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.)

His schedule for the day includes meetings with the Iraqi deputy prime minister, the finance minister and the minister of planning, as well as with Raymond Odierno, the US commanding general of the multinational force in Iraq, who Brinkley calls "Ray." His evening agenda consists of a dinner with the Iraqi minister of industry and mining, followed by get-togethers with the Texas agriculture commissioner, who is visiting Baghdad, a group of professors and an Iraqi government spokesman. Later in the evening, Brinkley will have several telephone conversations with Washington. They include a call to his wife and his children. He has an 11-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter.

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.

'Remedies to Iraq's Depression'

His task force spent $140 million (€108 million) last year to stimulate investment, bring interested businesspeople to the country, advise local business owners, launch an electronic banking system, fund fertilizer plants and, somehow, advertise Iraq as place in which to invest.

Brinkley has brought Japanese, British, German, Lebanese and Egyptian consortiums to Iraq that between May and December 2008 alone invested $910 million (€705 million) in local cement plants. Overall, foreign companies have already signed contracts for business deals worth $8 billion (€6.2 billion). Companies like Boeing, Daimler, General Electric and Caterpillar are cautiously beginning to become involved in Iraq, while other companies, like Agility Logistics, Case New Holland, Arcelor Mittal and Festo Didactic are already active in the country. A steel mill is under construction in Basra, at a cost of $1 billion (€770 million), and ABC Carpet and Home, the legendary New York home furnishing business, is having hand-knotted rugs made in Iraq. Things are moving ahead at a brisk pace, and Brinkley is, in some way or another, behind almost all of these new business ventures.

It is to his credit that fruit and vegetables are now being cultivated in thousands of greenhouses between Baghdad and Hilla, and his task force is responsible for the new tractors in use at these new farms. When the Central Euphrates wholesale market opens soon, where 6,000 farmers from a region controlled by nine powerful Sunni and Shiite sheikhs will be able to sell their products in a single facility, it will be the result of funding and advice supplied by Brinkley. And when businesspeople arrive in Baghdad from Kuwait on the new airline Gryphon Air, they owe their comfortable seats to one of Brinkley's ideas.

It is difficult to describe what he does or how he does it. He meets with people and talks to them, but his secret is that he always treats Iraqis as equals. He takes pains not to come across as the helping and patronizing American, as a father figure from the First World who has come to Iraq to show those in the Third World how things are done.

Brinkley is no aid worker. Instead, he sees himself as a businessman working on behalf of the US government. His tools are arguments, contacts and money, and instead of treating people offhandedly, either arrogantly from above or with false sincerity from below, he actually negotiates with them. His approach is not always friendly, and sometimes he is hard-nosed and demanding, acting as a business partner, and sometimes as an adviser and expert. And though consistently friendly, he is certainly not everyone's friend.

To comprehend the enormity of his task, it is helpful to imagine Iraq for a moment as a dusty, very large, latter-day version of East Germany with much of its infrastructure destroyed by war. The country is filled with 200 more or less decrepit, government-owned factories, run-down power plants and wrecked farms. There are enormous industrial wastelands, assembly hangars the size of ship docks, which are emblematic of the megalomania of Saddam and his cohorts but where little was ever actually produced that anyone might want to buy.

Shortly after the 2003 invasion, the Americans simply turned off the spigot to Iraqi industry. Paul Bremer, the all-powerful US civilian administrator, drafted his now notorious CPA orders, which, because they were written in the first person, now read like megalomaniacal decrees. Bremer demolished Saddam's state-run economy, disbanded the military and allowed entire industries and institutions to deteriorate. With one stroke of the pen after another, he disassembled an entire country and deprived its people of their employment.

Instead of serving as an astute administrator of a bankrupt country, Bremer was an avenger who was more interested in total victory than in the peace that would eventually follow. As a result, the invasion turned into a war that lasted for years, and hardly anyone today can still dispute that Bremer's tenure played a key role in fueling that conflict.

