Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Long War, Casualty Adversity and Fortified Concrete

Secretary of State Rice's launch of a plan for change at State named "transformational diplomacy" nominally mirrors the "transformation" at the Pentagon. But more substantially, it also lays the ground for the State Department part of the civilian work to be done in the Long War. The focus on moving diplomats away from the safer zones of the world toward the turmoil -- from the Core to the Gap, in the words of Thomas P. M. Barnett -- is a logical equivalent of the global counterinsurgency campaign that is the Long War.

As all true counterinsurgency, this campaign will necessarily be fought though politics, with political means for political ends (more on this e.g. here). In this, legitimacy is always the overriding goal, and this is where the transformational diplomacy's promise of moving more people into the field -- out of the capitals and into the regions -- looks both promising and necessary. From former US AID Director Andrew Natsios' article "American Fortresses" at the
Weekly Standard website:

This new diplomacy--the work of a generation, Rice said--requires, among other things, redeploying many U.S. diplomats from Europe and Washington to countries like China, India, Nigeria, and Lebanon, given that the threat to the nation's vital interests has moved from the European theater to the Third World, the preferred haven for many of the extra-state forces threatening the United States. It will involve sending single officers out of embassies to small, low-key regional offices called American Presence Posts to interact regularly with civil society, something tried with considerable success in Indonesia and Egypt by Powell's State Department. A greater emphasis will be placed on regional approaches to public diplomacy, and on rapid response teams like those AID already uses for disaster relief. Our best foreign-language speakers will be "forward deployed" and encouraged to appear on live TV in their host countries. The Internet will be put to imaginative use to engage previously unreached audiences. The changes and the fresh thinking come not a moment too soon.

Still unknown is how fiercely the bureaucratic systems of the State Department will resist this shift, and whether the perverse security dynamic in our embassies can be reversed. What is certain is that a zero-risk mentality is not a war-winning mentality. Unless we allow for a tolerable level of managed risk--even risk to life and limb--neither our diplomats nor our aid missions can do the work for which they exist, at a time when their contribution is more needed than ever.

But exactly the nexus of the Pentagon's Long War against terrorism and State's means for Development (which then becomes a crucial tool of Security) is problematic. Natsios have some very good observations concerning the practical challenges related to implementing these strategies: in effect, casualty adversity due to political sensitivity and true threats are blocking these changes in practice.

The 1998 bombings, the Crowe report, and the attacks on 9/11 gradually increased the authority of the State Department's regional security officers by changing the incentive structure within embassies around security issues. The State Department's Diplomatic Security Service--the second largest bureau, with 34,000 employees including foreign hires--grew as the threat increased. Concerned that they might be blamed for failing to anticipate other incidents, regional security officers became increasingly cautious about allowing official Americans to move around freely outside embassies, and they tightened procedures for outsiders seeking to enter. Ambassadors themselves grew less and less willing to overrule their security officers out of concern that if an incident occurred they would be held responsible. The divisive politics of the Beltway, where security incidents become instant fodder for editorials, congressional hearings, campaign ads, and political recriminations, accelerated this perverse dynamic. (...)

Midlevel diplomats and aid officers who were supposed to spend their days interacting with the societies in which they served were more handicapped by the new security measures than ambassadors and AID mission directors, who usually had security details at their command. For aid officers who previously had done much of their work in the countryside, this meant fewer and fewer opportunities to build the relationships with local leaders and communities that underpin development work and ensure that U.S.-funded projects respond to local needs. It meant less chance to see firsthand what was happening in out-of-the-way regions, and to adapt programs to changing local realities. (...)

The situation is most extreme in Iraq, where official Americans are permitted to travel outside their working compounds--even inside the Green Zone--only if the trips are planned three days in advance, and then only with a security detail usually composed of a large contingent of retired commandos from Western militaries hired at great cost from private security contractors. Inevitably, the number of Americans leaving the compounds has dropped. Partner organizations, both Iraqi and American-based, began asking AID staff not to visit them in their offices outside the Green Zone because the large security details were drawing the attention of the insurgents. At the same time, the number of Iraqis and partner organizations visiting USAID officers in their compound, never very high, also dropped month after month. The high walls, the barbed wire, the heavy weapons at each corner, the high casualty rates of Iraqis waiting at checkpoints to get into the Green Zone, and the onerous screening procedures were an obvious discouragement. Afghanistan is little better.

