Reconstruction in Iraq

Stephen DeAngelis provides an excellent follow-up to James Glanz’ NYT article about Iraq reconstruction teams which we discussed here yesterday.

The fact that civilian experts are reluctant to find themselves in dangerous, uncomfortable places should come as no surprise. Few people seek to place themselves in such situations. The fact remains, however, that such people do exist. They fill the ranks of non-governmental organizations as well as the military. Although these individuals share a common courage, they differ in other ways. Many of the non-military personnel believe they are safer and can more directly benefit victims if they are not entangled in government bureaucracy or are associated in any way with military operations. Having said that, no organization wants to place its people in harm’s way. That is why the security dimension of reconstruction always raises its head and it explains why the President tied the two pieces of his strategy together. Civilian reconstruction workers, government officials, and military personnel are all required to achieve the common goal of helping the Iraqi people. That is why our Development-in-a-Box approach encourages communities of practice. The approach takes advantage of local leaders, NGO personnel as well as government and military experts to achieve objectives by bringing them together voluntarily in situations where cooperation makes sense.

The Development-in-a-Box approach was developed along with his partner Thomas Barnett, author of The Pentagon’s New Map. DeAngelis outlined the concept in an April 2006 article at TCS.

In the first stage, best practitioners — from both government and the private sector — set to work on the challenge of post-conflict reconstruction in a particular country or region. Best practices, standards and performance metrics are established — determining, for example, that “this is the most effective rapid manner in which to set up a central bank.” These best practices are then recorded in a catalogue for core infrastructural platforms.

In the second stage, the best practices catalogue is put into action — local institutions are established according to its guidelines. As part of this process, the needed technology platforms are put in place — we provide pre-configured information systems and associated technologies, such as container scanners for port security. In effect, we jump-start the systems and establish trust within the country, which is a node in a larger geo-political ecosystem of “trusted nations.” These nations, in turn, make it possible to connect that node safely to the larger networks of transactions that we call the global economy.

The third stage is truly revolutionary. Here, best practices and information systems converge. The best practices, standard operating procedures and compliance rules for each institution are transformed into executable software code that governs the operation of each institution. Business logic, best practices and governance operate directly through the information systems. Additional automated rule sets are embedded that connect the institutions in a secure, compliant and efficient manner to global partners such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization. The node-state, once verified, joins the larger network under conditions of real trust and efficiency.

In stage four, the local population takes over. Locals are offered training to operate the core infrastructural platforms. Training involves the local community in the transfer of intellectual capital, and aligns the natural ambitions of local leaders with the local population on the one hand, and the global community on the other. It is in the self-interest of the local community to master best practices, best technologies, and global connectivity and integration. All of those, in turn, lead to local self-sufficiency and stability, shortening our term of providing aid.

Barnett has recently toyed with “rebranding” the term “Connectivity-in-a-Box” for reasons outlined on his site but the new name has apparently not stuck.

Whether the administration’s current plan will amount to DiB/CiB or whether that’s just wishful thinking is unclear at this stage. If the former, it’s a huge step in the right direction. One hopes it’s not too late.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    Unfortunately, what we have seen in Iraq is political necessity driving the implementation of stages 3 and 4 long before 1 and 2 are actually in-place. This is complicated by the fact that the total lack of safety & security in the area means lots of things simply can’t be done – here’s an example courtesy of ObWi about the recent failure of the Baghdad sewer system. The immediate failure was due to recent torrential rains, but it’s been impossible to do repairs or even basic maintenance on the system due to the ongoing violence. Here’s a telling quote:
    “We can’t do our job because of the insurgents’ attacks against our employees. The insurgents are targeting the municipal workers and their cars in the streets,” Mowafaq Kittan, a media officer at Baghdad Municipality, said.

    “About 600 of our workers were killed by insurgents over the past nine months. We need to be protected to do our job properly,”

    Basically, reconstruction can’t happen until there’s some level of security. To paraphrase South Park, our strategic plan has no “step 2”.

    In fact, trying to push the Development-in-a-Box folks into work before the area is secure creates its own problems. Aside from the human tragedy that occurs when they get attacked, there’s also the impact on the military that’s currently working its own mission there, as they now have to work security issues for the civilian teams as well as their own units…

  2. cian says:

    Hard to get to stage 1 when an example of the present administration’s ‘best practice’ initiatives was to promote privatization of Iraqi state owned factories rather than provide the funds to get them up and running as soon as possible.

    Tens of thousands of Iraqis could have been back working within weeks of the invasion if Bremer’s CPA had listened to people like Timothy Carney, brought in as part of Jay Garner’s ‘reality based’ team.

    The question of who exactly would be prepared to purchase a business in a war zone was not one that interested Bremer or the white house. Crazier still is the fact that this policy remained in place for the next three years.

    In the meantime the factories remained closed and this, coupled with de-Baathification, denied hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men and women the means to provide for their families, driving many into the arms of those conducting the insurgency against American troops.

    Carney, a man of immense experience in the reconstruction of war torn countries, having worked in Vietnam, Phnom Penh, and Mogadishu, was reduced to spending his days checking to make sure those being hired had not belonged to the Baath Party.

    It’s no surprise that he resigned after two months. That he has now been appointed to head up reconstruction in Iraq as part of Bush’s new ‘Way Forward’ is sad beyond words.