• PRT Diaspora: View from the Lab

    November 21, 2012 // Comments Off

    Here’s an email I received:




    A few years ago, I retired the Department of Health and Human Services. During my last years of federal service, I was an international assignee.


    Because I was both new to and naive about USG “foreign service” my tour was eye-opening. As I found myself routinely unable to complete “impossible tasks” assigned to me, I felt obliged to “explain” to my foreign service superiors what they failed to grasp about laboratory work. Slowly I realized that Van Buren is correct: my task was to spend money. I was supposed to “demonstrate” that the money had “been spent”. In my case, I was supposed to demonstrate that I had “built laboratory capacity” and “strengthened laboratory infrastructure”. Because laboratory-testing demonstrations are not as dramatic as chicken-processing demonstrations, I am especially grateful for his book. He tells the story I have to tell on a grander scale and in a more entertaining way.


    I wish that those who understood the pretentiousness of our “do something” foreign policy could hear what Van Buren has to say. He is not the only foreign service assignee to have witnessed our national ineptitude.





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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Iraq is rated No. 1!

    November 20, 2011 // Comments Off



    Iraq, Iran and Pakistan bottomed out as the countries with the worst reputation, according to a survey conducted by the US Reputation Foundation.

    Published by Agence France Press (AFP), said the survey covered 50 countries, gauging quality of life, security and public services, with Canada, Australia and Sweden taking the forefront.

    The survey covered 42,000 people in 50 countries about “their people’s trust, appreciation and admiration, about the quality of life, security and concern for the environment.”

    The report shed light on Iraq as result of its occupation that ranked it “very low, as well as Iran and Pakistan,” pointing out to rampant corruption and cronyism in government institutions in the water and electricity supplies, worse than during the regime of Saddam.











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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Afghan PRT Seen as Gigantic, Camouflage-Swathed ATM

    June 23, 2011 // Comments Off

    There is so much madness involved in the reconstruction business that there is room for as many metaphors to describe it as we collectively can gather. In We Meant Well, the author describes himself and his PRT Team as “fat walleted aliens descending from armored spaceships” to hand out cash.

    An Army Captain doing reconstruction work in Iraq wrote a book, Father of Money: Buying Peace in Baghdad. The title refers to the author himself, who was called “Father Money” in Arabic for all the cash he gave away.

    Our State Department brother in PRT land, Afghan edition, coined (get it?) a new description, saying his “PRT is seen as a gigantic, camouflage-swathed ATM” handing out US tax dollars. His most recent story of the bureaucratic insanity of trying to get anything done in Afghanistan ends on a double-down Debbie Downer:

    I started to launch into my sustainability shpiel, about how we can’t just give away fuel if there’s no plan in place for the Afghan government to take over and all of that. “It’s not sustainable,” I said. But I found that I no longer had the will to fight and couldn’t bring myself to continue. We’ve been through this, a thousand times with a thousand different people. It just seemed so hopeless.

    The whole story, as well as the whole blog, is well worth reading for anyone who still thinks reconstruction in Afghanistan (Iraq, Yemen Libya, or anywhere outside of Detroit or Kansas City) is worth spending money on.

    EXTRA CREDIT
    For you diplomat wanna-be readers, don’t write things on your blog like “It just seemed so hopeless.” Instead, follow the pros. The Washington Post reported from Afghanistan that:


    “American diplomats expressed guarded hopes about the transition, saying they had come to respect many of the Afghans they had trained and worked with.

    However, they also acknowledged that there had been disappointments and frustrations, including political interference, corruption and what one official called a ‘narrow skill layer’ of trainable people in this impoverished post-war nation. The plan is to shift from a wartime ‘stabilization’ assistance program to what several called a ‘normal’ program of development aid.

    Still, the uncertain security situation could have a major impact on where, whether and how fast the transition can be carried out.”



    Now that sounds better, right?




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Dollar Here, a Dollar There…

    May 3, 2011 // Comments Off

    stripper with money We lacked a lot of things in Iraq: flush toilets, the comfort of family members nearby and of course adult supervision, strategic guidance and common sense. The one thing we did not lack was money. There was money everywhere. You couldn’t walk around a corner without stumbling over bales of money; the place was lousy with it.

    Sent to me by a fellow State Department PRT Alumnus:


    The best one or worst project of mine was a fruit processing facility that the Iraqi’s did not want, but members of our econ team and the military were pushing, $644,000 worth. At the PRDC meeting, I leaned over to the Army CERP manager and told him we needed to cancel this project, it was too much money and they did not even want it. His response was, “Its not that much money.”

    Ah, it was good to be rich.

    In my 23 years working for the State Department, we never had enough money. We were always being told to “do more with less.” Now there was literally more money than we could spend. It was weird. We’d be watching the news from home about foreclosures while signing off on tens of thousands of dollars for stuff in Iraq.

    The most my group spent was $2.5 million on a poultry plant. I tell the story in my book in a chapter called “Chicken Shit.” Second place was a million bucks for milk processing. That chapter is called “Milking the US Government” (we couldn’t afford better writers, sorry).

    Some things never changed: I’d watch billions of dollars being spent on failing water and sewer projects with nary any accountability while having $25 cell phone card reimbursements denied by the Embassy cashier for lack of a paper receipt.

    We wondered among ourselves whether we shouldn’t be running a PRT in Detroit or New Orleans instead of Baghdad. Nahhh…



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, PRT Life