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World Peace Through Entrepreneurship: Steven Koltai at TEDxDirigo

Steven R. Koltai is an executive with thirty years' experience in business, finance, entrepreneurship, and government. Until September 2011, Steven was Senior Advisor at the US Department of State where he created and ran the Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP). Through Steven's efforts, the GEP has fostered numerous seed investments, mentoring relationships, and the launch of new venture funds and angel investor networks. Steven is currently Managing Director of Koltai & Company LLC, which provides entrepreneurship ecosystem building services both domestically and around the world. Steven serves on numerous for-profit and not-for-profit Boards, including in Maine, having served on the Board of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development (MCED), as well as the PopTech Board. Prior to his role at the State Department, Koltai was an investment banker (international project finance at Salomon Bros), entrepreneur (Koltai founded Coronet, today known as SES-Astra, Europe's only private television satellite system, and Event411, an online event management company based in California), spent nine years at Warner Bros as SVP of Corporate Strategy and Development and founder of Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment and Warner Bros. Online, was a management consultant in the media practice at McKinsey & Company, and was a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Steven received both his BA and MA from Tufts University and a Fulbright from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles <b>...</b>

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ALL SMILES: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Prime Minister David Cameron laughed as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden jokingly mentioned that his Irish grandfather wasn’t a fan of the British as Mr. Cameron visited the State Department in Washington Wednesday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

ALBINO FAMILY: From left, sons Shankar, 24 years old, Ramkishan, 19 years old, mother Mani and father Rosetauri Pullan are set to enter the Guinness World Records for their albinism. The 10 members of the Indian family all have extremely pale skin and white hair. (Indian Photo Agency/Caters News/Zuma Press)

STADIUM SHOOTOUT: Saraperos de Saltillo baseball team players took cover during a shootout that broke out in a parking lot during a game in Saltillo, Mexico, Tuesday. According to a state police spokesman, three gunmen were killed and another was injured and captured. (Associated Press)

LEADER LOST: Ultra Orthodox Jewish people gathered around the body of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, leader of the Hasidic sect Vizhnitz, at a synagogue during his funeral procession in Bnei Brak, Israel, Wednesday. The rabbi was 95 years old. (Oded Balilty/Associated Press)

SHINY MAN: A man painted silver enjoyed the ‘Los Pintados,’ the Painted Ones, carnival in San Nicolás de los Ranchos, Mexico, Tuesday. (Alfredo Estrella/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

TUNNEL TRAGEDY: A helicopter took off from the entrance of a tunnel near Sierre, Switzerland, early Wednesday. At least 22 schoolchildren were among 28 people from Belgium killed returning from a ski holiday when their bus hit a wall inside the tunnel Tuesday night, police said. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

RAPT: People watched ‘Kony 2012,’ a film created by U.S.-based group Invisible Children, in Lira district, north of Kampala, Uganda, Tuesday. The film aims to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, who is accused of leading jungle militias that turned children into child soldiers. (James Akena/Reuters)

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So, so many Western visitors to Iraq in the past decade have thrown their heads back after a near-miss with a roadside bomb and thought, I need a drink right now. That was where the Baghdad Country Club came in.

For barely a year, a British former paratrooper known only as James and his Iraqi fixer, Ajax, ran a bar and grill that served as a rare Mesopotamian outlet for the Western urge to answer stress with alcohol. The facade concealed a greenery nestled inside Baghdad’s secured Green Zone — essentially, a walled garden within a walled garden. Even stranger, its next-door neighbor was the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite political party with its own death squad. They weren’t exactly customers.

“The Baghdad Country Club was a tiny, tiny enclave inside of that warzone where you could theoretically escape while shooting the shit and drinking a beer,” says journalist Joshuah Bearman. Bearman pours out a glass for the short-lived bar in a new piece for the Atavist, which portrays the “Casablanca in the Green Zone” in its heyday — 2006-2007, the most violent era of the war — as a place where you could avoid the roadside bombs, but not the mercenaries crooning Nickelback songs.

