By Stephen Donnelly
Best Defense guest respondent
I was surprised to see Foreign
Policy providing so high a soapbox
Van Buren, a State Department Foreign Service Officer who, by his own
well" during his brief and unproductive jaunt as an Embedded Provincial
Reconstruction Team (EPRT) leader in Iraq in 2009, but, according to him,
caused more damage there than most any other individual I have ever heard of or
Two articles and a blog spotlight in just a few days.
Obviously, Van Buren never got the drift of PRTs, a decisive
and controversial 2007 effort by the State Department's Office of Provincial
Affairs' Director Ambassador Henry Clarke to break through the failed
bureaucracy of top-down US colonial administration programs by forcing
decision-making out to committed civilian reconstruction staff on the ground.
Clarke always knew that the Achilles Heel of PRTs was poor assignments of
unqualified individuals, and that the only defense against the Peter van Burens
was to have many PRTs so that the failures did not pull down the whole mission.
The real Iraq PRT story is not pretty, fraught with
bureaucratic snafus, and involved much waste, fraud, abuse, and war wreckage:
the best laid plans of mice and men seldom survive a powerful IED, regardless
of bravery or the best of intentions! But it is not the story that Peter van
Buren tells which inaccurately paints a very bad light on the entire Foreign
Service, with which he seems very dissatisfied.
The military, as Clarke often explained, had a "do it now"
attitude that compelled each new brigade to launch one "quick hit" program
after another to have Iraqis pick up the trash. The PRTs had to break that mold
by focusing on the real problem: the Iraqis had no system, post-2003, to pick
up their own trash. PRTs had to work across the rotational boundary with Iraqi
counterparties, down to the local and provincial levels, to create permanent
solutions for Iraqis' technical, resource, and administrative problems or we
would be locked in Iraq forever. The real conflict was the damaging one between
U.S. bureaucracy (the Embassy and agencies) and the field, where localized
Iraqi solutions had to be found and nourished.
Read the rest of the post here
U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos/Flickr