“The evidence suggests that the State Department never really engaged the Iraqis to find out what they need and what they want.” - Retired Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, Senior Fellow, Institute for the Study of War, who oversaw the training of Iraqi security forces from 2007 to 2008

The U.S. State Department, under Hilary Clinton, has been credited with a lot of good work since the Obama Administration came to office in 2009. The decision last week to abandon one of their primary objectives - to establish an American-style police force in Iraq - may prove to be revelatory of the less than stellar results of their probably over-heralded initiatives.

In 2011, in preparation for the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq, the State Department planned a large expansion of its role in the country. Despite the insistence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the U.S. depart Iraq following the end of the war - in December 2011, President Barack Obama presided over a ceremony to mark the return of the United States Force's Iraq colors - the State Department doubled its Iraq contingent to 16,000 strong, mostly contractors. Their purpose was to serve as a counterweight to the political influence of Iran.

"The first problem is the State Department doesn’t operate in dangerous environments," says Robert M. Perito, director of the Security Sector Governance Center of Innovation at the United States Institute of Peace.

This made the Iraq Police training effort, which began in October 2011 and has already cost $500 million, the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious American aid effort since the Marshall Plan. It was doomed from the start. The U.S. trainers, largely retired police officer and former military personnel, were confined to their fortified barracks, from which the best they could offer were PowerPoint presentations and war stories. The Iraqi trainees simply stopped showing up, considering the information being provided to be irrelevant to their purposes. The main problem was that U.S. trainers were trying to instruct the Iraq police on American-style police procedures that are not yet applicable to a nation still caught in revolutionary transition and insurgent warfare.

One story has surfaced from the training that illustrates how utterly misguided the U.S. efforts have been. Police trainees were told that terrorist bombers may give themselves away by over-drinking and making large bank withdrawals prior to committing a terrorist act, this describing the acts of Islamic fundamentalists who don't use alcohol and are not likely to have bank accounts at all, let alone large ones. It points to the lack of the most basic professional execution in project management that the State Department has not tailored a curriculum to meet the actual needs of the trainees.

Lack of trust has also killed the efforts. The Iraq police insists that the State Department trainers move their trainings to police facilities, rather than conduct them in the relative safety of the State Department compound. The State Department spent $343 million to harden these Iraq facilities, particularly in Baghdad, Erbil and Basra, with the idea of putting 1,000 trainers on site. But that plan has suddenly been scuttled, with projects unfinished.

The costs contribute to the $8 billion spent on training Iraq police since 2003; training them wrong or inappropriately, putting lives at danger, because whather run by the State Department, who is starting and ending the initiative, or the U.S. military, who took it over for a time, the result has been failure at the expense of the American taxpayer.

In large part, it is a failure of purpose, for the U.S. intention has always been to control the future of Iraq, a sovereign nation that we have no legal authority over. That alone has doomed U.S. efforts in Iraq and drained the U.S. economy without any kind of commensurate gain or reward. (Remember Dick Cheney assuring the nation that the Iraq War would pay for itself in oil revenues?)

In the particulars of its failures, it is shockingly mundane in its ineptitudes. Freshmen in public administration courses would not likely make the project management mistakes that have typified the State Department's handling of the Iraq programs, first under the Bush Administration and now under the Obama Administration. - RAR