Sam Smith, 2008 – As it tries to recover from the most expensive failure in American military history, the Pentagon has its eyes on an easier target. The beauty of this adversary is that it is not from an indecipherable culture, it doesn’t speak a strange language and it doesn’t scatter IEDs in the path of Hummers. In fact, it’s not even armed and its headquarters, far from concealed in the mountains of Pakistan, are easily found in the high rises of Washington, DC. The new foe: The State Department, USAID and other civilian diplomatic and development operations – proving once again that our military leaders’ real skill set is not fighting mile by mile on some foreign battlefield but line by line in the domestic budget.
There is no doubt that the domestic surge is working. Between 2002 and 2005, the share of government development assistance flowing through the Pentagon rose from 6% to 22%.
Stewart Patrick and Kaysie Brown, in a paper last fall for the Center on Global Development, outlined the problem:
These trends have stimulated concerns that U.S. foreign and development policies may become subordinated to a narrow, short term security agenda — at the expense of broader, longer-term diplomatic goals and institution building in the developing world — and that U.S. soldiers may increasingly assume responsibility for activities more appropriately conducted by civilians skilled in development challenges. . .
We attribute growing U.S. reliance on the U.S. military to carry out reconstruction, development, and capacity-building activities to three factors: an overwhelming focus within the Bush administration on programs that can help in the global war on terror, particularly in unstable, conflict-prone, and post-conflict countries; the vacuum left by civilian agencies, which struggle to deploy adequate numbers of personnel and to deliver assistance in highly insecure environments; and a general failure on the part of the U.S. government to invest adequately in non-military instruments of global engagement, including by creating deployable U.S. civilian post-conflict capabilities. . .
A less polite way of looking at it is that the military is aggressively and greedily invading territory that traditionally has been left to civilians. Of course, anyone familiar with the militarization of law enforcement will not be surprised, but the new stakes should not be underestimated. Do we really want to turn civilian development activities that have lent our country honor over to a crowd that is in no small part to blame for America’s current pitiful world reputation?
oAt the end of the Cold War, a top Soviet official promised America one last horrible surprise: the loss of an enemy. It was as the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy had written early in the century:
Night is here but the barbarians have not come.
And some people arrived from the borders,
and said that there are no longer any barbarians.
And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.
A decade later, a Pentagon office still sported a sign that read, WANTED: A GOOD ENEMY. It was not long after the Cold War, in fact, that the military went out shopping for new enemies to buck up the welfare fathers of the defense industry. It had not yet received the budgetary blessing – heralded by a handful of young men with box cutters – of Iraq and Afghanistan. Who could have imagined that so few could cause so much fear among so many? Who would have thought that, instead of pursuing the perps, you could turn the whole affair into the most expensive war in history and the first to be waged against a perpetual abstraction – terror – rather than an actual country? Who would have dreamed that the public could be sold the notion that the way to deal with guerillas was to engage in warfare that would increase the number of their allies?
Instead, mostly unreported, America’s political and military planners worked hard developing an external threat to compensate for the disappearance of the USSR. Although in the short run, the Pentagon had been remarkably successful in exempting itself from the deficit-cutting hysteria, there was always the danger that the public and politicians might start asking too many questions.
So uncertain was the trumpet, in fact, that planners were forced to resort to abstractions that were not only uninformative, they were truly absurd. Thus, we were told to spend hundreds of billions to protect ourselves against a generic composite peer competitor, myriad formless threats, and even, god forbid, an asymmetrical niche opponent. (What did you do in the last war, Daddy? Well, son, I killed 14 generic composite peer competitors and would have wasted more if a frigging asymmetrical niche opponent hadn’t got me in the chest.)
As Clinton’s budget director Franklin Raines told a meeting of high level Pentagon officials, “We will protect your purchasing power.”
oThus is was not surprising to see a new enemy starting to turn up in the military planners’ mind: the US citizen. For the first time since the Civil War, American government officials began seriously considering the possibility of armed conflict in, and occupation of, their own country. There was a growing assumption that the interests of those with power and those without might diverge to the point of insurrection.
The major media steadfastly ignored the trend despite ample evidence lying about. For example, Defense Week reported that “Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer said the Army needs to focus more on homeland defense and welcomes a ‘mission creep’ into that area.” A 1996 article by military historian and strategist Martin van Creveld in the Los Angeles Times argued that
As the 20th century draws to an end, it is time that military commanders and the policy makers to whom they report wake up to the new realities. In today’s world the main threat to many states, including specifically the US, no longer comes from other countries. Either we make the necessary changes, or what is commonly known as the modern world will lose all sense of security and dwell in perpetual fear.
