The Starting Point
What we know
One of the things that we know for sure is that the military of the United States has awesome power. The performance of a massive coalition force in 1991 in expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait was impressive. This was an awesome accomplishment, and I have pride in it. I also consider that the US did absolutely the right thing at that time in ending the war when the primary mission was accomplished. The war was fought under a UN mandate, and it would have been wrong ... just plain wrong ... to keep going to Baghdad just because the coalition had a big army in the region and it was “on a roll”.
The performance of a smaller coalition in 2003 confronting the Iraq army in the face of the Iraq leadership's unwillingness to cooperate with either the UN or various parties in the international community was also impressive. In a very short time, the coalition forces, mainly US but with a modest contingent of British and others, was able to overcome the Iraqi army and take Baghdad.
But we also know that military power is not the best way to solve all problems. There are, in life, situations where a gentle touch and delicacy is more valuable than brute power. This is not to devalue in any way, shape or form the ability of the military and their sacrifice ... but is a recognition that there is a limit to military power and that it is best deployed in the right way.
And there were aspects of the war that do not sit well with me. The war against Iraq was initiated as part of a war on terror that started because of terrorist attacks in the USA on 9/11/2001.
The 9/11 attacks killed around 3,000 people ... none of whom deserved to die in this manner. However, the coalition's Iraq offensive started with bombing targets around Iraq, including targets in built up areas of the country including Baghdad. The bombing was called “Shock and Awe” ... a reference to the obscene terror that it was certain to cause within a civilian population. Though the bombing was tightly targeted to legitimate targets, the collateral damage was substantial. It had to be ... and the coalition leadership knew this ... and if they did not, then they should have.
The performance of a smaller coalition in 2003 confronting the Iraq army in the
face of the Iraq leadership's unwillingness to cooperate with either the UN or
various parties in the international community was also impressive. In a very
short time, the coalition forces, mainly US but with a modest contingent of
British and others, was able to overcome the Iraqi army and take Baghdad.
But we also know that military power is not the best way to solve all problems.
There are, in life, situations where a gentle touch and delicacy is more valuable
than brute power. This is not to devalue in any way, shape or form the ability of
the military and their sacrifice ... but is a recognition that there is a limit to
military power and that it is best deployed in the right way.
And there were aspects of the war that do not sit well with me. The war against
Iraq was initiated as part of a war on terror that started because of terrorist
attacks in the USA on 9/11/2001. The 9/11 attacks killed around 3,000 people ...
none of whom deserved to die in this manner. However, the coalition's Iraq
offensive started with bombing targets around Iraq, including targets in built up
areas of the country including Baghdad.
I was an infant during the Second World War. We lived in Surbiton in the suburbs
of London and I remember something of the WWII bombing ... the blitz ... and the
“doodle-bugs” otherwise known as V1s. I was too young to understand what war
was all about, but I did know that bombing knocked down houses but never
connected the dots to know that bombs also maimed and killed people.
I Do Not Like Bombing
As an adult I realize the terror of bombing ... and I consider bombing, except under
very rare situations ... to be wrong. Bombing is a form of “terror” and I do not like it.
The bombing was called “Shock and Awe” ... a reference to the obscene terror
that it was certain to cause within a civilian population. Though the bombing
was tightly targeted to legitimate targets, the collateral damage was substantial.
It had to be ... and the coalition leadership knew this ... and if they did not, then
they should have.
In any event, the US led coalition won the war. The performance of the military
as they stormed into Iraq and to Baghdad was impressive. And President Bush
had it right when he boarded an aircraft carrier off the California coast and
announced that the war had been won. The war had been won. Well done.
Since then, however, the rebuilding of Iraq and waging of peace has been
anything but successful. Making a success of peace requires a very different set
of skills ... and the coalition of political power and military needed for war does
not easily transfer to what is essential for enduring peace and growing
prosperity. There are lessons from history, but it seems they have not been taken
into consideration ... occupation is impossible in the long run unless there is a
good reason for the occupying force being there and the population wanting the
intervention. The Europeans learned this the hard way as their empires
disintegrated several decades ago.
