“War Front to Store Front” in stores February 18th

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“They wanted our private sector and instead got our bureaucracy.”

–Paul Brinkley

War Front to Store Front

Americans Rebuilding Trust and Hope in Nations Under Fire

By Paul Brinkley

Reporting to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Paul Brinkley spent five years overseeing economic improvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense. In this role he was the Pentagon’s top-ranking official charged with rebuilding the economies of these two war-torn nations.

In War Front to Store Front: Americans Rebuilding Trust and Hope in Nations Under Fire, (Wiley; February 18, 2014; ISBN 978-1118239223; $25.95) Paul Brinkley details how in 2006 US commanders in Iraq were desperate to provide jobs and opportunities to local populations with few options. Out of this grew the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), a group of civilians with specialized business knowledge recruited to restart Iraqi state-owned factories. These factories had been shortsightedly closed by The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) throwing tens of thousands of Iraqis out of work and grinding the economic base to a halt.

Working outside the usual bureaucracy with less stringent security restrictions than State Department employees, Brinkley’s team travelled far and wide in Iraq, finding viable businesses, giving them the credit they needed to restart operations, and helping them find new markets. The TFBSO’s success quickly led to pleas of help from US commanders in Afghanistan, as well as from embassies in other war ravaged countries.

In all, the TFBSO restored or created more than 300,000 jobs in Iraq, facilitated over $5B in foreign direct investment, enabled awarding of more than $10B in contracts to American firms, and established hundreds of private enterprises throughout Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the tension between the TFBSO, housed within the Department of Defense, and the State Department, which was normally tasked normally with overseeing economic development abroad, was crippling. In the end, it was the State Department’s Agency for International Development (USAID) which took control of the TFBSO in 2011 and eventually disbanded it.

In War Front to Store Front, Paul Brinkley argues:

• The disastrous decision taken by Paul Bremer’s CPA to close down Iraqi state-owned companies in 2003, and the State Department’s hesitancy to change course, contributed strongly to the insurgency in that country.

• In many cases, infrastructure rebuilding needs in war-torn countries far surpass our aid levels. We set ourselves up for failure when we focus on building infrastructure without enabling the country’s own business class to rise and create vibrant markets and diverse income streams.

• USAID is tremendously useful in humanitarian assistance missions, like providing communities with clean water and medical care. But establishing businesses and free enterprise takes specialized skill that USAID does not have.

• The creation of an organization capable of fulfilling the economic development mission of linking conflict-ridden countries to tactical economic opportunity must be done from scratch. There is no existing entity capable of performing this activity today within the federal government.

As a result of our overly bureaucratic approach to economic development, Brinkey argues what’s needed in war torn countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and others, is access to American business expertise. Many great American businesses, like General Electric, New Holland Tractors, and Google stepped up to the plate when called by the TFBSO to help restart Iraqi businesses. With the end of the TFBSO, the void of American companies in these countries is increasingly being filled by companies from China and Russia. Our influence is quickly fading.

To this day, not one American fast food company operates in Iraq outside of the relatively calm region of Kurdistan. Enterprising Iraqi vendors drive to Amman, Jordan every other day, bringing back trunkloads of Big Macs and KFC fried chicken to sell to Iraqis craving Americana. A day-old Big Mac sells for $8 on the streets of Baghdad. The market is there, argues Paul Brinkley, it’s a shame for us to squander the best political capital we have as Americans, our entrepreneurship.


Paul A. Brinkley is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of North America Western Asia Holdings (NAWAH), a business development and investment firm establishing industrial enterprises in the Middle East. Among its businesses, NAWAH is currently developing logistics and port operations infrastructure in southern Iraq.

Before launching NAWAH, Brinkley served as U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, leading a groundbreaking task force charged with developing economic opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan through a range of efforts, including the successful encouragement of investment by U.S. and Western businesses. This mission was later expanded to include work in Pakistan, Sudan, and Rwanda.

Before his government post, Brinkley held a number of senior executive roles with Silicon Valley technology companies, including JDS Uniphase and Nortel Networks, where he managed operations in more than twenty countries in North America, Europe and Asia. A licensed professional engineer, he is the recipient of four U.S. patents, and has published research on process optimization, production economics and artificial intelligence. He has served as an economic development advisor to the government of Fujian Province, China, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Other illuminating anecdotes from War Front to Store Front:

• The US spent $144 billion a year in Afghanistan to secure a $40 billion/year economy. Afghanistan is a foreign aid economy and we haven’t done enough to foster their business environment.

• Our fear at being perceived as being only after Iraqi oil and gas resources, resulted in our handing over the work of developing these highly valuable assets to Russian and Chinese companies. This was a strategic and economic error.

• Paul Brinkley saw first-hand the difference between the caliber of the foreign aid community in Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan is considered among many as a “good war” therefore it is the more sought after posting than Iraq, which is seen by the foreign aid community as a “bad war”.

• The State Department thought that the best solution to get Afghanistan into world markets was by exporting fruit to India. In fact, the US Geological Survey showed that Afghanistan is sitting potentially $1 trillion of mineral wealth.

• Independent studies showed TFBSO restored or created more than 300,000 jobs in Iraq, facilitated over $5B in foreign direct investment, enabled awarding of more than $10B in contracts to American firms, and established hundreds of private enterprises throughout Afghanistan and Iraq.