August 16th, 2012 – Revisiting Iraq: A Tutorial for the Arab Spring?

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DATE: Thursday, August 16th, 2012 at 7:30 AM
LOCATION: Bangor Public Library, Lecture Hall
SPEAKER: Steve Kenney, Vice President for Finance of the American University of Beirut

Abstract: In December, 2006, the security situation in Iraq appeared to be spiraling out of control. Nine months earlier in the year members from both parties in Congress acknowledged the need for a bipartisan Iraq Study Group to conduct an environmental assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq and recommend an action plan. The conclusions of the Iraq Study Group were dismal. Despite recent attempts by the U.S. military to work with Iraqi security forces (ISF) to quell violence in Baghdad (Operation Together Forward II), the number of violent events in Baghdad increased by 43% from August thru October and U.S. forces continued to suffer casualties. The various insurgent groups and militias of political parties would vanish from neighborhoods in advance of security sweeps and then resurface later to wreak more carnage. It was becoming clearer by the day that the initial US plan to transfer responsibility for security to ISF was losing credibility rapidly. A new way forward was needed.

The recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group were the product of eight months of extensive meetings with military officers, regional experts, academics, journalists, and high-level government officials from America and abroad. One can logically question how many lives could have been spared if such a bipartisan effort had been undertaken before the initial decision to invade Iraq had been taken. This is particularly relevant considering that the most important recommendations from the Iraqi Study Group were a call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region coupled with a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that would facilitate a responsible withdrawal of combat troops. It was the unanimous view of the Iraqi Study Group that effective implementation of these key recommendations along with a commitment from the Iraqi government to move forward with national reconciliation would improve the prospects for a better future for Iraq and the region.

Within eighteen months of implementing the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which included a “surge” in troop deployments, U.S. President George W. Bush was able to announce that the level of violence in Iraq and been reduced to “its lowest level since the spring of 2004” and that the primary reason for this decline in violence was “the success of the surge.” Was the rapid decline in violence in Iraq during this time period purely the byproduct of increased troop deployments? If so, does this support the “Powell doctrine” that the U.S. should only go to war as a last resort and then only with overwhelming force? How would such a policy be applied to the recent events pertaining to the Arab Spring? Did President Obama consider the framework proposed by General Powell in his support for U.S. military involvement in Libya? And what about the deteriorating situation in Syria? Should the Obama administration intervene to stem the slaughter being perpetrated by dictator Bashar al-Assad?

Mr. Steve Kenney

About the Speaker: Steve Kenney became Vice President for Finance of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in September, 2007. He is a global strategic thinker with 20 years of international development experience in more than 30 countries throughout the regions of Central & Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Russia. He will finish his current AUB post in August, at which time he will assume new responsibilities as Chief Administrative Officer for the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.

A native of Orono, Maine, Mr. Kenney received his B.S. in business administration and MBA from the University of Maine. After beginning his career in public accounting with one of the “Big Eight” accounting firms and earning the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) credential, he joined the Internal Audit Department of the University of Maine System (UMS) in 1984. His professional interest as an internal auditor at UMS was centered on information systems controls and fraud detection. In June, 1991, Mr. Kenney was appointed by the University of Maine as the founding Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for its new joint initiative in Eastern Europe, the American University of Bulgaria (AUBG). In addition to his role as a senior administrator, Mr. Kenney was an Adjunct Instructor for financial and management accounting courses.

In 1996, Mr. Kenney joined the corporate finance team of the Open Society Institute, a network of numerous nonprofit foundations established by the philanthropist George Soros. At the heart of this network is a group of autonomous organizations known as “national foundations” that operate in more than 30 countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Central Eurasia, Mongolia, South Africa, Haiti, Guatemala, and the United States. These foundations share the common mission of supporting the development and maintenance of an open society. Mr. Kenney served in several senior administrative posts during his tenure at the Open Society Institute, including Managing Director for OSI Russia and as Executive Director for the Open Society Support Foundation in the Czech Republic.

In 2002, Mr. Kenney founded a consulting firm to provide temporary CFO assistance and financial systems project management services to clients located in the United States and abroad, with a particular focus on projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). From 2002 to 2005 he served as a USAID contractor on an Enterprise Development Project in Central Asia serving the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In July, 2006, Mr. Kenney joined the USAID-funded Local Governance Project (LGP) in Iraq and completed a one year assignment that coincided with “the Surge” strategy deployed by the United States to address the deteriorating security situation in Iraq when sectarian and insurgent violence appeared to be spiraling out of control.