I will go back to Iraq at the end of this week for my last two months there. I have been thinking about how I can continue to add value up until the very end. The two hardest parts of any posting are the first month and the last. In first month you are overwhelmed trying to learn the new place, the new job and how to work with new colleagues; in the last you are trying to stay relevant, not check-out mentally before you leave physically and continue to plant those seeds you know you will never see germinate.
Much of my energy will be absorbed by the transition to a new team leader. It helps that my successor, Robert Kerr, is an experienced diplomat who has already served in Iraq. We will overlap for at least a week – long enough to pass along my knowledge, but not my bad habits. Beyond that, my team works autonomously. We all like to think we are indispensible, but I know from experience that soon after we leave a posting we gone like the snows of past winters. We do our part in our time and when our time is done we do something else. That does not detract from the importance of our duty. Each of us is a link in the chain and as the old saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I am gratful that I had the opportunity to do my part.
We need to build on the success given to us by the surge. We can be grateful that we didn’t listen to the advice of the surge opponents a year ago, but maybe some of their current advice isn’t so bad. A detailed timeline independent of developing condition in Iraq is just plain stupid, but an aspirational timeline, one that reiterates the U.S. desire to leave, may be a good idea.
In my corner of Iraq, we have begun already. The Marines are gradually drawing down. They are responible for the peace we now enjoy, so leaving is tricky for all sorts of big reasons. For us, their drawdown has the practical effect of giving us fewer travel assets, i.e. helicopters and convoys. We also see our Iraqi friends are willing and able to take on more of the responsibility for their own development. The transition is tricky. Some of the locals have come to see us as a font of resources. They think it is easier and better to get us to do something than to ask their own government or do it themselves. We have to change this attitude and I have been trying to wean them off our largess, at least as pertains to our ePRT. We don’t do anything w/o a local contribution. The days of us doing for them are over. We are currently in the partnership mode and I look forward to the day coming soon when they will do for themselves. I hope with some U.S. investment and participation, but that will be private.
If we don’t succeed, I worry about the moral hazard. When people get used to unearned entitlements it leads to dependency and indolence. Beyond that, they come to despise those giving them the benefit. Generosity is harder than it seems. I think it has something to do with reciprocity. W/o self respect, people cannot respect others and they cannot build self respect if they feel that they are not making a contribution. Giving w/o expecting anything in return can take away the recipients’ self respect. Their contribution need not be directly proportional. It may consist of only the promise to do something for others in the future, but the donor has to insist of something, a contribution – reciprocity. Otherwise there is a moral hazard that leads to pain for both donor and recipient.
The old saying that it is more blessed to give than receive is incomplete. The best for all around is generous reciprocity.