This is Brinkley's view, which he has described in articles he has written for Newsweek and the Military Review. Even if he doesn't mention his name, it's obvious Brinkely is referring to Bremer when he makes statements like: "We created this mess here, and now we have to help clean it up." When he started developing concepts for reviving a few of Iraq's state-owned businesses, he became a target for half of Washington. He was called a communist at the Pentagon, and at the State Department, which in fact considers itself responsible for civilian reconstruction, papers and memos were written attacking Brinkley's supposedly wasteful behavior. But he persevered. He says that he doesn't take orders from people who never leave their offices, who are unfamiliar with the situation "and who couldn't care less about the people."

When he started developed strategies for reviving a few of Iraq's state-owned businesses, he became a target for half of Washington. He was called a communist at the Pentagon. At the State Department, which considers itself responsible for civilian reconstruction, papers and memos were written attacking Brinkley's supposedly wasteful behavior. But he persevered. He says that he doesn't take orders from people who never leave their offices, who are unfamiliar with the situation "and who couldn't care less about the people."

He doesn't say whether he was fundamentally for or against this war, but it doesn't matter anymore. In fact, he had nothing to do with politics or the Pentagon in the days when the war was such a hot-button issue. He was a Silicon Valley man, a business executive with a degree in engineering and four patents under his belt, three of them for hardware and one for an algorithm that he is still proud of today. He made and lost a lot of money during the Internet bubble. And after the crash of the New Economy, he was saddled with the job of reducing the workforce at his fiber optics and laser optics company from 32,000 to 5,000 employees within 18 months, and closing 28 of its 41 locations worldwide. When that was over, the call came from the Pentagon.

Brinkley was invited to come to Washington to work as an adviser on efficiency, organization and streamlining. It was during the tenure of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the war in Iraq had been going on for a little more than a year, and Rumsfeld wanted everything streamlined. He wanted the enormous bureaucracy at the Defense Department -- which is one of the world's largest government agencies, headquartered in the world's largest office building, the Pentagon -- to be run like a business in the future.

To achieve his goals, Rumsfeld brought in new people, civilians, managers and Pentagon outsiders, people who could think outside the box, people like Brinkley. Brinkley spent nine months in negotiations over his new position, determined not to allow himself to be short-changed by government officials. In return for leaving California, and for bringing his wife and their two small children to Washington, he wanted a position with the authority to make decisions, a job with real power. In the end, his position made him the Pentagon's de facto financial controller. A person can hardly have much more power than that.

At first, he couldn't have dreamed that his new job would soon involve trying to put new war doctrines into practice while under rocket fire. Until 2005, he had never even been close to the Middle East, and had certainly never been to Iraq, nor had he ever had an interest in going there.

Playing the Good Host

Now, four years later, his small convoy of SUVs leaves the deserted Green Zone, heading south. Brinkley is accompanied by Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples and a group of professors who specialize in agriculture. Outside the Green Zone, in the real Baghdad -- which no one seriously refers to as the Red Zone anymore -- life goes on as it would in any other impoverished large Middle Eastern city. Baghdad has become a bustling and colorful place, with traffic jams at intersections and uniformed school children crossing the street, a place where merchants stack their wares in front of shops, building towers of refrigerators, generators and plastic tubs.

In the city's southern neighborhoods, which, only a year and a half ago, were empty war zones with house-to-house combat, markets are now in full swing, and animals, vegetables and construction materials are being transported. The checkpoints on Baghdad's arterial roads are manned exclusively with Iraqis. Indeed, wherever one looks, there is little trace of the 142,000 US troops still in the country.

Brinkley does his best to be a good host to the Texans. Agriculture Commissioner Staples has been mentioned as a possible future governor. With the exception of the hat, he fits the cowboy cliché perfectly, with his embroidered boots, jeans, thick belt buckle and broad Texas twang. He clearly comes from a different world. Later in the day, he will pose for photographs with US soldiers from Texas, and he will address a group of Iraqi teachers and tell them that agriculture makes up 9.5 percent of total economic output in Texas, about $100 billion (€77 billion). The Iraqis will look at each other in confusion, wondering if they have understood the American correctly. The sum Staples mentions, $100 billion, far exceeds Iraq's entire annual economic output.