The U.S. has (mostly) pulled out of Iraq and Iraqi politics appear to be teetering on a new precipice of chaos. But, Bearman tells Danger Room, James and Ajax are thinking of getting back into the Baghdad bar biz. A condensed version of our conversation follows. What was your drink at the Baghdad Country Club?

Joshuah Bearman: I actually never went. I heard about it, tragically, after it closed. I didn’t actually cover the war. But my drink would’ve been a Manhattan. If they had the right vermouth. Who were the bar’s clientele?

Bearman: A lot of contractors. State Department people, embassy people, foreign military could go. Active-duty U.S. military were prohibited from drinking, so they were not in there very much, but there was the occasional U.S. soldier in there, flouting General Order #1, the prohibition on drinking. There were some Iraqis in the bar. But it was mostly U.N. people, aid people, contractors, mercenaries, et cetera. How insulated was it from the war?

Bearman: It was widely known about. Right next door was the office of SCIRI [the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, now known as ISCI]. Before the bar opened, they approached Ajax, who was worried they’d issue a fatwa banning the place. But instead they just wanted a good neighbor policy — keep the noise down, that sort of thing.

It was Ramadan shortly after they opened, and some Mahdi Army [militiamen] came to Ajax and said, “We know what you’re doing here, and if you’re trying to get alcohol shipments from downtown, it’s going to be difficult during Ramadan.” That stopped the whole bar for a period of time. So did they get shaken down by the insurgents?

‘The Blackwater dudes would play Nickelback.’

Bearman: Just one time that I know about. The beer supply came from Christian alcohol sellers downtown, so the bar would have to send trucks from the Green Zone to get it. One of Ajax’s drivers was captured by insurgents. They ransomed him. I think the bar paid a ransom for the driver but not for the booze. So they got shaken down, but just the one time.

That speaks to the effectiveness of Ajax. He’s just a super-smooth operator. He was described to me as the most magical fixer you could ever imagine. James has been to Africa, Asia, he’s a Soldier of Fortune-type dude. How did they come to run a bar together?

Bearman: James was there already doing security for a company there, Global Securities Group. He did security for the U.N. during the January 2005 elections. He runs into this guy at the airport who owns some duty-free rights to [import to] Iraq, and he sells alcohol. “Maybe we should get some booze in here,” James says, and he replies, “OK, we can do that.” Later he calls James and says he’s actually got a shipment of liquor ready. James was actually taken by surprise that the guy was serious.

But he jumped into gear and they sold all the liquor. James thought they had a good thing going, so he found a villa in the Green Zone and they opened an establishment. But he needed a local guy, so he asked around for who was the most competent guy, and found Ajax. It’s as simple as that. The guy at airport was the source for wine and liquor. Ajax was on the ground running things. What was on the jukebox at the Baghdad Country Club?

Bearman: There actually wasn’t a jukebox. They had a stereo system with an iPod attachment. They played random music. No one gave me a playlist, but they had to take Men At Work off because Aussie security contractors would go apeshit when Men At Work came on. Which I understand! When i’m in a war zone and drinking, I kind of want to let off a little steam, too.

But actually, sometimes they had live bands. Contractors who were over there a long time would bring instruments and musical equipment. There would be jammy, crappy cover bands. The Aegis guys would play the Kinks. The Blackwater dudes would play Nickelback. There was a strong cultural difference in what mercenaries were into, musically speaking. So why’d the place close so soon after it opened?

‘They got shaken down by insurgents, but just the one time.’

Bearman: It’s a bit unclear. In the Green Zone, formally known as the International Zone, there were these cops called the IZ Police. They were U.S. reservists, I presume military police. They were aggressive. There was a particular captain of the IZ Police who started coming around to the bar and giving them tickets, conducting stakeouts, checking people’s badges. Then they’d raid the place. They’d run in with full-on military gear, checking badges for who didn’t belong there.