This has hampered the reconstruction process in both countries ever so subtly. Reconstruction and development are not principally about building physical structures, but about building institutions, reforming policies, and transferring values and technology. To do it successfully, USAID officers must interact regularly with officials in government ministries, with professors in their universities, members of professional associations, leaders of businesses and religious institutions, and with local NGOs. At its core, it is about building trust and shared commitments.

It is daily interactions with local people and the personal trust they lead to that allow aid officers to guide change and encourage reform-minded officials. These relationships are often more important than any program. In Iraq and Afghanistan, these interactions are now limited to telephone calls and emails... (emphasis added).

When transformational diplomacy meets the security issues of the operational reality we are back at the fundamental challenge of Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations (counterinsurgency proper): there can be no reconstruction with security, but security itself can get in the way of reconstruction. The intervening variable here is casualty adversity: basically many of these operations and missions cannot be undertaken without running greater risks, meeting the locals without armor.

But the political sensitivity surrounding the issue is pretty fundamental: the original "contract" about humanitarian interventions between the populations and governments of the West rested on 1) the use of precision guided weapons, and the feasibility of "surgical" operations, thus minimizing civilian casualties, and 2) (and more importantly) on low losses among our own people, be they military or civilian. The trouble is that this contract cannot hold in the widened, more ambitious agenda -- be it framed as the Long War, or UN-sponsored humanitarian intervention.

The straightforward solution? Intensive and massive training capabilities directed at the local population whose casualty adversity is necessarily lower. In any case, we need to develop a common paradigm for civilian peacebuilding
and military counterinsurgency and S&R operations.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Schwarz Obituary on Jean-François Revel: No Aron

Stephen Schwarz' obit on Jean-François Revel in the Weekly Standard is an interesting read: Revel's career and ideological trajectory was a meeting point for many of the tensions of the cold war. One element is the drift of some responsable thinkers from leftism to the pro-Western stance of either conservatism (the US) or liberalism (Europe) -- as mentioned here in this post on New Republic editor Beinart's dissection of historical roots of the Democratic foreign policy challenge. Another is the functional role of the liberal/conservative French intellectuals out of necessity but not choice: as pundits, newspaper people and sometimes politicians (Pierre Lellouche) -- but not academics with the notable exception of Raymond Aron, who was nonetheless both crowned and isolated as a member of the Collège de France. Finally, there is the transatlantic orientation of those on the European side, always a little bit gauche, even if to the right, in their domestic public domains, and even if they had access to the powers that be.

Good piece, but a bit weird that Schwarz doesn't mention the towering figure of Raymond Aron, whose Opium of the Intellectuals is still the best analysis of the function and fascination of Marxism as a secular religion: of stupidity and temerity in the face of progress. Aron's trajectory was more or less the same as Revel's: he just wrote better books, had more influence, and did it all long before Revel.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Defending Idealism: Beinart, Niebuhr and the Republicans

On the balance, the biggest challenge to global politics in the medium term is the battle over the relative dominance of what International Relations people call "realism" and "idealism". The former is on the rise -- as a reaction to the perceived overly naive neoconservative approach to global affairs. Almost all of the most prominent IR academics signed a letter calling for more "realism" in the run up to the Iraq war; and as written here, there is a strong urge within the strategy and defense environment to revert to safer defensive ways. The ghost of realism is isolationism: exactly what is not needed when globalization is at stake.

This battle of ideas -- ideologies and inclinations leading
to policy -- is dissectable on several different levels, but not predictably so. The neonservative idealism is one such surprise; the American Democrats tentative love affair with realism another. The New York Times Magazine ran an amazing article on the subject, pitting two versions of American self-understanding against each other in an attempt to reconstruct the long lost Democrat responsible standing on foreign and security policies.

The Democrat challenge is almost completely the same for
the European left. Ever since the end of the Cold War, the European left has been wandering in a vaccum of ideas. The Socialdemocratic parties look at globalization, humanitarian interventionism, the protection and spread of freedom with extreme ambivalence, and all of them have failed to produce a proactive or even positive agenda. Failing that they have been left to always react, always second-guessing and always correcting more than proposing a course.

