The Buzz

Can't Produce Anything

The Coalition Provisional Authority, which ruled Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion until July 2004, has been taking it on the chops. In July, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction released "Lessons in Contracting and Procurement," finding the CPA's efforts were understaffed, its buyers often unqualified and its project management office woeful at defining what it wanted from contractors.

In August, a federal judge found the CPA was not a U.S. federal government entity and tossed out a $10 million verdict against a contractor found to have overcharged for providing a new Iraqi currency. The jury verdict was the first in a civil fraud case arising from Iraq reconstruction; other cases await judgments.

Then, in the September/October issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post assistant managing editor and former Baghdad bureau chief, blasted the CPA and Bush administration war planners for marginalizing the State Department and U.S. military, among others, from postwar preparations. The result, wrote Chandrasekaran, was that the military carried out local day-to-day governance and reconstruction, while the CPA shut it out of shaping policy.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who headed the CPA, saw Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, top commander in Iraq, as incompetent. Sanchez viewed Bremer as imperious, Chandrasekaran reported. Of Bush loyalists serving in the CPA, he wrote, "They spent more time interacting with fellow Americans than Iraqis. Still, they were convinced they knew what was best for Iraq."

As for military service members, "The CPA, they joked, stood for 'Can't Produce Anything.' 'Nobody has any idea what they do back in that palace," a senior Marine in Fallujah told Chandrasekaran.

Scaly Sentinels

In platoons of eight, they pull guard duty at the Army's Fort Detrick in Maryland. During three-week deployments, they protect the purity of water from the Monocacy River that flows throughout the post after it is treated and chlorinated.

Two years ago in May, the platoon on duty sounded an alarm after detecting contamination streaming in from the river. The unit activated an auto-dialer to call environmental health staffers and an automatic sampler to investigate. The substance was poisonous. Some gave their lives.

Yet their still, silent watch continues-bluegills protecting their homeland . . . and ours.

Sounds fishy, but it's true. A partnership between the Army's Center for Environmental Health Research and Intelligent Automation Corp., a San Diego machinery diagnostics firm, produced the Intelligent Aquatic BioMonitoring system, which uses bluegills, a variety of freshwater sunfish, as biosensors to warn of contamination by accident or terrorists' design. The May 2004 substance turned out to be a pesticide or herbicide.

It works like this: Water runs through a box the size of a two-drawer file cabinet where the fish are billeted in 1-inch by4-inch chambers. Electrodes mounted at top and bottom monitor their breathing, swimming and behavior. If anything abnormal surfaces, the machine notifies the human chain of command via the Web or phone and kicks on a neural network reasoning system to analyze the water.

The Army originally used bluegills to monitor groundwater treatment at a dumping ground for chemical warfare agents, unexploded ordnance and other wastes at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, not far from Fort Detrick.

In August, IAC announced that New York City and San Francisco have bought bluegill-based water-watching systems.

Lessons From Israel

Missile-lobbing between Israel and Hezbollah hadn't ceased before Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, issued "Preliminary 'Lessons' of the Israeli-Hezbollah War" Aug. 17. Here's some of his advice:

  • Learn from Israel that "problems and reverses need immediate official examination and criticism begins from the top down."
  • Get used to opponents using noncombatants as shields and civilian casualties to exploit the political impact of strikes.
  • Modern technology can't prevent a skilled urban force from coercing the United States to fight it largely on its own terms.
  • Avoid entering combat without a decisive strategy and goals. Israel chose the worst of all worlds: It "escalated an air campaign in ways that could not have a decisive strategic effect and dithered for weeks in a land battle designed to minimize military casualties."
  • Enemies increasingly will arm nonstates actors with relatively advanced weapons instead of confronting us directly.
  • Keep air power in proportion.
  • Prepare for the wars you might have to fight, not the ones you want to fight.
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