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Losing the Golden Hour

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Losing the Golden Hour: An Insider’s View of Iraq’s Reconstruction

“Spike Stephenson has provided a tremendous addition to the understanding of what went wrong in Iraq. His insider’s account is required reading for anyone interested in the reconstruction.”

T. CHRISTIAN MILLER, Los Angeles Times, author of “Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq”

In emergency medicine “the golden hour” is the first hour after injury during which treatment greatly increases survivability. In post-conflict transition terminology, it is the first year after hostilities end. Without steadily improving conditions then, popular support declines and chances for economic, political, and social transformation begin to evaporate. James “Spike” Stephenson believes we lost Iraq’s golden hour — Iraqis soon became disillusioned, and the insurgency grew. Losing the Golden Hour tells of hubris, incompetence, courage, fear, and duty. It is about foreign assistance professionals trying to overcome the mistakes of an ill-conceived occupation and help Iraqis create a nation after decades of despair. In the author’s words, “Iraq has been — in blood and wealth — America’s costliest foreign venture since Vietnam. This book tells what it was like to live and work as a part of that venture.”

A veteran of post-conflict reconstruction on three continents, Stephenson was USAID Mission Director in Iraq from February 2004 to March 2005 — from the last months of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), through the U.S. embassy period, to the post-election handover to an Iraqi government. With more than a thousand employees and expatriate contractors, Stephenson’s USAID program encompassed infrastructure, community development, local governance, agriculture, private-sector development, policy reform, capacity building, education, health, democracy initiatives, election support, civil society, and humanitarian assistance. He found the CPA, which oversaw the largest reconstruction and nation-building exercise ever, a dysfunctional organization the Department of Defense cobbled together with temporary employees and a few experienced professionals from the State Department and other agencies.

James Stephenson is a retired senior Foreign Service office with twenty-eight years’ experience in rebuilding states at war or recovering from war. He was USAID mission director in Lebanon and in Serbia and Montenegro prior to assuming that position in Iraq. He also served in Egypt, Grenada, and El Salvador. A decorated Vietnam War veteran, he is a recognized expert on post-conflict transition, civilian-military cooperation, and counterinsurgency.