But it is worse ... the situation in Iraq encourages terrorists around the world
rather than discouraging them, and the growth of terror groups seems to have
accelerated since the war started in Iraq rather than being slowed down and
We have a lot to learn about how to implement successful socio-economic relief
and development. More than anything else, the prevailing methodology in the
relief and development community that has evolved over several decades seems
to cost a lot and not deliver anything like the value one might expect. Again, the
lessons of experience do not seem to be being learned, and instead a process that
embraces widespread value destruction seems to dominate.
Soldiers and guns
Soldiers and guns are not a civilized way of going about the building of a civil
society, although they are an excellent way of destroying an opposing army and
military assets. Soldiers and guns can be very valuable in protecting civil works
and certain strategic assets ... but far less valuable in getting society to build its
day to day economic base.
Somehow the prevalence of soldiering as a solution in Iraq has to be replaced by
civilian actors ... who might well need the protection of the soldiers with their
guns. In the military ... in war, the army with the biggest guns usually win ... but
in the civilian context the people with the biggest guns are going to do the most
damage, and damage means death of women and children ... and ultimately a
loss of all credibility as a friend of society.
Yes to a role for soldiers as protectors ... but no to the idea that the soldiers can
ever win in the arena of economic activity and the battle of ideas.
I have done some of my work in dangerous places. I have never carried a gun ... but
I have been protected by police and soldiers ... and for that I am grateful.
My work has always been connected with the civilian economy ... socio-economic
progress and mitigating humanitarian disaster. While in some cases I was protected
by soldiers with guns ... in so many cases the reason why there was a humanitarian
disaster was that people with guns were creating mayhem, and poor civilians were
caught in the crossfire. The men with guns were ending up killing women and
children ... not my idea of how modern civil society should work.
Find the good and build on it
Working in Dangerous Places
The challenge is to find the good and build on it. A reasonable assumption based
on my personal experience in many parts of the world, is that the majority of the
population in Iraq are more interested in peace and prosperity than in war and
But if that assumption is valid ... why then is there so much of violence and
mayhem. And I think the answer to that question is that the greedy and those
who are ethically challenged see opportunity, and are taking advantage of it ...
and in the process are pushing the good folk to the side. Greed is facilitated by
guns, and increasingly, organized terror.
They are aided and abetted by a distant world that is interested, but with no
patience for long and complex stories. The popular media provides what the
world wants ... and anything long and boring, no matter how important gets cut,
and is eliminated from the news. The media and the public both have to contend
with misinformation, spin and propaganda that distorts the information that is
In spite the visibility of bad new, I am sure there is a lot of good news ... and I
expect that there is success that few people know about. More than anything
else we need to know a lot more about the success ... and build on it. And where
we learn there is failure, we need to know why, learn from it, and do better in
There are people that know
I start from the premise that I do not know the answers, but that there are
people who do know the answers, and what solutions might work to address
even the worst of the problems.
Education, I was once taught, is just as much about where to find the answers as
it is knowing the answers. In a situation that is, literally, foreign ... and where
culture and language can get in the way of understanding, it becomes
imperative to know where the find the answers, and even first to learn exactly
what are the problems.
I have worked in a lot of places places over the past 30 plus years, and it is a long
time now that I learned that my own knowledge need not constrain progress. The
fact that I do not know something does not mean that it is not known.
What I Know is Not Much
And some of the people who know what I don't know, don't know some of the
things that I do know. Put the two sets of knowledge together and there might be
answers. The starting point is listening ... and learning.
And the solution to many problems might well emerge when we let information and
knowledge drive decisions.
Before answers, what are the questions?
According to the media, some $300 billion has been spent on the US
interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11 in 2001. Which leads to the
question of why this use of wealth has not been able to produce a great outcome.
In part, the answer is that it does not matter how much if the resources are not
I learned in Nigeria in the late 1970s that money does not ensure good results. In the
late 1970s Nigeria was experiencing oil wealth as never before ... but more than
anything else, it facilitated a deterioration in values and the creation of a superwealthy corrupt class on top of a society that is very poor.
The amount of money in the society was plenty ... but how it was used was the
What I Learned in Nigeria
My career path changed when I was faced with dead children in the center of Lagos
on the steps of Western House, at the time, perhaps, the most prestigious office
block in the country.
The fund flows authorized in response to the situation in Iraq have been
enormous ... but the accomplishments have been limited. At any rate, the easily
available information and the media news stories suggest that the results have
not been very good.
Where are the answers?
