The recent release of the defense budget for 2010 makes one thing clear: With $61 billion requested for Iraq (versus $65 billion for Afghanistan), a shift in US priorities is underway. As the Obama administration looks to new challenges in Afghanistan and secondly, Pakistan, ExecutiveBiz recently caught up with Mary Beth Long, former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under the Bush administration. Long now has her own company, Mary Beth Long & Associates, PLLC, which provides legal and policy advice to defense and security companies. Here Long offers a snapshot on shifting priorities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and what they may mean for you.
Iraq: What's next
When it comes to Iraq, this will be an interesting year for defense contractors for three reasons, says Long:
- Shifting political situation. Iraq's political situation is in constant flux as different political parties, factions, and power centers assert “” and align “” themselves in preparation for the national elections coming up this fall. The elections will either see Malaki and his government reelected or the coalition that rules Iraq realigned.
- Disruption of power. The withdrawal and change of focus for US troops will cause a certain amount of disruption and power shifting, says Long. That, in turn, will have an impact on the security situation as well.
- Greater voice by Iraqis. The Iraqi government is increasingly looking to its own citizens and companies to take the lead in areas now undertaken by outside entities. Long calls this the “biggest change“ afoot. “Private contractors in Washington who have aligned themselves with the US government or the coalition are going to be in for a rude awakening as Iraqis start insisting they take on these responsibilities,“ says Long. At the same time, Iraqis aren't yet prepared for the task. “In the short term, the muddy security and political situation, combined with the lack of mature institutions, is going to make for a difficult road over the next year or two “” maybe more,“ says Long. That opens the door for a “nimble company“ to help fill in the gaps, adds Long.
Afghanistan: What's next
The situation in Afghanistan portends increasing reliance on US and foreign contractors, particularly as the US expands its role, says Long.
- Greater US role. “A certain amount of that will be undertaken by the US military,“ says Long. That brings up the issue of military preparedness. “I don't think that people have anticipated that the equipment, the personnel, and assets currently in Iraq are not going to be immediately transferable to Afghanistan; there is going to be a lag time,“ says Long.
- Increasing reliance on contractors. “I don't think that our government “” either the State Department or the NGO communities “” is sufficiently prepared institutionally to man and support a civilian surge,“ says Long. “A lot of logistics, communications, transportation, and security issues will probably have to be undertaken by contractors,“ she adds.
Pakistan: What's next
It's too early to assess the Obama administration's approach to Pakistan, says Long. Still, a few areas are becoming clear:
- Dual Afghan-Pakistan policy. The Obama administration has been publicly talking about the previous administration's dual Afghan-Pakistan policy. “The trick will be for this administration to find a way to implement their programs in a reasonable timeframe “” and have the effects of that implementation felt by the Pakistani people,“ says Long. “I think so far we haven't seen those parts of Obama's Pakistan plan,“ she adds.
- Greater role by contractors. Like Afghanistan, Pakistan will require a greater role by contractors in nation-building. “There is no ability to implement and to actually operationalize the monies that the US government is contemplating providing to the Pakistanis,“ says Long. Either the US military or government, or perhaps the United Nations, is going to have to provide that apparatus, she adds. “In any event there will be an increasing call on contractors for basic infrastructure types of services “¦ transportation, communication, institution building, everything from A to Z in nation building,“ says Long.
How can contractors help address shifting priorities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan? Share your comments here.