Five years ago, provincial reconstruction teams were a daring new concept: combined civilian-military units that engaged in humanitarian affairs in remote locations. PRTs got rave reviews from the media and for good reason. They were established in the parts of Afghanistan where security was decent, if not great, and where development was nil, giving American amateurs the chance to win over the local population by building water wells and one-room schoolhouses from scratch.
A collection of articles and dispatches by Atlantic authors.
Recently the State Department has been trumpeting PRTs as a strategy for getting Iraq on its feet. Unfortunately, Iraq is not Afghanistan. Not only is security non-existent, but Iraq’s infrastructure is far more complex than Afghanistan’s. Thus, Iraq needs real experts and a supple bureaucracy—both in the Green Zone and in Washington—to help it out of its decrepitude. But both of these are lacking.
The experience of one senior foreign service officer—a woman named Kiki Munshi who came out of retirement to run the PRT in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, for most of 2006—is instructive. As someone with decades of experience working in shaky countries off the Washington radar screen, she was accustomed to being a self-starter. But nothing had prepared her for this job. Usually, when foreign service officers are dispatched to new posts—especially dangerous and critical ones—they are given an array of content-rich briefings in Washington. But nobody at the State Department or Public Diplomacy (the successor to the United States Information Service) was particularly interested in seeing her, Munshi says. The briefings she did get, rather than giving her the lay of the land, consisted of little more than inadequate generalizations. The embassy in Baghdad, including the offices of the U.S. Agency of International Development, proved just as unhelpful.