by Austin Bay
June 24, 2008
The Internet won't solve the U.S. government's "synergy crisis." However,
the State Department's innovative Economic Empowerment in Strategic Regions
(EESR), which leverages Internet connectivity, may well help Third World
entrepreneurs in hard corners like Afghanistan make business contacts, get
MBA-level advice and attract financing.
It is an example of the type of "connecting, communicating and profiting"
economic and political initiative it takes to win the Global War on Terror.
What's the synergy crisis? It is a soundbite for a complex, long-term
problem involving bureaucratic turf battles and lack of focused leadership that
costs America lives, time and money. America has trouble synchronizing its
"tools of national power" -- synergizing its diplomatic, information, military
and economic power to achieve a policy goal, like winning a war.
This isn't a new affliction. Arguably, the "interagency process" that the
White House uses to coordinate and synergize the Pentagon, State, Treasury, and
every other department and agency hasn't worked well since the Eisenhower
administration. Not only does the government fail to bring "unified"
governmental power to bear, but America's private sector strengths are -- at
best -- applied haphazardly, if at all.
No strategist disputes the fact America's systemic power, the global
tsunami of its $14 trillion economy, the nonstop avalanche of cultural and
technological creativity, gives the United States an awesome though unfocused
advantage in any conflict, be it diplomatic, economic or military. It takes
time, however, and the sustained application of American political will and its
other "power tools" for the systemic edge to defeat an opponent. Time in war is
measured in loss of lives.
I guarantee EESR isn't a magic bullet, but it is precisely the kind of
experimental, inter-agency initiative that eludes rigid hierarchies and finesses
turf debates by leveraging the Internet's democratic capacities for lateral
The program also recognizes that the Global War on Terror is a long
struggle, a fight over the terms of 21st century modernity, where winning the
economic and political battles will ultimately be decisive.
"I can't tell you how many times I've spoken with people from Afghanistan
and Pakistan who say to me all of this (complex war) is economics," Steve
Kaplitt, director of EESR, told me. "Solve the economics, and all of this will
Neither Kaplitt nor I think it's quite that simple. But terrorist and
tyrant elites certainly leverage grievances magnified by systemic poverty and
Via the Internet, EESR provides "business development advocacy" and what
Kaplitt calls "customized matchmaking" to help entrepreneurs in "targeted
countries" (e.g. Afghanistan, Pakistan) find business partners and resources.
"We solicit business proposals from entrepreneurs," Kaplitt said, "then try and
match them with partners in the U.S. private sector, government agencies,
nongovernmental organizations and philanthropic foundations."
Translation: An entrepreneur in Kabul or a nurse who wants to open a
clinic in Peshawar can get support, advice and financing from around the world.
"We call these business proposals instead of business plans," Kaplitt
continued, "because some proposals will be straightforward for profit, some
might be philanthropic. Say we have a proposal for a hospital -- that might be a
hybrid (i.e., attracting private, public and philanthropic interest and
support). Our key requirement is that a proposal produce sustainable
private-sector jobs" in areas plagued by conflict.
Kaplitt emphasized that a proposal seeking direct U.S. government funds
must meet all current funding requirements. "We're not offering or providing any
kind of mechanism to have a fast track to get around those processes. We simply
sort the opportunities and the entrepreneurs with potential partners."
Kaplitt added that this is a "free market approach," where the idea
succeeds or fails based on market interest (in this case, investors and donors).
The Internet, however, casts a wide net.
A proposal that meets basic criteria will be passed on to a team of
volunteer MBA students for analysis and comment. The MBA teams work directly
with the project's principal to refine the proposals. After polishing, the
proposal is posted on the EESR Website and then "actively marketed" to public-
and private-sector individuals or organizations who may ultimately become
partners, investors, sources of advice or donors.
Kaplitt credits Dan Sullivan, the State Department's assistant secretary
for economic, energy and business affairs, for pushing EESR as a concept and
program. Sullivan served a tour as a Marine reserve office on the CENTCOM staff
and saw the critical need for this type of local talent-developing initiative.