Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More, Please

I'm starting to notice that my time in between posts is slowly drifting apart. This isn't intentional; I have just been extremely frustrated and I am trying to take a step back before blasting my frustration into the blog and turning it into a wordy bitch session. That being said, I need to write about a conversation I had with my Iraqi counterpart this past morning.

It was a dusty morning, already approaching 95 degrees at about 8:45am. We were driving through the depot, talking about how to better organize certain warehouses and what work needed to get done. The conversation then turned to physical improvements that needed to be done, and I got excited because this is an area I have been working since we arrived here. We have already rebuilt the guard houses that used to be falling apart, impressed with them; he stated that the warehouses needed to be fixed in a similar fashion. I happily responded that we have already contracted out the work, which would begin soon, and that they would be as good or better. He then declared that we need power; I again responded excitedly that we have plans to run power all throughout the depot, including street lamps and power to all the warehouses. In addition, I continued, we are going to have the roads repaired and the spaces in between each warehouse graded and leveled for drainage. On top of all that, we have another project for a central receiving and shipping point which will include new offices and a consolidated operations center.

I'm not sure what kind of reaction I was expecting, but I do know I wasn’t expecting what followed.

"What about water", he asked through the interpreter.

I was confused, and asked "Water? What do you mean? Drainage?"

"No", he replied. "Water from pipes. To all the warehouses."

I was stunned. "No, there are no plans to run water mains to all of the warehouses, sir. We've spent close to $100 million on the improvements I just talked about, and if we wanted to run water mains it would easily be double that. There just isn't enough money."

He looked disappointed, and replied simply "Well, we need it. We should have water mains here."

I was still bewildered by this request. "Sir, I've been over this with your boss. We talked about all of the improvements we'd need to make in order to run this depot more efficiently. Water mains are a luxury, and are so expensive that their cost cant possibly be justified."

He just shook his head, clearly not happy and disappointed. At this point I was starting to get angry, so I simply looked at my interpreter, shook my head and said nothing. I thought angrily to myself, Water mains? Is he kidding me?? Everywhere I have ever been, to include the US, we use bottled water. We provide them unlimited bottled water here. There is no need to wash in the warehouses since the living quarters are located somewhere else. I couldn't stop thinking about this verbal exchange all day. This wasn't the first time I've received feedback like this. Here we are in Iraq, pouring 100s of millions of US dollars into their military, their government, and their infrastructure; and yet, the only response I get from many when we describe our improvement projects is almost disappointment that we aren't doing MORE. It is the same with our role as advisors. We are constantly being asked to do MORE, to provide MORE fuel, MORE new equipment whenever theirs breaks, MORE work out of our own Soldiers.

This is what frustrates me, because I still feel like the more we give, the more they expect and the more they want. What I need to do is try and understand things from their perspective more. For example, water is a big deal to the Iraqi's. They grew up without having much water in their homes and learned from an early age to hoard it and store it whenever its available. Of course my counterpart is going to request it when he hears how much money we are spending on other things. That being said, they also need to understand what's important and what is nice to have. I still feel like we are failing in conveying mission criticality to them; too often we are scrambling to get things done and they are standing by watching. How do we solve this? How do we change our perspective to understand them better and not get so frustrated by their constant clamoring for more? We could leave, but I still don't think that’s the right answer (Actually we can’t leave, but you know what I mean). Problem is, I don't know what the right answer is, and I don't think anyone else does, either.


David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/22/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Anonymous said...

The answer is for the U.S. to step aside, step back and let the Iraqi's run ALL of their affairs. It won't be pretty at first, like watching a crawler try to walk. They'll likely fall, scrape their knees and bump their head. But the Iraqi's are tough people and capable enough to manage themselves without the meddling hand of outsiders.

Too many foreign control freaks in Iraq that need to learn to shut their mouths and accept that different peoples have different ways of doing things whether they like it or not.

Joe Donato said...

I believe your thought or idea to step aside is ridicules, if the coalition steps back that would be the end of thousands of Iraqi’s. They need guidance and lots of help before the can manage anything including their missing government.

Anonymous said...

No Joe you are wrong. We need to stop pampering the Iraqis and let them handle their own affairs. Over 50,000 Americans died sorting out our Northern/Southern differences during our Civil War and we need to stop meddling so the Iraqis can sort out their differences during their Civil War.

Students for Victory said...

So anonymous, are you saying that violence is the answer to solving serious political differences?

Jason said...

We actually had a a great discussion about this yesterday with a visiting 1-star. It was started by our XO, an Aussie Major, who said basically everything I wrote about in "The Ligers" blog. He mad a great point when he noted that right now, we push our advice on them. We need to make it so that they are coming to us for advice. So, stay tuned for possible (positive) changes . . .

Anonymous said...

Jason, it is unlikely the Iraqi's will come to you asking for advice much because that rubs against their natural Arab instinct to be strong. Asking for advice, especially to those who in their eyes they view as occupiers, is a sure sign of weakness in their culture.

But that Aussie XO Major is right on track. Step aside and step back.

Anonymous said...

Since this work comes out of their pockets anyways, and they will have to repay these loans (they got trillions of dollars of oil), I say, hire a contractor to pull water pipes to the warehouses. I assume there is main on site somewhere.

Water is very important in dry Arab desert culture. There will be people like guards living in those warehouses and this would be of great service.

Water is more important than oil in their culture ...

Jason said...

Thats a great point about the water, and it is something I knew. There are many parts of their culture I understand, but understanding it doesn't prevent my frustration. That being said, I am usually smart enough to keep my mouth shut. The problem is, we are using U.S. dollars still. All the construction work we do here is still US funded. I had the water pipes priced out, and its just not economically feasible under our budget. But you do make a great point and I appreciate the comment!

mrj said...

Jason, what about directing your counterpart to the central government? Isn't something like water mains to warehouses on the level of something they'd be responsible for? I realize they feel no satisfaction will come of it, but it has to start somewhere. Let them start looking to their own government to solve their own problems.

Michael Yon recently wrote of the mayor of Baqubah going to Baghdad to demand food shipments to his town that had been held up. He stood up to the Baghdad bureacrats and got his food convoy.

Maybe they need some kind of administrative structure or process to follow. That way you can say, "Okay, here's how you do that. Go to the government in Baghdad, explain the requirement, and demand the funding for it."

I know that seems naive and simplistic, but something along those lines would show our continued support while at the same time pointing them in a more independent direction.

Jason said...

That's a great suggestion. I'll look into that and try and post something later.