The Truth is Somewhere in the Middle

I wouldn’t call the resignation of Marco Calamai a “protest,” even though the Philly Inquirer does. Never heard of him? Don’t worry about it, you won’t ever again after his 15 minutes of fame are over. I’d call his cut and run more of a temper tantrum. [ethnic stereotype omitted]
But for the record he’s the former “special counselor of the Coalition Provisional Authority in the southern [Iraqi] province of Dhi Qar.” Evidently the specialty of the “special counselor” is whining.

See, he’s a little upset that the Coalition Provisional Authority doesn’t work the way he thinks it should. Well hell, most people who work with and in the CPA feel the exact same way. And, truth be told, a lot of his criticisms are valid. But not all of them are. Marco must have also missed the report I read recently that the Iraqis find dealing with the Italians especially frustrating since they speak neither English nor Arabic. I wonder if that had anything to do with why things aren’t getting done in his zone of responsibility. Hmmmmmmm.
However, some valid points were brought out in the Inquirer piece.
Calamai’s criticism is similar to that leveled by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Cordesman, who toured Iraq at the U.S. government’s invitation, said coalition authority staffers believed their headquarters was an overcentralized bureaucracy and was unrealistic about developments in Iraq. He said too many authority workers were talking to Americans rather than working with Iraqis.

CPA itself is a case study for the Harvard Business School waiting to happen. It is organizational ineffectiveness par excellence. My opinions here aren’t definitive, but they are formed from talking to a hell of a lot of folks. Bottom line with the CPA: it makes lots of good things happen. Lots of good things. But they often happen in spite of the structure CPA has built, or not built as the case may be. You’ve got to actually have processes to get things done, and in too many places in CPA, the requisite expertise resides in the head of one individual. That might be OK if that knowledge were disseminated so staffers could then work issues. But since CPA could probably be twice the size it is and still not have enough folks, having all the answers in the head of one person is a distinct disadvantage. These guys are simply too busy going to meetings to actually do anything.
The other thing that probably doesn’t help CPA too much is there are too many egos strutting around wearing the I’m-from-the-White-House-and-I’m-here-to-help attitude. (The New York Observer has already picked up that vibe a bit from the CPA press shop in this snarky hit piece.)
The only problem with these folks is they don’t always help — they pontificate a lot and condescension is not an effective management tool. Many of them seem to think that they are the President, not that they work for the President. But that occupational hazard isn’t limited to Americans. One staffer told me there was another staffer (now departed) who literally couldn’t make it 4 sentences without uttering the phrase “10 Downing Street.” The attitude among many was “Yes, yes, yes, we all know you work in the Prime Minister’s office. Now could you just shut up and help?”
CPA is an odd amalgam of some staggeringly brilliant and competent people hobbled by some well connected has-beens and those who haven’t quite earned their spurs yet in Washington — and D.C. is nothing if not a company town. You have to take the lousy assignment to Des Moines if you want to someday work your way up to box seats at the Kennedy Center on opening night. Throw in a few academics who are probably better off in advisory roles but somehow find themselves in decsion making roles, and you have paralysis by analysis.
But another paragraph in the piece is wholly unfair to the CPA and undersells exactly how much the Iraqis are sitting on their hands waiting for something to happen, while simultaneously finding themselves woefully unprepared to run a country in anything approaching an efficient way.
Such criticism raises questions about the coalition’s ability to oversee the transfer of power. Although primary responsibility rests with the Iraqis, several Iraqi politicians have said privately that the effort cannot succeed without strong U.S. direction.
Of course Iraqi poiliticians have said such things privately while also whining about a quicker transfer of power. They don’t want to admit, in the words of my daughter, “they lack the mad skills.” Tough to inspire the Iraqi population that you’ve got a plan when you still can’t figure out how to get government workers paid, or even how many government workers you actually have. The IGC has the best of both worlds right now, they get to sort of be in charge while having the fall back position of being able to point at the Coaltion whenever something comes out wrong. The Coalition could sit back and say, “Hey, you asked for it. YOU run it.”
But then again, doing that is a recipe for failure.
So the CPA will move on, getting things done albeit more slowly than they probably could or should be done. They’ll take pot shots from absolutely all sides while doing it. But those in the CPA who get tired of it could probably take some comfort from Teddy Roosevelt who saw it all before:
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Yeah, Marco, I’m talking about you.



  1. John Anderson

    At least Bremer seems willing to acknowledge and learn from mistakes.
    The initial “let’s bring people and modern equipment in to repair roads and bridges” has been modified by the contractors, who said “Wait a minute, who built this stuff in the first place? Why not use them, even if a lot of the work is done by hand instead of multi-million-dollar machines?”
    The recent somewhat embarrassing story about the cement plant (CPA wanted to build a completely new plant, taking millions and at least another year: locals said no, they wanted to get it running NOW: with a ten-thousand seed grant, apparently from the local military command, they were able to find enough money to get one of the two production lines running and making money to build more) may also alter some of the over-do-it tendencies.

  2. Al Maviva

    The lesson here is quite clear.
    If you have an impossible job to accomplish on a shoestring budget and an impossible timetable, give it to a resourceful, low ranking G.I. with mud on his boots, and his pal, a poor desperate bastard who has just crawled out from under a tyrants jackboot.
    Give it to a good NCO if you want it to get done fast and right. Words to live by Major Sean, words to live by.

  3. Major Sean Bannion

    Al, you know why they call NCOs the “backbone of the Army,” right?
    ‘Cause every time an officer turns his back, he gets the bone.
    I will say there’s a lot of “let’s show the Iraqi’s some good ‘ole American know-how” boosterism around here. Feels like a ’50s beach blanket movie at times. (“Hey Annette! Let’s go build a country!”) I have to keep reminding people we’re trying to create Mexico, not Washington, D.C.
    The Iraqi’s can finish the job, as long as we hand them something that looks sorta like Mexico. And, as you’re pointed out, it’s not the military folks doing that. They’re in sync with the Iraqis. It’s the civilians over here that aren’t. It’s not malicious, it’s just that they want to give them the best of everything and all the Iraqis really want is to get things running faster so we get out of here faster.
    The cement plant was a perfect case in point. It’s all true. But, and this is what I mean about the civilian view of things, I read a USAID situation report back in September about programs that were getting spun up in the elementary schools. Good stuff. Good stuff, that is, right up until I got to the domestic violence and smoking cessation programs.
    In an elementary school? That has no books, pencils, paper, teachers, blackboards or desks?
    We’re worried about domestic violence and smoking cessation?
    Hell, we’re even exporting liberal biases along with democracy. The NY Times would be proud.
    You’d think the Iraqis, after 3 decades under a tyrant, could do that kind of stuff on their own once they got the basics in place. But then again, we wouldn’t be Americans if we didn’t bring along some do-gooders when we deployed, would we?

  4. Al Superczynski

    As is almost always the case, ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good enough’…..
    How do I know? I’m a retired Army Master Sergeant – one of those NCOs referred to above. 😉