Local people know most of the answers ... but getting to know what the answers
are requires a lot of effort, and most of all, an effort to build and sustain
confidence that local priorities are important and will drive decisions.
Experience suggests that the answers are better at the bottom of the pyramid
than they are at the top ... whether it is in a corporate organization or in the
planning and management of relief and development. The amount of
management information used for decision making at the top is usually a very
limited sub-set of all the knowledge that is embedded throughout and
organization or society.
One of the great successes of the modern corporate business model is that
management has started to make much better use of this wealth of knowledge
within the organization than it ever did in the past ... it is one of the big untold
business stories of recent times.
But management information of high quality is much less available in the relief
and development sector, and the sort of information ... intelligence ... that is
usually used by the military has little value in building success in the area of
socio-economic progress. In relief and development, the outlook for success is
going to be much improved when we mobilize the knowledge that exist
everywhere and make it easily accessible everywhere and make effective use of
Why did the military win the war and lose the peace?
The quick answer to this question is that the military is designed to wage war
and win ... they are not trained or equipped to engage in peace. The military can
do amazing things, but they all revolve around being a successful military
What the general public does know is that the coalition forces, mainly US
military seem to be taking casualties almost every day, and that too many Iraqi
people are also dying as a result of violence. There is talk of political progress ...
but also talk of the complex difficulties that local political leaders have to
Looked at from New York or Chicago or London ... the situation in Iraq seems to
be near hopeless. The flaw in the policy was expecting that a military solution
could do much to build a durable political framework and a sustainable
When I first crossed the Atlantic from the UK to the USA in the 1960s I used to
observe that the big strength of the United States was that its society and its
economy was built around Detroit (cars), Pittsburgh (steel), Chicago (agriculture),
Houston (oil), New York (finance), etc. and not around Washington (politics). The
corporate world was pushing for productivity and profit, and being very successful
at it. The economy thrived.
Before I came to the USA I understood the idea of the American industrial might,
but after my first travel across the country I also realized the importance of the
American agricultural might. And 40 years later it is concerning that politicaleconomics is center stage rather than performance-economics.
After the fall of Baghdad it seems now that everyone got in line to profit from
the fund flows that were deployed courtesy of Washington and its bottomless
source of dollars. How so much money was able to be disbursed and do so little
is difficult to explain without concluding that most of the people and
organizations concerned were either corrupt or incompetent or both.
The Foundation of Economic Strength
How has it been that the possibility of a huge political and economic success has
morphed into a recurrent image of destruction and mayhem.
In the economic arena, one gets the impression that the only goal was to stay
alive and get rich ... and it is no wonder that this has translated into hate on a
scale that was unimagined when Baghdad fell and Saddam Hussein was toppled
from power. I do not get the impression that the work of rebuilding and putting
the economy of Iraq back on track was done with the sort of single purpose that
characterizes the military when they have a clear objective. Rather the work of
making peace became more about politics and security ... and about power and
Iraq ... what went wrong?
Something is wrong.
The war went well ... but managing the peace is proving to be very tough.
Experience in other parts of the world suggests that success is a result of people
finding common ground ... and ordinary people seem to have more common
ground than powerful people. Ordinary people want to improve their quality of
life ... usually quite modestly. Powerful and wealthy people have a very
different agenda that includes the maintenance of power and wealth and
positioning so that they are in an advantageous position when new
This is not new ... it is as old as recorded history. What is new is that the stakes
for the rich and powerful are bigger than in ages past, and the technological
capacity for destruction is bigger than ever, and getting bigger all the time. And
while the rich and powerful engage in counter-productive strategies that are
likely to end up in mutual destruction, ordinary good people are left in a world
society that is deteriorating even while possibilities for progress are available.
Ordinary people have a life that is family centric, and beyond that, community
centric. Mother is central to the family ... and children. Father and other
members of the family complete the family and help it to be able to provide for
itself and contribute to the broader community. Members of a family respond to
initiatives that are going to improve quality of life for the family. For fully half
the population of the world (3 billion people) ... and a lot of families in Iraq, a
modest improvement in the quality of life would not take a lot.
Thinking in terms of community ... many communities do not yet have access to
basic services ... life is not easy. On a world scale access to safe potable water is
by no means universal ... nor electricity ... nor health services ... nor schools ...
nor communications. Iraq has vast areas where the basic services are not
working as they should be ... and it would seem that this should be a priority.