Perhaps most startling was an article in the Winter 1992 issue of Parameters, a quarterly published by the US Army College. The author was Lt. Col. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., a graduate of Villanova School of Law, the Armed Forces Staff College, and a distinguished graduate of the National War College. He had been named by the Judge Advocates Association as the USAF’s outstanding career armed services attorney. In short, not your average paranoid conspiracy theorist. Dunlap’s article was called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.”
In it, Dunlap quoted one of Washington’s journalistic cherubs, James Fallows, who wrote in a 1991 article
“I am beginning to think that the only way the national government can do anything worthwhile is to invent a security threat and turn the job over to the military . . . The military, strangely, is the one government institution that has been assigned legitimacy to act on its notion of the collective good.
Fallows was not alone within the Washington establishment. Stephen Rosenfeld of the Washington Post wrote a column praising an Army advocate of Dunlap’s nightmare. Rosenfeld described US Army Major Ralph Peters this way:
“At home, use of the military appears inevitable to him — though not yet to an American consensus — “at least on our borders and in some urban environments” . . . He would dutifully prepare for the traditionally ‘military’ missions, plus the new one of missile defense. But he would be ready to engage with drugs and crime, terrorism, peacekeeping, illegal immigration, disease control, resource protection, evacuation of endangered citizens . . .”
What Dunlap described and Peters advocated was not a bold military stroke against the civilian society, but simply a coup by attrition. Something similar seems to be going on now, only the target is not our domestic, but our foreign, affairs. The goal: all war all the time, with the Pentagon in charge of as much as possible.
oBefore raising philosophical questions about whether the military should be supplanting the civilian in matters of diplomacy and development, some sense of scale is useful. Based on figures from a few years ago, for example, the amount of money the military spent annually on useless – in fact heavily counterproductive – drug interdiction and anti-drug activities was nearly a half billon dollars. This was approximately the same sum being spent by USAID on agriculture, or the environment, or child survival and maternal health or family planning. And it was vastly more than was spent on higher education or diseases other than AIDs.
One example of how the military has infiltrated civilian diplomacy has been the new African Command. You may not have noticed too many wars against the U.S. in that part of the world, but the Pentagon has managed to con Congress into a grand operation that includes, according to its website, achievements such as the following:
– U.S. service members from the Combined Task Force-Horn of Africa gathered with residents of Mikocheni on May 15 to celebrate the completion of a newly built health clinic. The Jaypal Singh Babhra Memorial Clinic was completed by U.S. service members of the CJTF-HOA. . .
— A group of 20 sailors from the U.S. Navy’s USS Momsen visited a school in the port city of Mombasa on May 7, as part of a community relations program called Project Handclasp. Project Handclasp is a U.S. Navy program that provides donated items such as books, clothes, toys, and medical. . .
— The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa funded the renovation of the Mokowe Primary School in Mokowe, Kenya,and helped construct a fence to secure the facility.
Patrick and Brown cautiously describes the Pentagon’s African mission this way
According to DoD, the new command’s primary mission will be “shaping” activities, designed to ameliorate troubling trends in the region by helping to eliminate the roots of extremism, terrorism and violent conflict before they reach a crisis, rather than traditional operations involving the use of force. . .
“The Pentagon’s new focus on conflict prevention and its commitment to U.S.-government-wide policy planning and implementation are to be welcomed. What has not yet been satisfactorily explained is how AFRICOM’s interagency process will interact with other U.S. programs and activities – and how DoD will ensure that its military activities do not compete with, undermine, or overshadow U.S. development and diplomatic objectives throughout the continent. The risks, which are both symbolic and practical, will need to be carefully managed. From a public diplomacy perspective, the elevation of AFRICOM to a position of apparent leadership in integrating U.S. policy toward Africa may create the damaging impression (or allow U.S. adversaries to argue) that the United States has a militarized approach to the continent.46 More substantively, the enormous asymmetry between the resources available to the Pentagon, on the one hand, and the State Department, USAID and other civilian agencies, on the other, raises the danger that any “shaping” activities that emerge from AFRICOM will be dominated by U.S. defense priorities while giving short shrift to broader political and developmental considerations, (including the democratic accountability of those same security forces). . .
“In a recent briefing, the head of the AFRICOM Transition Team, Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, declared that “Strategic Success” for the new command would include the achievement of the following goals:
– An African continent that knows liberty, peace, stability, and increasing prosperity
– Fragile states strengthened; decreased likelihood of failed states; all territory under the control of effective democracies
-Economic development and democratic governance allow African states to take the lead in addressing African challenges. . .
What is impressive about these strategic objectives – beyond their breadth — is how few lend themselves to DoD leadership. Generally speaking, the U.S. military is not well-equipped, by its mandate and personnel, to expertly address the structural sources of underdevelopment, alienation and instability in target countries. Although requisite skills can sometimes be found within the civil affairs component of the U.S. Army, few soldiers possess deep expertise on matters of governance, development, and the rule of law. . .