New Republic editor Peter Beinart's article is the best description so far of a solution to the Democrat challenge (maybe tied with the pieces written by Matt Bai in the same publication about the Republican and Democrat electoral machines; his forthcoming book will also be very interesting). A few nuggets from "The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal" which is reworked from his coming book The Good Fight: Why Liberals — and Only Liberals — Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again:
Democrats have no shortage of talented foreign-policy practitioners. Indeed, they have no shortage of worthwhile foreign-policy proposals. Even so, they cannot tell a coherent story about the post-9/11 world. And they cannot do so, in large part, because they have not found their usable past. (...)

But before Vietnam, and the disappointment and confusion it spawned,
liberals did have a clear story of their own. In the late 1940's and 1950's, intellectuals like Reinhold Niebuhr and policymakers like George F. Kennan described America's cold-war struggle differently from their conservative counterparts: as a struggle not merely for democracy but for economic opportunity as well, in the belief that the former required the latter to survive. Even more important, they described America itself differently. Americans may fight evil, they argued, but that does not make us inherently good. And paradoxically, that very recognition makes national greatness possible. Knowing that we, too, can be corrupted by power, we seek the constraints that empires refuse. And knowing that democracy is something we pursue rather than something we embody, we advance it not merely by exhorting others but by battling the evil in ourselves. The irony of American exceptionalism is that by acknowledging our common fallibility, we inspire the world. (...)

George Kennan, architect of the Truman administration's early policies toward the Soviet Union, called Niebuhr the "father of us all." And in the first years of the cold war, Niebuhr's emphasis on moral fallibility underlay America's remarkable willingness to restrain its power. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States represented half of the world's G.D.P., and the nations of Western Europe lay militarily and economically prostrate. Yet the Truman administration self-consciously bound America within institutions like NATO, which gave those weaker nations influence over American conduct. "We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength," Truman declared, "that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please." As the historian John Lewis Gaddis has written: "It was not that the Americans lacked the capacity to force their allies into line.. . .What is surprising is how rarely this happened; how much effort the United States put into persuading — quite often even deferring to — its NATO partners."

Kennan believed America's great advantage in the cold war was that the Soviet Union constituted an empire, which held its alliances together by force. By contrast, he argued, if the United States resisted the imperial temptation and built alliances that respected foreign nationalism, those alliances would endure.
Getting Democrats to embrace a certain form of idealism is highly important in strategic, electionesque terms for them -- but, leaving the left-right question out here, even more so for global politics in general. Yet the Democrat rebirth is perhaps less iof a problem for the overall struggle between idealism and realism than the coming legacy of neoconservatism -- and with it, idealism -- within Republican circles. Authoritarianism and non-interventionism is on the rise in the global environment, especially through China and Russia (as argued here and here). Preserving the good governance element in the Long War, and thus counterinsurgency proper, is highly important even if it means proxy "wars" with China over influence in Africa and other developing regions -- actually the whole of Thomas P.M. Barnett's Non-Integrating Gap.

But this cannot happen unless the Republicans do not revert to pure realism and a penchant for blunt use of force. Getting the Republicans to see and embrace the collaborative OECD-ification of the Gap is more crucial even than securing a Democrat reversal to it. John McCain still looks the best bet on this account.

And the European left? They would do well to substitute USA for the "West" in Beinart's article and take a positive stance on progressiveness -- maybe even learn a lesson from the self-assured Republican agenda: the European left's greatest challenge is the surplus of self-doubt. A bit of self-doubt is fine: legions are devastating.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Counterinsurgency: Changing the Military Ethos

The complete reversal of the Foreign Affairs article outlining the Bush Administration's foreign policy priorities -- from big power politics to weak state stability -- continues. The Quadrennial Defense Review and other central policy documents have over the last 6 months been published with the Long War against terrorism as a central tenet. The craft of the American soldier changes in function of this re-organization for the Long War: from army vs army battles to counterinsurgency as nationbuilding.

