "business transformation." His title may not sound like much, but Brinkley is in fact the Americans' Mr. Iraq, the director of the Task Force to Improve Business and Stability Operations in Iraq (TFBSO), a behind-the-scenes puppet master with thousands of connections. He knows people throughout the country and can drive anywhere between Basra in the far south and Arbil in the far north as someone who knows the country well and who is received as a guest of honor wherever he goes. Brinkley's task, in a broad sense, is to win the war with the tools of capitalism, to subdue resistance with economic success and to establish a general feeling of "mission accomplished." The good news is that, in a military sense, the Iraq war has ended.
Anyone who has followed Iraq's progress since 2003 and experienced the situation in the country at first hand, including the descent into hell in the winter of 2006/2007, and who now drives through Baghdad with Brinkley and accompanies him on his current travels throughout the country (sometimes by helicopter or armor-plated vehicle, but increasingly by car), anyone who goes to Karbala, Hilla or Iskandariyah or who visits Kurdistan, can only arrive at one conclusion: The war is over. Military operations are still underway in Mosul and in a few areas of Diyala province, along the Iranian border. But calm has returned to much of the rest of the country, a calm which nowadays is rarely interrupted by bombs, gunshots or attacks.
Anyone who travels in Iraq today and speaks to Iraqis throughout the country is unlikely to hear much about the security problems that shaped life for years. At the beginning of 2008, the US military sometimes counted up to 190 or 200 hostile actions and attacks per day. Now, only a year later, there are days when almost nothing happens throughout the country. Four US soldiers were killed in March, the lowest monthly death toll since the invasion six years ago. In the same month, 278 Iraqis, 229 of them civilians, died as a result of violent acts.
These numbers are, of course, terrible. It sounds like war. Nevertheless, in a country like Iraq, where not too long ago 10 times as many civilians were dying each month as a result of violence, it feels like peace.
Despite these obvious improvements, things are still oddly off-kilter in Iraq. There is now a general sense of unease about where the country is headed. Perhaps the last few weeks mark the beginning of a first, precarious, postwar year.
And yet every Iraqi knows that there are only a few possible directions that the country can go in. One way leads once again to downfall, the noxious swamp of corruption and the bloodbath of ethnic and religious strife between Sunnis and Shiites.
The other path, albeit rocky, leads into an appealing future, with a state that at some point in the future is re-organized and democratically governed -- a state which is at the center of the Middle East and which could do very well for itself by selling its mineral resources. Paul Brinkley works day and night to ensure that it is this second scenario which becomes reality.