Iraq and Upcoming Elections

Stephen DeAngelis

October 02, 2006

In almost every close election, the war in Iraq has taken center stage. Bob Woodward’s new book State of Denial has only added fuel to this burning issue. On Sunday’s (01 Oct) Meet the Press, Tim Russert hosted a debate between incumbent Ohio Senator Mike DeWine (R) and his opponent Representative Sherrod Brown (D). Both men lamented the situation in Iraq but they could only wring their hands when asked what could be done to improve the situation. The situation is serious, young American men are giving their lives and billions in funds are being spent in support of the war. Like it or not, we are involved in nation-building. Even knowledgeable opponents of the war like retired Army Major General John Batiste have testified before Congress that a “cut and run” policy will only make matters worse — almost certainly throwing Iraq into a civil war which could foment further unrest throughout the Middle East.

In a good number of posts, I have written about Development-in-a-Box and how that approach provides a foundation for development and investment. I believe that approach can work in Iraq, but it must be applied sensibly and deliberately. As I have written before, development begins with security. There’s the rub. Where do you find security in Iraq? The fact is that there are areas outside the so-called “Green Zone,” that are relatively peaceful. That’s where you start. I can’t help thinking about the old question, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer, of course, is “One bite at a time.” We have suffered under the illusion that we can bring security to all of Iraq simultaneously and the results show. By taking the situation “one bite at a time” using the Development-in-a-Box approach, peace and prosperity can be achieved.

Nothing fosters success like success. Think back on the days when John Wooden was coaching UCLA basketball. If you were a great player and wanted to win a national championship, you knew your chances of achieving that goal would be dramatically increased if you attended UCLA. Such thoughts made it much easier to recruit players and keep the success alive. We need to create the same kind of successes in limited areas of Iraq (probably an area in the north and another in the south). There are groups in both areas who understand that their future relies on establishing stability and attracting foreign direct investment. That stability begins with the people, it can’t be imposed. Unless the people accept responsibility for their own future (backed by those with enough authority and strength to strengthen their resolve), insurgents will continue to hold the upper hand.

There is a large community of governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations that desire to see peace brought to the region. Millions of innocent lives are at stake. The future of the Middle East could hang in the balance. With the stakes so high, achieving success — even a little success — is critical. Imagine one or two small enclaves where peace can be established, critical infrastructure rebuilt, investments made, and prosperity given a foothold. That kind of success will breed other successes — establishing a virtuous circle of progress. But this virtuous circle of progress requires leadership and a world view that people can subscribe to that explains globalization as a positive force and one that is integrating and uplifting, not one that is alienating and leaves behind certain portions of humanity. People need to feel that they can subscribe to a vision that all of their actions fit within, they also need a framework within which they can work. One such vision for post-conflict, post-failed state and pre-failed state is what Tom Barnett and I call Development-in-a-Box (“DIB”).

DIB is a flexible framework (emphasize Flexible) for rapidly building critical infrastructure under fire or under economic challenge and it is a way for the United States and other integrating countries to bring developing nations, or nations torn by war and strife rapidly up to a minimum level of maturity so that they can be integrating nations that have a stake in the benefits of globalization.

Development-in-a-Box encompasses a four-part flexible framework and it all begins with standards. The first part is assembling a “catalog” of best practices, standards, and policies that have proven themselves successful in varied environments. This “catalog” covers areas such as the rule of law, agriculture & rural development, infrastructure reconstruction (e.g., power generation, sanitation, transportation, telecommunications & Internet, housing, etc.), commercial banking, energy & natural resources, and a special section on women and how better to integrate them into business and government.

The second part of the flexible framework is identifying which of the best practices, standards, and policies can be turned into pre-configured templates (we do not want to waste time reinventing the proverbial wheel).

The third part is automating those pre-configured templates so that they can be immediately put in place. Generic rules are supplemented with unique rule sets as required by circumstance and situation.

The final part of the flexible framework is to put in place procedures that institutionalize Development-in-a-Box by fully engaging the people who must embrace and implement it. This must include programs for education, training, change management, organizational dynamics, and culture. The Development-in-a-Box approach will not work if it is seen as a group of programs thrust on a society by foreigners. Those who implement this approach must work with both national and local government leaders as well as citizen groups and local non-governmental organizations. Their embrace of this approach will be its single greatest determinant of success.

This group of people, all working together to achieve peace and prosperity can succeed. I don’t want to leave the impression that the approach is necessarily a top-down government-run program. It isn’t — although it is important that the result of combined efforts of dozens of communities of practice is to strengthen the legitimacy of the government which ultimately must assume responsibility for the social well-being of its citizens.

With elections upon us (and only a lame duck session of Congress remaining), I don’t expect either Democrats or Republicans to reach across the aisle looking for solutions. Let’s hope that leaders in the new Congress will emerge and put forth a vision and a plan that both parties can agree upon and that is good for both the American and Iraqi people.