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.

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