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The Iraq Economic War

where to start
by Lawrence Sellin
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) March 8, 2007
Late last month the U.S. Department of Defense sent out an email asking for Army Reserve soldiers and civilian employees to volunteer for service in Iraq with the Department of State's Provincial Reconstruction Teams. The skill sets required were: agri-business, business specialists, economics, city management, city management/engineering, governance, industry specialist, medical, rule of law and veterinarian.

Although this request was made with the best of intentions, it was pathetic for a number of reasons. In particular, it highlighted the fact that the only Americans "at war" are the members of the military and their families. Not even the U.S. government itself is very helpful in making such an effort successful.

There are highly skilled reservists who could fill such billets. Unfortunately, the system does not make volunteering easy, even in the case of a "national emergency". The best candidates for such PRT work are usually found in private industry or local government.

Upon volunteering, the candidate, more often than not, immediately loses his or her current position. If one is lucky enough to have a patriotic employer, a rare commodity indeed, the volunteer does not encounter major reemployment issues or discrimination upon return to civilian life. Regrettably, negative reemployment experiences for returning reservists are far more common than is acknowledged by the U.S. government and the business community.

There is the so-called Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 meant to protect returning veterans, but it places all of the burden on the reservist to sue or to threaten to sue the employer. Neither of these courses of action leads to a happy ending.

None of this should surprise anyone, given the shabby treatment of our wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Hospital, figurative a rock's throw from the heart of the U.S. government in downtown Washington.

Nor do past American reconstruction efforts in Iraq augur well for future success.

The February 2, 2007, report "Reconstruction in Iraq: The Uncertain Way Ahead" by Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies paints a very grim picture of economic progress in Iraq, part of which includes the PRT effort.

"U.S. core capabilities to plan and management (sic) any aspect of the Iraqi reconstruction program is also critically weak," he wrote. "It is far from clear that the U.S. can make a fourfold increase in the little over 100 civilian experts in the present PRTs now in Iraq. Many of the existing civilians lack proper qualifications and these took nearly two years to recruit and build up to their present numbers, USAID, the Corps of Engineers, and U.S. contractors have had many individual successes, but they have shown little overall capability to administer, audit, and develop suitable effectiveness measures.

"The overall level of U.S. effectiveness has been roughly equal to that of the new Iraqi government, but with far less excuse."

No doubt, the current request for PRT volunteers is a product of this assessment.

The keys to success in Iraq remain security, reconstruction and winning the information war. So far, the Unites States has done none of these particularly well. This may be because it is too busy trying to boil the ocean, trying to do everything with resources barely adequate to make a fraction of it succeed. The effort might be better served by doing fewer critically important tasks well and building on a foundation of success.

The reported agreement between the Kurdish regional authorities and the Iraqi government in regard to control of the oil revenues in northern Iraq could now pave the way for international investment in Iraqi oil production facilities in the relatively secure Kurdish region and provide a significant opportunity for bottom-up economic development. Consolidating and trumpeting this success story would also provide a foundation for turning the tide in the information war.

The cornerstone of the new Bush Administration strategy remains clear, hold and build. Over the last four years, there has been clearing, holding and building, but disjointedly, and it has not been done in a sustainable way. The effectiveness of this model needs to be clearly demonstrated as soon as possible. In business terms it is known as a quick win, a case study or a proof point.

It's time to get serious and focus the efforts in a meaningful way. It's also time for those who are requesting even more sacrifices from military families -- and the many who are benefiting from the security they provide -- to extend the level of support that those sacrifices justly deserve.

(Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., is an Afghanistan veteran. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited)

Source: United Press International

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