This e-mail was followed by a little give-and-take, temporarily raising Nash’s morale and boosting spirits in the PMO staff in Baghdad and back in Rosslyn, Virginia. Everything was quiet again for a few days, but the dam finally burst under pressure from the media’s expressing renewed interest in how $18.6 billion would be disbursed and who would do the disbursing. Interagency bickering soon followed. For the first time, apparently, some started thinking seriously of the post-June 2004 period when Iraq regains its sovereignty. We heard about a lot of second-hand chatter from those who wanted their hand in the till.

Nash watched and waited. Hoping to resolve the future of the PMO, he sent another memo to Jeffrey a few days after Christmas, but really directed to the secretary of defense or his deputy. ‘There is increasing concern amongst the contractor community, Congress, and the staff about the status of CPA/PMO after 1 July,’ Nash wrote. ‘Yet the original concept of a Program Management Office remains the most managerially viable and cost effective path forward. Having one point of contact, one line of authority, and management chain-of-command is essential.’

Other messages forwarded from Nash to the higher reaches were more explicit about the implications of his vanishing role in the reconstruction effort. A reply to one of his missives tried to placate him by suggesting ‘there’ll always be a place for you somewhere.’ This failed to satisfy, leaving those on the staff wondering once more where they’d be working next.

The surprise ending to this tale began to unfold a few days later, triggered by a media campaign I initiated with two goals: (1) to protect Nash’s reputation, which others would attempt to soil to protect themselves, if he resigned, and (2) to push in front of administration elites evidence that our program was being marginalized, in hopes they’d move to save it. To protect Nash personally, I needed a sympathetic local reporter, someone especially insightful who wouldn’t write that his resignation was an act of desperation. The day before I’d had a short meeting with a Wall Street Journal reporter, Yochi Dreazen, to explore the notion of a profile. His stuff usually appeared on page one, according to Nexis. I found him affable, worldly, and, above all, compassionate.

Back on December 17, Dreazen had hoped to fly to Washington with Nash, but it was too late to make the arrangements. The idea had been for Dreazen to observe a bidders’ conference scheduled for December 19, but the conference was postponed at the last minute after we failed to get permission from the Office of Management and Budget to release to industry the Requests for Proposal that solicit bids from prospective prime contractors. We could have held the conference if we had received permission, even as late as December 18. But without RFPs on the street, there was nothing to be gained by a bidders’ conference because there would be nothing on the table for potential bidders to discuss. When we were told by OMB not to release RFPs and to make no plans to release them until further notice, we began to suspect that our program was spinning downhill, out of our control.

Now Dreazen and I cut a deal: I would tell him everything I could off the record, with the understanding that he’d be the first to have news of Nash’s resignation and free to use everything he had. And if Nash didn’t resign because others agreed to fix what he said had to be fixed, then Dreazen could write that story if he felt it was worth it. My part of the bargain was unconditional, his was not. There was always the possibility that there would be no story at all, or, worse, that the facts would unfold in such a fashion that a sympathetic treatment would be impossible. This was putting a lot of trust in an untested relationship, but there wasn’t much choice. The only option was to let Nash walk away from his office in the middle of the night, leaving others to wonder who did what to whom.

The plan for saving Nash and his construction program was to get the story featured prominently in the media, creating enough pressure to force a decision either to restore the program or throw Nash overboard. This approach carried inherent risk to me personally, but there was no course that was risk-free. Taking risks is a professional responsibility, and I’m supposed to be the civilian leader of the Army’s public affairs community here.

On Christmas Day I sent Dreazen my take on how the PMO world was falling apart, expressing a belief that Nash’s resignation was imminent. There was no indication that anyone at the Defense Department wanted our RFPs released.

Charles Krohn is the author of The Lost Battalion: Casualties in the Battle of Hué, and the recipient of the Silver Star and several Bronze Stars.