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Author to discuss efforts to fix Iraqi, Afghan economies

Volunteers from Borlaug Institute assisted in restoration

Published: Monday, February 17, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 17, 2014 22:02

Paul Brinkley, aided by government agencies, volunteers and members of Texas A&M’s Borlaug Institute, which he called the “Indiana Jones of international agriculture,” spent five years as the U.S. Department of Defense’s top-ranking official responsible for economic rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Texas A&M University’s Conflict and Development Center will host Brinkley, Class of 1989, at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center on Tuesday to discuss his new book, “War Front to Store Front: Americans Rebuilding Trust and Hope in Nations Under Fire.”

The book details the efforts to rebuild the economies of Iraq and Afghanistan. Brinkley, who reported directly to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, oversaw the economic repair of both countries, working closely with other U.S. agencies and hundreds of volunteers, 37 of whom were members of the Borlaug Institute.

Edwin Price, a volunteer under Brinkley and the Howard G. Buffett chair on conflict and development, said the efforts to rebuild the economy of Iraq and Afghanistan provided him an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the events in those countries.

“I think it’s really an incredible backstory of what was going behind the scenes during the military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan to stand up the economy,” Price said. “[Brinkley] became convinced that the answer to reducing the conflict was to get people employed, and that was a tremendous issue at the time because the view was that we did not want to enable former members of the Ba’athist party or Saddam Hussein’s regime to reengage in the economy or take positions of leadership. The problem is that those people also happened to have most of the expertise. [Brinkley] was not an advocate for those people, but he was an advocate for getting the businesses up and going.”

Brinkley said without enabling the economy to support the country, Iraq and Afghanistan could be left in the same condition they were in before the arrival of American military personnel. Without instituting new foreign policy in regards to rebuilding economies, Brinkley said the U.S. runs the risk of wasting the funds invested in the military effort.

“We have left behind very fragile democratic institutions that in some cases don’t have the necessary economic resources to sustain them,” Brinkley said. “Afghanistan in particular is in a very fragile state right now and has very little in the way of an indigenous economy capable of supporting the institutions there. So if we think about drawing down our troop presence there, and a withdrawal of the foreign aid that comes along with military presence, the risk is that the state itself collapses. That is the motivator for how foreign policy needs to develop the capabilities to help uplift economies in war-torn countries.”

Price said his ability to assist in the efforts to rebuild the economies of these countries was something he had worked toward his whole professional life, and that while the mission came with its dangers, he considered it a privilege.

“When this opportunity came, we felt honored to be called upon to this, because even though it felt risky, we had spent much of our lives building to this point, to make this kind of a contribution during conflict,” Price said.

Brinkley said the work of the Borlaug Institute greatly impacted the effectiveness of the mission and the willingness of Texas A&M to send qualified individuals to an unstable area was unique.

“They came in and slept in tents in the middle of farmers’ fields and conflict zones all over Iraq and Afghanistan for several years as part of my team, and did amazing work in helping farmers put crop production back online and then help expand and grow agribusinesses throughout those two countries,” Brinkley said. “It was remarkable work and Texas A&M was the only university that would step up and put faculty-level experts in the field with our troops.”

Price said Brinkley’s unique view of foreign aid included restoring the economy of nations while conflict is ongoing, and that if America waited until it was safe it would have been too late for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jonathan Yuen, freshman biochemistry major, said the Aggie involvement in such an endeavor is what most interests him about Brinkley’s discussion.

“Being a part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, I think it is pretty interesting to hear how Texas A&M faculty got involved with agriculture on a worldwide scale,” Yuen said. “It’s always great to hear [how] people apply their knowledge to help others, especially in a location such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Brinkley said he hopes his book will spark a discussion on how America can provide aid to foreign countries in a more effective way, providing both a better way of life for locals and honoring the sacrifice of American troops.

“I think a debate about how we provide foreign assistance — given the past decade’s success and failures — is overdue,” Brinkley said. “We’ve spent a lot of money. We’ve invested lives, the blood of young men and women in areas of unrest. My goal is to trigger a debate on how our foreign aid institutions are structured and whether they provide the support necessary when our troops have proved the security. We have the ability to quickly go in and establish a normal life for people. If we don’t provide that we leave a situation that is ripe for the reemergence of violence and radicalism.”

The discussion is open to Texas A&M students, faculty and staff and will run from 2-3 p.m. with a small reception afterwards.

 

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