The Baghdad Country Club thought it was like being harassed by the town sheriffs, essentially. They were disrupting theme of the bar. So that was that.

Remember, [the Club] gets to Iraq mid-2006, when the insurgency was going crazy. The Green Zone was a total mess. Different countries’ armies are there, contractors are running around like they own the place. There would be empty fields with shipping containers packed with 100 Filipinos who’d been abandoned by KBR. You’d see the craziest shit. Someone needed to put order down. And the Baghdad Country Club was casualty of that. It’s a shame that the Club didn’t stick around for the drop in violence in the wake of the Surge. Or did the Club actually need the chaos of the war to turn it into an oasis? Was that kind of its business model?

Bearman: Certainly, yeah, the siege mentality kind of creates a certain atmosphere of the place. But in terms of raw economics, a secure environment is probably better for the bottom line of a leisure establishment.

In fact, they’re going to refurbish [Baghdad's famous] al-Rasheed hotel. James is thinking about reopening the Club as a modern restaurant at the new hotel. The Baghdad Country Club could live into the peaceful years of Baghdad. If they happen.

Bearman: Yeah, exactly.

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A young man rode past art hanging as part of the ‘Works in Progress’ installation at the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn on Oct. 19. ArtBridge installed large reproductions of work from 20 Brooklyn artists on the scaffolding surrounding the stadium’s construction site. (Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal )

Handlers walked camels outside the Radio City Music Hall on Oct. 17. Three camels, two sheep, and a donkey were on hand for rehearsal of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which starts Nov. 11 and runs through Jan 2, 2012. (Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal)

The Jacob Jefferies Band played at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side during the CMJ Musical Festival on Oct. 19. (Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal )

The dance troupe Douglas Dunn & Dancers performed on stage at a block party celebrating the 50th anniversary of the La Mama Theatre in Manhattan on Oct. 16. The off-off-Broadway theater was founded in 1961 by Ellen Stewart. (Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal)

Barneys New York is marking 20 years in the business for designer Christian Louboutin. Here, one section of a window installation in Manhattan on Oct. 20. (Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal )

Pedestrians walked in the rain in Manhattan on Oct. 19. (Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal)

Amanda Schachter and Alex Levi of Slo Architecture put the finishing touches on Harvest Dome, a giant cupola made of recycled umbrellas that will float at Inwood Hill Park later this fall. (Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal )

Benjamin Gudzy, 9, of West Orange, N.J., and Logan Rinaldi, 11, of Yonkers, N.Y., tried to look into a mausoleum during a scavenger hunt at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx on Oct. 16. Kids looked for gravestones of New York politicians, oak and maple tree leaves, and distinctive monuments. (Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal)

Puppeteer Ronny Wasserstrom entertained kids at the block party celebrating the 50th anniversary of the La Mama Theatre in Manhattan on Oct. 16. (Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal)

Bumble and bumble instructor Sabrina Michals, left, showed an Afghan woman styling techniques as part of a training program for Afghan entrepreneursm sponsored by the U.S. State Department and BPeace. (Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal )

The Madison lunchbox with chicken at Duo Restaurant & Lounge, 72 Madison Ave. in New York, N.Y. (Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal)

Brian Shimkovitz, a DJ and blogger who uses the name Awesome Tapes From Africa, worked in his Lower East Side apartment on Oct. 14. (Ramin Talaie for The Wall Street Journal)

Trainer Clif Spade at the Kiwi Sweat Spin Class inside the Chelsea Market in New York on Oct. 17. (Ramsay De Give for The Wall Street Journal)

Alex Hutton, a scenic artist, worked on a set piece at the Production Resource Group facility in New Windsor, N.Y., where the set for the Broadway show ‘Godspell’ is being designed and manufactured. (Rob Bennett for The Wall Street Journal)

From left to right, Big Bird, Bill Irwin and Joey from ‘War Horse’ during the curtain call of ‘Puppet Palooza,’ the New Victory Theatre’s annual New 42nd Street Gala, on Oct. 17. (Astrid Stawiarz for The Wall Street Journal)