Brinkley shows the Texan poorly irrigated grain fields and greenhouse projects, and he takes him up onto a roof on the outskirts of Karbala, where traces are visible of a 25-kilometer (16-mile) swath of green, consisting of eucalyptus, date palms and olive trees planted in the last two years. On the ladder leading up to the roof, Brinkley says: "Now I'm going to show you something that'll knock you over." On the roof, the Texan puts his hands on his hips, looks around, sticks out his lower lip and nods approvingly.

The country he has been touring with Brinkley for the last few days has nothing in common with the Iraq he has seen on television. This country looks completely different, as if it had earned a chance. "But if I'm supposed to bring in people," the Texan tells Brinkley back in the car, "they'll have to know what will happen in two or three years, you understand, when we're out of here." Brinkley says: "Absolutely."

But because there are no good answers to questions about the future, he talks about the past. "All I can say is that the progress I've seen here in three years is incredible," says Brinkley, and the Texan says: "Absolutely." He is already looking forward to the pictures of him in newspapers back home: Todd Staples with Texan soldiers in Iraq; Todd Staples talking to experts in Baghdad; Todd Staples giving a talk in Hilla about the importance of bees for Iraqi agriculture; Todd Staples wearing a protective helmet in a wheat field near Karbala.

No matter who Brinkley's guests are or where he takes them, at the end of the day they are always brought back to a house called "the Villa," on a side street in the Green Zone, surrounded by walls and guarded by security personnel wearing white shirts and ties. Brinkley has several rooms in the house where he receives visitors. The large "tea room," with its opulent Arab upholstered furniture, is on the ground floor. Next to it is a small dining room. Brinkley lives on the second floor, in a room furnished to approximately the standard of a three-star hotel, and next to it is another small reception room.

Brinkley constantly has company, and he spends much of his time in his conference rooms. His task force consists of 250 people, including a core team of six or seven people who live in the villa and meet with him frequently. There is little flexibility to reschedule appointments on Brinkley's calendar. Every aspect of his life is carefully planned, a life mapped out in the form of time windows, windows which are opened and closed by Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Law.

Law is 48, six years older than Brinkley, a tall redhead with a rough exterior. She was one of the first female helicopter pilots in the US military, which she joined at 18. Law is the official military adviser to Mr. Brinkley. Everyone calls him Mr. Brinkley, not Paul. And when Lieutenant Colonel Law points to someone and nods, without saying a word, it means: The window is open. Mr. Brinkley is ready to see you.

When in Baghdad, Brinkley usually meets his guests on the second floor of the villa or, when he wants more privacy, on the roof. There, dusty plastic chairs stand between antennas and cables. From the roof, one has a view of a large swath of the Green Zone, whose walls and protective barriers form a kind of labyrinth. The Green Zone seems dead, day and night, and even the once feverish heliport known as "LZ Washington" is now quiet.

The roof affords a view of the garden surrounding the villa, where Brinkley has had a large additional guesthouse built that resembles a motel in provincial America, complete with wireless Internet and television in the rooms, large bathrooms and clock radios. By Iraqi standards it's a luxury hotel. "We have to provide something for the people who want to invest here," says Brinkley, half-jokingly.

A caterer brings bacon and eggs for breakfast and hummus and barbecued chicken for dinner, and the employees in the lobby do their best to make the place seem as welcoming as possible. Sara, Sonja and Hope, who comprise Brinkley's secretarial staff and press office, can usually be found sitting there in front of their Apple laptops. They are young, competent and good-looking.

Lieutenant Colonel Law sometimes stands there, looking like a tired bird, and says that she has been in the army for 30 years and is looking forward to retirement at the end of the year. Brinkley responds by quoting a famous line from the song "Hotel California:" "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Late at night, during his few quiet moments, Brinkley sits on the roof smoking cigars. Sometimes he reflects on his life. He recalls the times when rockets and grenades used to hit the Green Zone every day and every night, the times his employees were hit and sometimes killed, and the times he barely escaped with his own life.

A New Kind of Special Forces

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.