Finally, a number of European officials have expressed misgivings about the integration of U.S. counter-terrorism and development agendas, suggesting that the new command could complicate common approaches to Africa within the donor community. . .
To be sure, there is far from total agreement on the nature and distance of this shift in the military, even within the Pentagon. There are, for example, plenty of Army and Marine officers who would just as soon not be running day care centers in Tanzania.
Even Defense Secretary Gates seemed to side with traditional diplomatic and development approaches in a recent speech in which he praised the role of civilian agencies. According to the Pentagon release:
Speaking at the Academy of American Diplomats in Washington, the secretary said there is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to devote more resources to the State Department and other civilian agencies.
Since the war on terror began, President Bush, defense officials and military officers have stressed that all parts of the federal government must work together to combat extremists — that the military can put in place conditions for security, but civilian agencies are the repositories of expertise on governance, economics, agriculture and so on. Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan need these skills to cement progress in place.
“There is a need for a much greater integration of our efforts,” Gates said. “There is clearly a need for a better way to organize interagency collaboration.”
The problem with the civilian agencies providing the personnel has not been a lack of will, but a lack of capabilities, Gates said. The State Department has about 6,600 Foreign Service officers. To put it in perspective, that’s barely enough to crew one carrier battle group in the Navy, the secretary said.
The upshot is that when civilian agencies cannot deploy personnel, service members step in to take up the slack. The provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and Iraq are primary examples of this, Gates said. The teams, which have slots for officials from the departments of agriculture, commerce, treasury, justice and so on, were staffed by military personnel so they effort could get up and running quickly.
“There aren’t deployable people in agriculture and commerce and treasury and so on that are prepared to go overseas,” Gates said. And these skills are desperately needed, he emphasized.
Which all sounds comforting until you discover who’s going to be assigned to whom:
Defense personnel have always worked in the State Department, but now State Department personnel are assigned to DoD, especially with the combatant commands. The newly formed U.S. Africa Command, for example, has a large number of State Department personnel assigned to the organization. U.S. Southern Command also has a large number of personnel from civilian agencies as integral members of the command. . .
And he also called the civilian agencies a “combat multiplier,” hardly a reassuring description of peaceful diplomacy.
Now consider this from an Economist article on Gates’ philosophy:
In a recent article, General Peter Chiarelli, an adviser to Robert Gates, America’s secretary of defence, says more money has to be spent not on the Pentagon but on the “non-kinetic aspects of our national power”. He recommends building up the “minuscule” State Department and USAID development agency (so small it is “little more than a contracting agency”), and reviving the United States Information Agency.
As the American army expands, some thinkers. . . say it needs not just more soldiers-nor even linguists, civil-affairs officers and engineers-but a fully fledged 20,000-strong corps of advisers that will train and “embed” themselves with allied forces around the world. The idea makes army commanders blanch, but they do not question the underlying assumption.
As the American media has found in Iraq, embeddedness is not the repose of equals.
oThen there is the controversial Defense Department draft directive going around on the topic of irregular warfare that some believe lays down the basis for much further intrusion on civilian roles. The directive would replace one that had already staked out sizable new turf, of which Patrick and Brown wrote:
Chastened by its failure to plan for postwar Iraq and the chaos that resulted, the Pentagon has cast off its former aversion to nation-building. This shift was cemented in November 2005 with the signing of DoD Directive 3000.05, which declared that the U.S. military would henceforth treat “Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction Operations” as a core mission, on a par with combat operations. Decidedly broad in scope, this directive extends DoD’s mandates and programs to a wide range of activities that are typically the province of civilian agencies, including reforming the security sector, establishing institutions of governance, reviving market activity and rebuilding infrastructure. While the directive openly recognizes that many of these tasks are more appropriately carried out by civilian actors and agencies, it also states that this may not always be possible in highly insecure environments or where such civilian capabilities do not yet exist.”
Still another way it all might look is described in American Diplomacy by Sam J,. Holliday, a West Pont graduate and a former director of Stability Studies [sic] at the Army War College, and a retired army colonel.
Today there are two broad contending views regarding policy formulation and implementation for irregular warfare:
1. Focus the military on conventional war against the armed forces of other states and focus the Foreign Service on diplomacy and negotiations to avoid war, while muddling through irregular warfare.
2. Recognize irregular warfare as being distinctive from both war and peace by creating a new Department of Stability with career personnel dedicated to irregular warfare. . .
