Old Iraq Strategy Marches On to Great Paper Success

Phil Carter points to an interesting piece in today’s WaPo by Glenn Kessler about how the State Department bureaucracy–or, technically, its contract support–is cheerily cranking out weekly reports proving that our now-declared failed strategy in Iraq is succeeding.

A year ago, President Bush announced a new plan for Iraq, framed around “eight pillars” of U.S. policy for victory. In the past month, the president and his national security team have been busily working on a new recipe for success in Iraq, having declared the previous plan a failure.

But never mind what the politicians are doing. The bureaucracy churns on.

The State Department continues every Wednesday to issue a 30-page public report that details exactly how the U.S. government is meeting the goals set forth in the president’s now-abandoned plan. The report frames the data around Bush’s storied eight pillars, which include such goals as “Defeat the Terrorists and Neutralize the Insurgents” (Pillar 1) and “Increase International Support for Iraq” (Pillar 7).


The report is prepared not by State Department officials but by a team of about 10 people hired by a management consulting firm. The firm, BearingPoint, has a $2 million contract to produce the report and to manage the process of running Iraq policy in the administration, the State Department official said.

Below the level of the top policymakers, working groups from across the government implement Iraq policy day by day. The BearingPoint employees, who work out of offices in the State Department, arrange the meetings, set the agendas, take notes and provide summaries of the discussions, the official said. They also maintain the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Having worked as a contractor at somewhat lower levels in the Defense Department bureaucracy, this surprises me not at all.

It goes without saying that, when the new strategy is announced, BearingPoint will be awarded the contract to produce identical reports along the same lines touting the successes of the new strategy. After all, they have demonstrated the ability to do so and have the past performance metrics to back them up.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Bureaucracy, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    The real challenge is, I defy anyone to find a genuine difference between the “new” policy, whenever it’s announced, and the “old” policy. Frex, find a component of the new policy that isn’t one of the old pillars, renamed. Or find a “pillar” that is not officially a key component of the “new” policy.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Jim: I haven’t seen it yet but would not be surprised in the least if you’re right.

  3. Cernig says:

    Hi James,

    The Center For Public Integrity’s entry on Bearing Point makes for interesting reading.

    $240million plus for strengthening Iraq’s economy? Doesn’t this news that they write the State Dept’s reports on progress in Iraq make them their own watchdogs? And what then are we to make of the reports that they make up figures to suit themselves?

    Regards, C

  4. Bearing Point is a compamy I’d heard of, but had no idea what they do, so I just looked them up (dial-up this week, so not all that complete). NYSE listed (BE), having Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues (like 25% of other publically listed companies). The stock has crashed since 2003, now about $8 where it used to be above $20. Their corp profile states:

    BearingPoint, Inc. (NYSE:BE) is one of the world’s largest management consulting and systems integration firms serving Global 2000 companies, small and medium-sized businesses, government agencies and other organizations. We have approximately 60 alliances with key technology providers that support and complement our service offerings. We work with our alliance partners to develop comprehensive solutions to common business issues, offer the expertise required to deliver those solutions, lead in the development of new products, capitalize on joint marketing opportunities and remain at the forefront of technology advances.

    $2M for 10 folks working on this isn’t a bad price, not asking whether this is actually useful/used information. That gives $100-140k salary, plus the overhead of HR and the secretaries, etc. I’ll bet that at least one (probably more) is a retired Ambassador. So this also keeps folks current that might be hired into the next Administration, revolving door.

    This is how the DC contractor world works (ditto the lobbying world, but you need legislative contacts to get in there). This reminds me of why I didn’t become a government contractor after I retired from the Navy despite job offers; there is no telling what job you will end up doing – some are good and useful, and some are not, and you have no control over the process.

    This also shows how tough it is to kill a contract.

  5. Cernig says:


    On BearingPoint’s stock collapse, the link I gave has this:

    On Aug. 14, 2003, BearingPoint announced it had overstated its net income and earnings per share for the first three quarters of FY 2003 by $10.8 million. The announcement caused BearingPoint’s stock value to plummet 23 percent in one day. On Aug. 20, a shareholder filed a securities fraud class action lawsuit against the company in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The suit alleges that four BearingPoint executives—Randolph Blazer, Michael Donahue, former chief financial officer and executive vice president Robert Lamb and Lamb’s successor, Robert Falcone—disseminated false and misleading information regarding the company’s financial status between October 2002 and August 2003. “We believe the suit has no merit,” company spokesman John Schneidawind told the online legal journal Law.com, “and we will vigorously defend against it.”

    Which is what I meant by saying there were reports they made up figures to suit themselves.

    Regards, C

  6. Bithead says:

    Well, gee, gang… have we discounted out of hand the idea that such reports may in fact be accurate, and that the current plans ARE having positive effects?

    Apparently not everyone has done so.