Singer Jon Bon Jovi at Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, N.J, on Oct. 19. (Amy Sussman for The Wall Street Journal )

Aschee Waterman, 11, center, and Amira Rosenbush, 15, right, painted on a roll-up gate as part of an interactive show at a pop-up gallery in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, on Oct. 18. (Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal)

Kawaun Corprein, a student at Alain L. Locke Elementary School in Harlem, learned the basic techniques of rugby on Oct. 19. (Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal)

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A half-century ago, much of the world was in a broad state of change: We were moving out of the post-World War II era, and into both the Cold War and the Space Age, with broadening civil rights movements and anti-nuclear protests in the U.S. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space, Freedom Riders took buses into the South to bravely challenge segregation, and East Germany began construction of the Berlin Wall. That year, Kennedy gave the okay to the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion into Cuba and committed the U.S. to "landing a man on the Moon" with NASA's Apollo program. JFK also oversaw the early buildup of a U.S. military presence in Vietnam: by the end of 1961, some 2,000 troops were deployed there. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a look at the world as it was in 1961. [50 photos]

John F. Kennedy speaks for the first time as President of the United States in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 1961, during the inaugural ceremonies. (AP Photo)

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HIGH WATER: Floodwater filled farmland near Yazoo City, Miss., Thursday. A man died in Vicksburg after being pulled from the floodwater overflowing from the Mississippi River, becoming what is believed to be the first flood casualty since the river started spilling into Mississippi and Louisiana. (Dave Martin/Associated Press)

POLICY OUTLINE: From left, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, National Security Adviser Tom Donlion, Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listened to President Barack Obama deliver a speech on Middle East policy at the State Department Thursday in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

GLOBAL AUDIENCE: The Berkat family watch a live TV broadcast of Mr. Obama’s speech at their home in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday. President Barack Obama called for Israelis and Palestinians to seek a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. (Nathalie Bardou/Associated Pres)

TRIPLE BOMBING: Iraqi security forces inspected the scene of a triple bombing outside a police station in Kirkuk, some 180 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, which killed 27 people and wounded scores. (Emad Matti/Associated Press)

RIGHT ANGLES: Laborers worked at the construction site for a commercial complex in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar Thursday. (Reuters)

OLD GLORY: Children peeped through a torn U.S flag hanging from their makeshift shelter in a slum on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday. (Athar Hussain/Reuters)

GETTING TRAINING: Afghanistan National Army soldiers underwent training from a U.S. contractor at Camp Leatherneck on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Thursday. (Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images)

BABY GOT BAAA: Sheep lined up to be judged in the ring at the Devon County Show Thursday in Exeter, England. One of the region’s biggest county shows, it is often seen as a curtain raiser for the whole showing season and a barometer for the health of the whole agricultural industry in general. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

NOT LIKE THE OTHERS: A police officer showed a M-26 hand grenade found in a box of tomatoes, during a presentation to the press at the police station in Medellin, Colombia, Thursday. The Colombian Police seized thirty M-26 hand grenades hidden in three boxes of tomatoes that allegedly belonged to criminal gangs. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)

TUSSLE: Nepalese police clashed with Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal supporters during a protest outside Nepal’s Constituent Assembly building in Kathmandu Thursday. The demonstrators demanded the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly a week ahead of the end of its term. (Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

INAUGURATION TIME: People bought T-shirts bearing the portrait of President Alassane Ouattara in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, Thursday. Mr. Ouattara will be inaugurated on Saturday before a number of international leaders. (Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images)

TAKING A DIP: A boy cooled off on a hot summer day in the waters of Dal Lake in Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir Thursday. Many parts of northern India are facing severe hot weather conditions with temperatures hitting 111 degrees Fahrenheit in many places, the media reported. (Fayaz Kabli/Reuters)

PASSING THROUGH: A farmer led her cows on a rice paddy field in Boi Khe village outside Hanoi, Vietnam, Thursday. (Kham/Reuters)

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