In the media, all the talk is about security and sectarian violence and improvised
explosives and roadside bombs ... nothing much is about the progress or lack of
progress in improving the quality of life of the Iraqi people in their
communities. There is not much in the media about how the money has been
spent, and what results have been achieved ... rather it seems that this issue is
My first residence in the United States was in Texas. I was the field accountant for a
consulting firm supervising the construction of a pulp and paper mill just outside
Houston. The general contractors were Brown and Root, now part of the Halliburton
When my cost accounting showed that we had completed just 1% of the work and
Brown and Root had spend 2% of the money I did some analysis, and realized that
the contractors had a huge amount of payroll padding. After my analysis was shown
to Brown and Root they dropped their on-site payroll from around 1,400 to just 700
people ... and eventually the factory went into production on time and on budget.
Brown and Root were good contractors ... but they did need strong oversight.
When there is talk about resources it is too much about how many billions of
dollars in aggregate have been appropriated for Afghanistan and Iraq ... less
about how it has been disbursed, and less again about what it has been used for
and what the results have been. Finding useful analytical information about
fund flows and the use of resources is not easy ... in fact it is almost impossible.
The accounting and the accountability seems to be severely compromised ... and
in my experience when there is poor accounting there is corruption and worse.
And then there is the question about oil revenues. The oil revenue fund flows
are huge, but where are they and what is the use of these funds. So much of
what could and should be public knowledge is kept out of the public space ...
out of the public dialog ... and away from any form of accountability.
In the early days after the fall of Baghdad it seemed that some of the contractor
performance was impressive ... but it did not seem to hold. I am not sure
whether this is a failure of media reporting, or a failure of the administration's
reporting, or a failure of physical performance. It seems that nobody is willing to
pull this information together in a meaningful way ... and without this
information it is very difficult to come to any reliable conclusions.
The origins of the book
This book pulls together several different threads of information to make the
case for a better way to peace and progressing relief and development in Iraq.
This book draws on experience from a number of consulting assignments over
the years including: (1) A study for a cross border program for Somaliland and
Ethiopia prepared in 1999 (the HOA Study); (2) a planning study for
Mozambique refugee hosting in Malawi in 1987; (3) a planning study for
Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal; (4) development planning in Namibia
after its independence; and, (5) a variety of other consultancies in the Middle
East, in Central, South and South-East Asia, in Latin America and Africa from
1974 to the present.
Of these, perhaps the work that has motivated me the most to write this book
has been the work in Afghanistan. This is because some serious planning done
in Afghanistan with the support of UNDP and a lot of input from local experts
was totally ignored by the “top” bureaucrats, policy makers and planners in
Washington, New York, Brussels, London, etc. so that quite foolishly the big
leaders left a huge vacuum for unsavory groups to thrive.
When I retrieved the work-papers from these old plans, I was very surprised to
find how consistent my views have been over the years. The theme of my work
over the years has changed rather little. The general approach has been (1) get
facts (2) do analysis; (3) draw conclusions; (4) prepare report. But it is depressing
how little progress seems to have been made. The issues that needed to be
addressed ten and twenty years ago still need to be addressed today. The issue
of management information has not been addressed. The issues of process ... and
accountability ... and corruption, were important then and remain important
today. The issue of how and why there is relief and development failure has not
been very much addressed.
e problem of education in the “north” where several generations of students have been taught a lot about how to do advanced business and economic analysis without much of an ethical foundation, and have little idea of the impact globalization and profit maximization has had on the “south” and people at the “bottom of the pyramid”.
So much intolerance
Religious intolerance, holy war and terror seem to be on the rise, but taking a long view of history, this is more the norm than a special problem for these times. Because religion has been a critical cause of instability and violence in the past it should be considered a potential flash point today, but it can also be a path to peace and reconciliation and prosperity.
The extent of war and violence reflects a failure of too many of the religious community to choose the path of peace.
There has been a creation of wealth in the modern world that is, by any standard quite amazing. But beside great wealth there is great poverty. People with all the material goods that can be imagined are sharing space with people who have next to nothing. This is happening in North and South America, in Europe, in South Asia, in East Asia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. And arguably this is increasingly happening also in the “north”.
This is a symptom of something that is not right. Nothing wrong with the wealth, but a lot wrong with poverty.