Jobs What Iraq Needs Now, According to Ex-General

By David Collins

March 9, 2008, The Santa Fe New Mexican

 

Iraq reconstruction requires jobsA retired general with strong Republican convictions and an investment broker with long-time Democratic ties who visited Iraq together in February came home with similar conclusions about the prospects for peace in Iraq. The nation's shattered economy is now a U.S. problem and fixing the economy is the most promising prospect for peace, Maj. Gen. (retired) Frank Schober said.

Now an Eldorado resident, Schober formerly commanded the California National Guard. He visited Iraq with a group of investors that included Llewellyn Werner, a part-time Santa Fe resident who once served as California's Secretary of Business and Transporation under former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Their expedition to Iraq included a nearly hour-long sit-down with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force in Iraq.

"The general told us we can't shoot our way out of here. We are going to have to get these people jobs," Schober said.

A Vietnam battalion commander before he was California's adjutant general, Schober might be a likely candidate to oppose quick withdrawal from yet another unfinished war. His traveling companion, however, has backed Democratic presidential candidates who have most supported a quick withdrawal.

After Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew from the race, Werner shifted his support to Barack Obama. However, he's not buying his candidate's campaign promises for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

"We're not going anywhere," Werner repeated emphatically. "The vacuum that would take place if we were to pull out instantly would be shocking and awing."

The idea that the only way out is along a path that rebuilds Iraq's economy was not the only common ground the political rivals shared on returning from the war zone. Each was harshly critical of the way the war was managed for the first few years.

"The military thing went well, but the thing that seemed that seemed to harm us is the decisions made by the provisional authority," Schober said.

The first U.S. commanders who governed occupied Iraq abolished the nation's Army, fired former Baath party members from public-sector jobs and seized government bank accounts of former regime agencies that ran the very centralized Iraqi civil infrastructure. Conditions deteriorated around Iraq as former government employees, driven by desperation, accepted petty cash from al Qaeda Iraq operatives to commit suicide bombings, Schober said.

"After we were in, (former defense secretary Don Rumsfeld) prosecuted the war poorly, at best," Werner said.

According to the Department of Defense's December report to Congress on stability and security in Iraq, overall attacks climbed steadily until June, when reported violence dropped precipitously. By November, the pace of attacks had receded to levels last seen in the summer of 2005, before the Samara Mosque bombing of February, 2006 and before what many called a civil war swept Iraq.

The civil war is now over, Schober's contacts in Iraq told him. The Defense report says civilians are still dying by the hundreds each month, but at a much slower pace. Deaths from sectarian violence were down about 80 percent in November, compared with January, 2006.

The Defense report attributes the wane of violence to increasing segregation in Baghdad neighborhoods, growing capabilities of Iraqi forces and sustained presence of U.S. and Iraqi forces among the Iraqi population.

Schober said Petraeus has executed a two-pronged strategy that used military force to deprive al Qaida of safe areas while establishing person-to-person ties between U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians. When the wartime commander, busy with life-or-death decisions, emerged from his office to greet prospective investors, Schober was convinced he was talking with a new generation of American military commanders.

"We've got American soldiers teaching Iraqi people Robert's Rules of Order," Schober said.

Parliamentary procedure is one of many Western influences the U.S. invasion brought to Iraq. A skateboard park was among the potential investment opportunities Werner identified in Iraq. Iraqi teens now watch extreme sports on televisions their families purchased after the war started and have embraced some of the latest youth culture as a result, he said.

The money Werner represented in his tour of war-torn Iraq can buy far more than a skateboard park, or the theme park some investors want to locate near the Baghdad zoo.

During the recent trip, "We entered agreements for the fiber-optic backbone of Iraq," Werner said.

Other investment opportunities the group identified included possible recycling plants for used oil, electric plants that burn natural gas otherwise flared into the atmosphere as waste from oil wells, and a tile plant, currently operating in Syria that could expand to Iraq.

Compared to the billions of dollars Schober's well-heeled traveling companions represented, he brought little to a table where economic reconstruction was the main agenda. "It's kind of heady to be in their company, but I'm not one of them," he said.

The needs Schober identified were at more of a grass-roots level. Since all scrap in Iraq is owned by the state, there are no automotive junk yards. His idea was to create pull-your-own-parts scrap yards to assist mom-and-pop businesses that service Iraqi's vehicles.

While the two agreed on the need for investments in Iraq, and the need for reliable armed forces to secure the country while the economy grows, Schober and Werner expressed starkly divergent views on the new military strategy that led to the Iraq war.

Even with the extreme costs, the United States was fortunate in Iraq, Werner said. The success of any future proactive engagements could depend on the luck of the draw, he said. He didn't think soldiers familiar with the human costs of war would readily embrace proactive warfare as a way of advancing national interests.

America cannot afford to liberate every oppressed population in the world, but proactive military offensives such as President Bush launched in Iraq can work, Schober said.

"We would go into it with what does it mean to our safety and security," Schober said.