The Avowed Civilian

In the mornings, when his long day is just beginning, Brinkley usually takes along a big pot of coffee in the car, chews Jolt caffeine chewing gum and sometimes rubs his eyeballs with the balls of his hands in a somewhat theatrical gesture. He wears blazers with gold buttons and loafers or, on some days, a black suit and tie, an entirely white outfit or combinations of blue and gray. He is strictly opposed to wearing a protective vest or even a helmet, no matter where his trips take him. Brinkley even wears his civilian clothing on the notorious "Route Irish," the road which connects the Green Zone to Baghdad Airport -- something he also did even when the road was the scene of frequent attacks by insurgents.

He is an avowed civilian, and that's what he wants to look like. Most of all, he wants his negotiating partners to see him as a civilian. "It's also a question of respect," he says. "No Iraqi wears protective gear these days. Many corporate executives I know are even letting their bodyguards and personal security teams go. But we Americans often still show up in armoured vehicles. How can people talk to each other in a reasonable way when one side wears helmets and the other doesn't?"

A short time later, Brinkley is sitting in Iraqi Finance Minister Bayan Jabr's reception room at the Adnan Palace. The minister, whose face looks gray, is toying with his TV remote control. His thoughts seem to be elsewhere. One would be forgiven for forming the impression that the two men don't like each other.

Brinkley lowers his voice to force the minister to listen. In the end he is almost whispering. Whispering is one of his persuasive techniques, and it routinely allows him to capture the attention of his listeners. Here, in his talk with the finance minister, he whispers the names of multinational corporations, and he whispers his concerns, proposals, using powerful gestures, his hands constantly in motion, separating, organizing and summarizing his thoughts.

Even after nights when he didn't get to bed until 4 a.m., which happens often, or when he hasn't slept at all, which also happens, he is wide awake during the tense minutes of his meetings.

Between meetings, he goes to his car, slumps down in his seat and wipes his face. Sometimes he hooks his small, black iPod Nano -- which contains 1,500 songs ranging from heavy metal to country -- up to the car stereo system and turns up the volume.

It is clear that Brinkley is very fond of Fawzi Hariri, the minister of industry and mining. He relaxes in Hariri's presence, and suddenly he finds it easy to believe in a better future.

Hariri is an elegant man. After spending 25 years in exile in London, he speaks English like a BBC presenter. In England, he worked his way up from low-ranking employee to management at British Airways. He returned home in 2001, after Islamists in Kurdistan murdered his father.

Hariri gives his country "five to 10 years" to complete the next phase. "Five to 10 years of peaceful development," he says, "and then we will have made it." The biggest enemy, he says, is not violence. The biggest enemies, according to Hariri, are corruption and incompetence.

It is one of the last evenings with Brinkley. He is booked on the Friday flight from Kuwait to Washington, a 12-hour flight, across seven time zones, his usual routine for the last 35 months.

Brinkley has been in Sulaymaniyah, Iskandariyah, Karbala, Hilla and Baghdad. During our very first meeting in Kuwait, he said that it's strange, but now that the entire world is optimistic about Iraq, he feels almost pessimistic. Today he says that he cannot remember having said that, nor does he remember what he meant by it.

Concepts like optimism and pessimism have already become alien to him. For Brinkley, life is about doing things and moving on. "The point," says Brinkley, "is that the kinetic part is over and that the hard work is now beginning."

He is standing in the evening light next to a large construction site, and he manages a rare smile. The hole in the ground is the site of a future $100 million (€77 million) hotel. It will be a five-star hotel with pleasant views of the imposing architecture around it, from Saddam's crossed swords to the US Embassy, and of the bend in the Tigris. Perhaps, who knows, guests will be able to eat sushi there and have a drink in a bar on the top floor.

Brinkley puts on his jacket. Evenings are still cool; the hot season doesn't really get going until May. "They want to open this hotel in 2011, and I think they'll do it," Brinkley says. "And I'll be here at the opening to drink a toast to the place. You can bet on that."

For a moment, it seems as if tears are welling up in his eyes. But he suppresses them and breathes deeply. He walks back to his car. Mr. Brinkley has appointments at the villa.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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