The American defense etablishment may be huge and not prone to change, but the Pentagon seems to have been surprisingly nifty on this account. Or rather: those who
have propagated this change seem to have had a fair amount of influence within the Army (as the QDR showed, there seems to be no support for or plans about major realignments of budget, meaning that the well-intended reforms for preparing for and executing the Long War proposed with the QDR are not funded on any meaningful level when compared with e.g. the missile defense bills). Thomas P. M. Barnett who more or less predicted all of this change ought to wake up feeling good about himself every day.

The change from army battles to effects based COIN is a huge and very difficult step for any military organization. The lesser NATO members have to some extent already been through this reorganization during the 1990s when their Departments of Defense were looking for a functional raison d'etre (in terms of both funding and strategy). But the challenge is bigger for the US Army exactly because of its prowess in the military arts: the ingrained self-understanding of the soldier (legitimate and non-reflexive use of power; friend vs. foe dichotomies; imposition of strategic will on opponent) must necessarily clash with a political conceptualization of counterinsurgency, which demands a much more holistic or contextual understanding of the processes related to the "enemy" -- because here "victory" equals not his "defeat" but his succesful integration into a democratic, non-violent political process (minus those who cannot accept the new setup).

This change is nothing less than a de- and reconstruction of the military ethos -- at strategic and tactical levels: the politics of the mission is everywhere; everything is communication of intent -- and so collateral damage becomes heavily fined. Interestingly, the US military's realignment to politically sensitive counterinsurgency is functionally akin to the civilian humanitarian agenda's call for the use of the military instrument sparingly and surgically. Actually, the "contract" between governments and people in the Western, pro-UN circuit of countries about the use of force as an element in humanitarianism relies on this precision of means and similiarity of goals (basically fusion) with development policy.

New York Times has a fine piece about this whole reorganization in practice: "Mock Iraqi Villages in Mojave Prepare Troops for Battle", which of course is neither straightforward to train and learn, nor easily implemented in practice beacuse of the (here: domestic) strategic context:

The troops who come here are at the heart of a vast shift in American war-fighting strategy, a multibillion-dollar effort to remodel the Army on the fly. Here, the Army is relearning how to fight, shifting from its historic emphasis on big army-to-army battles to the more subtle tactics of defeating a guerrilla insurgency. The changes in the Army's emphasis are among the most far-reaching since World War II, all being carried out at top speed, while the Iraqi insurgency continues undiminished and political support for the war ebbs at home. American commanders say publicly that they still believe they can win the war, especially now with a more coherent strategy to combat the insurgency and train their soldiers to fight it. (...)

For the first time in more than 20 years, military planners are revising the Army's counterinsurgency manual, adding emphasis on nation-building and peacekeeping — subjects once belittled by the Bush administration. At the Army's Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., officers are being required for the first time to complete a course in counterinsurgency. (...) Junior officers are being encouraged to take greater initiative to adjust to local circumstances. An old military tradition of chronicling the lessons learned on the front and passing them on to other units has found a vital new outlet in password-protected Internet sites where platoon commanders and more senior officers can exchange combat experiences. (...) One third of the American troops now stationed in Iraq have been through the course here, and entire brigades — each with 4,000 soldiers, sometimes more — are processed through here every month. But it is still unclear how much effect the new training is having in the field.

Indeed, even as the new training strategy moves forward, American units are substantially withdrawing from Iraq's streets. With the country sliding closer to civil war, Iraqi military units, many of them of uncertain quality, are now taking the leading combat role in nearly half of Iraq's territory. (...) "There is a paradox in the approach," said Kalev Sepp, a former Special Forces officer and one of the most vocal proponents for changing the Army. "The training in the United States and in Iraq is teaching all the right things — decentralization of authority and responsibility to the lowest levels, engagement with the Iraqi population, cultural awareness and political sensitivity — the full broad range of measures needed to defeat the insurgency." "But on the ground," Mr. Sepp said in an interview, "the troops are being moved onto these large consolidated bases and being drawn away from the population just at point that they have been trained to engage them."
UPDATE: Washington Post has an interesting article on the situation in Iraq - quoting some of the stabilization & reconstruction savviest people, including Dobbins, Hammes and Wilson III: "Merits of Partitioning Iraq or Allowing Civil War Weighed".

Later UPDATE: On the ground in Afghanistan the US Army knows how to counterinsurgency; see this WashPost article: "US Commander in Afghanistan Thinks Locally".