The first view has strong support within the military from those that do not want war-fighting forces to be used for internal security against insurgents attempting to overthrow those in authority. They do not want to be the handmaidens of “political strife,” and they want to avoid the cruel, violent, and unrewarding activities of internal conflict. . . This first view sees the solution in a plan that unites all agencies of the U.S. government. These agencies have different philosophical, political, and institutional agendas. Therefore, how to coordinate all U.S. government agencies involved in foreign affairs (State, Defense, Justice, CIA, NSA, etc.) during policy formulation is the critical challenge. Until this is done there will be turf battles, uncertainty, delays, and ineffectiveness. . .
A Stability Department would allow the development of career personnel (military and civilian) dedicated to determining and using the means, strategies, tactics, and methods necessary for irregular warfare. This should make both policy formulation and implementation more effective and more efficient. The result would be professionals without preconceptions shaped by war fighting or diplomacy, without institutional allegiance to either the military establishment or the foreign policy establishment, and without mindsets appropriate only for either war or peace. Hopefully these professionals would be able to determine how to achieve stability through equilibrium at the lowest possible costs. . .
Key to the concept of irregular warfare and a Department of Stability is the assumption of perpetual conflict, a chronic absence of peace and America’s continued colonial dominance, which others that see shrinking by the day. A Department of Stability would certainly seem as odd to young students a century from now as reading about the bureaucracy of British colonialism under Queen Victoria does today.
Besides, all morality aside, if there is one thing our time should have taught us it’s that war is about the dumbest way to go about anything that there is. After all, even the exceptionally well equipped and righteous America hasn’t won a real war against a comparable enemy since WWII and when you add in Vietnam, Korea and Iraq and then find yourself falling back on Grenada for props, it may finally be time to think of other approaches.
This has not, of course, been the fault of the troops, but of the star bedizened galaxy under which they serve, of presidents with testosteronic insecurities, and of toy boys on Capitol Hill willing to gamble our nation to satisfy another defense contractor aka campaign contributor. After all, even the best boatswain’s mate can’t save a ship from the rocks if those on the bridge can’t, or won’t, read the chart.
The tragedy of modern military history is how much courage has been sacrificed for so many puerile, pointless or psychopathic ends. Which is one good reason you want the better part of your foreign policy run by civilians and not generals.
oAnother reason diplomats, development officials and civilians now working with the Pentagon are concerned abut the expansion of the military role was well outlined by an aide to General Petraeus:
At present, the U.S. defense budget accounts for approximately half of total global defense spending, while the U.S. armed forces employ about 1.68 million uniformed members. By comparison, the State Department employs about 6,000 Foreign Service officers, while the U.S. Agency for International Development has about 2,000. In other words, the Department of Defense is about 210 times larger than USAID and State combined – there are substantially more people employed as musicians in Defense bands than in the entire foreign service.
There are plenty who won’t be all that happy having to deal with a military surge into diplomacy, including international non-profits, some of our allies and UN organizations. It is also hard to imagine rock stars throwing themselves into global fundraising fests when they know the money will go to pad the budget of a General Petraeus.
Here is how one civilian professional – who represents others who do a lot work for the Pentagon – reacted to the proposed new directive:
As I understand things, if this change were to be implemented, we would have the following:
The connection between State and Defense to harmonize stability and reconstruction operations would become moot because the funding and control of the stability operations would be subsumed under “irregular warfare.” It would be up to DoD to decide if they needed to bring in civilians to help them out.
It would become even more difficult for civilian organizations and agencies to be involved in any comfortable way, given that all humanitarian aid, providing essential services, building local governance, etc., would become part of “irregular warfare.” In fact, I can’t think of a single humanitarian aid organization that would agree to become involved in “irregular warfare.”
This would continue and extend the idea that “irregular warfare” is an appropriate approach to dealing with fragile or failed states, with post-conflict situations, or preventing future conflicts. Such policies will be completely rejected by the civilian agencies of the US Government, NGOs, the international community, without even attending to what the fragile states would think.
We would have even more power and control in the military, creating an even greater imbalance between the civilian agencies and the military that are supposed to be working to “harmonize” their activities now. They are so underfunded and undermanned at this point that it is very difficult to manage the civilian side of the “harmonization” process effectively.
The military would then be left with a mission to provide for stability operations across the board for which they do not have training, are not equipped to do, have not been able to successfully accomplish (witness Iraq and Afghanistan), which would mean that the U.S. capacity to contribute to serious peace building efforts would be seriously undermined even further than it is now.
The military takeover of traditionally civilian foreign policy roles is part of a mission creep that has been going on a long time. My first article on the topic was 12 years ago when the concerns were the military’s expansion of the futile and terribly damaging drug war and its growing interference with domestic civil liberties.
Things have only gotten worse since. Now diplomacy and international development are joining the target list for the mission creep, by a military that has finally found a battleground it truly likes. And we, the citizens funding it all, will once again lose the war.