I have been talking a lot about events w/o ever addressing the existential question, such as why am I here? What am I supposed to do in Iraq? Let me give my quick explanation.
First I suggest you look at the new publication AID put out re PRTs. If you look at the map, my PRT is called West Anbar.
They tell me that the PRT concept originated in Afghanistan, where we realized that just chasing away the bad guys would not ensure success if we did not leave behind a viable civil structure that would allow for peaceful development. It seems to me the concept is a lot older than that. Everything from a Roman aqueduct in Spain to a WPA shelter or the pine trees planted by the CCC in one of our National Forests are monuments by “provincial reconstruction teams.”
Prosperity cannot come before security. This is a step you cannot skip no matter how enthusiastically you sing the song of peace. And security must be established by force and violence. Coalition forces have established reasonable security in Anbar. This is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for progress. Now it is the time for us of the softer hands to do our part.
It just makes sense that if you address a problem but leave in place the conditions that created it, you have not addressed the problem. I have no delusions of grandeur that my small team can solve the problems of Iraq, Anbar or even one of the provincial cities, but I figure if we all do our small parts, eventually – through mere accretion if nothing else – something big may result.
The heartbreak of Iraq is not that it is poor and disorganized. The real tragedy is that it does not have to be that way. Everybody knows it has oil, but it is also rich in terms of water, agricultural potential and people. Saddam mismanaged and misappropriated Iraq’s wealth for more than 25 years and leadership was not all that good before either. Iraq’s misfortune results from more than mismanagement and it cannot be addressed by replacing bad guys with good ones (if that were even possible). The problem was/is systemic. Iraq was run as a centralized state. Decisions and resources came from Baghdad with virtually no consideration for or from the people affected. This was exacerbated by the “curse of oil”. The government floated on oil. It did not need to get the consent of the governed to raise revenue. Instead it could make all Iraqis dependent on the oil financed “largess” of the central authority. That, coupled with the real danger of taking any action that might anger the central power and what they tell me is an ancient Mesopotamian pessimism, made the population very passive.
So maybe our PRTs are peeing the ocean and waiting for the flood, but it seems to me that the recent events in Iraq have created conditions for radical change. The coalition military has bought the opportunity. It is the direction of the change that is in flux. If left on its own, the tyranny pattern of the past will reassert itself. At this time of maximum leverage, maybe our little pushes will help make the future different from the past.
My team, and the others like mine, is working with the local people: tribes, municipal government, private sector initiatives and other to overcome the over centralization of the past. I am personally excited about the new push in agriculture. I just (yesterday) got a new staff member, a guy from Department of Agriculture who has experience rebuilding soils that have been ruined by the salinization that comes with too much irrigation for too long. I think we can do some good here. It certainly is worth the trouble of trying.