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On Point

Money Is Ammo in Iraq


by Austin Bay
September 14, 2004

Money is ammo in Iraq, and right now our troops on the ground are short-changed.

Pay attention, Bush administration and Congress: The specific program with the most effective bang-for-bucks is CERP, Commander's Emergency Response Program funds. The military needs a plus-up in CERP funds in Iraq and needs it now.

It always takes cash (or, more elegantly, economic power) to create, reinforce and sustain military power. In the final analysis, bricks -- not bombs -- win wars the way America wants to win and, frankly, needs to win in the 21st century. The brickwork of new infrastructure, the human cornerstone of an educated and entrepreneurial population -- these foundations sustain victory in the War on Terror.

Money solidified then expanded the Allied victory in World War II. The Marshall Plan was an astute use of cash, though it didn't begin to rebuild Western Europe until well after the fighting stopped.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi government, however, is fighting a counter-terror war as it builds.

In an essay he wrote for The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 25 , Allawi identified three keys to success in Iraq: security and the rule of law; a prosperous economy; an "inclusive, collaborative" political system. In military jargon, these are classic "lines of operation": the military-security, the governmental (political) and the economic-developmental. In Iraq -- like Afghanistan -- the "lines of operation" are being pursued simultaneously, once again illustrating why the War on Terror is arguably history's most intricate war.

We've seen some successes in this "simultaneous war" -- the 101st Airborne in northern Iraq in fall 2003 as an example, with local developmental needs being quickly met by CERP. In late August, I went on a motor patrol in Baghdad with the 1st Cavalry Division's 91st Engineer Battalion. That unit is now "task organized" for security and development work -- Bradley fighting vehicles complement its engineer equipment. I'd argue it is a functioning prototype of the kind of "peacekeeping and counter-terror units" the United States will need for the next 20 years.

The 91st's war is one of snipers, but also sewers. The battalion commander told me he'd be the most popular man in western Baghdad if he fixed the sewers.

CERP funds are the quickest way to fix sewers in a Baghdad neighborhood. Local contractors usually get the work, and that gives local men jobs. CERP projects immediately invest a community in its own reconstruction -- and puts a social squeeze on insurgent thugs who prey on the disaffected.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Ambassador John Negroponte asked for more CERP funds earlier this summer, but now it's September. On Monday, the administration "re-programmed" $3.46 billion dollars out of $18 billion budgeted for Iraqi reconstruction. Some of that must increase CERP funds. Here's a guess: $200 million channeled through CERP will have positive effects by December. The big infrastructure projects bankrolled by the $18 billion are necessary, but their payoff is three to five years away.

CERP fills that gap, and even small amounts can buy goodwill. In mid-July, I went on a foot patrol in Baghdad with another 1st Cavalry Division unit. One of the officers told me the Cav had experimented with a "designated spender" on foot patrols. A soldier would spend 10 bucks while on patrol, buying food in a souk or a toy from a store. The food would then be donated to a food bank and the toys given to kids. Unfortunately, the troops spent their own money. To use appropriated funds, another officer later told me, was practically impossible, "unless the funds are CERP. With CERP, a soldier signs a receipt (for the money), then the patrol generates a little local economic activity."

Government funding mechanisms intended to ensure accountability are necessary -- peacetime gripes about $600 aircraft toilet seats are legitimate. In this intricate war, however, our brigade and battalion commanders must have the economic ammo to reinforce security operations.

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