Pentagon, State struggle to define nation-building roles

As the Pentagon moves to fill short-term gaps, it is pushing to get civilian agencies the money and authorizations they need.

For just $23.10, you can purchase a book from Amazon that will guide you through the invasion and occupation of a small country.

If countries such as Haiti, Liberia, or Sierra Leone, with about 5 million people and per capita incomes of approximately $500, were on your To Do list, The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building estimates that you would need 65,000 international troops, at an annual cost of $13 billion.

In addition, you should plan for 8,000 international police officers ($1.25 billion) and lots of advisers to help establish the rule of law, provide humanitarian services, assist in governance, stabilize the economy, teach democratization, and support development and infrastructure work, for a total cost of some $15.6 billion a year.

The chief author of the recently released book, former U.S. Ambassador James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand think tank, said he wrote it, in part, so that "nobody could ever again go up to Congress and say we could do this on the cheap."

"This," of course, is nation building, which candidate George W. Bush in 2000 said that U.S. troops should not do. They should only, he said, fight and win the nation's wars. But as president, Bush launched two of the biggest reconstruction and stabilization missions that the United States has undertaken since World War II.

As a sign of the shifting political winds, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was once as eager as any conservative to lob grenades at the striped pants in Foggy Bottom and at President Clinton's nation-building efforts in the Balkans, now says that America cannot avoid the job. Indeed, he is stumping for a bigger, better State Department to be ready for the nation building ahead.

Bush, meanwhile, in this year's State of the Union address, called on Congress to build a Civilian Reserve Corps within State, similar to the Pentagon's military Reserve, to "ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills."

Nation building is back. And it's bigger than ever.

The formulas in The Beginner's Guide, by the way, are based upon a country's population and gross domestic product, and on the costs of past nation-building exercises, many of them headed by Dobbins himself. He was the Clinton administration's special envoy to Somalia (year of intervention: 1992), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), and Kosovo (1999), and he was the Bush administration's first special envoy to Afghanistan.

If there is a maestro of nation building, he is it. And the maestro is, frankly, worried.

Not about Iraq, although Dobbins doesn't think that's going so well. He's worried about what will happen the next time. The United States isn't going to repeat an Iraq-style invasion anytime soon. And yet, Afghanistan is shaky. Sudan is deteriorating. Lebanon could explode again. U.S. soldiers and aid workers remain in Haiti. Somalia is looking bad. Nigeria, our fifth-largest oil supplier, could rapidly unravel this year. Kosovo is still unstable. Fidel Castro will die someday, potentially sparking chaos in Cuba.

Some of these nations are allies. Some might become terrorist havens. Some could simply cause endless trouble for American interests. The alternative to stabilizing a country is letting it fail; that's how Osama bin Laden took advantage of a weakened Afghanistan to set up shop and plan the September 11 attacks.

What worries Dobbins is that the situation in Iraq has become so foul, the American people may oppose anything that comes close to nation building. "The Pentagon and the administration have reflected on their experience in Iraq and concluded that we need to do better next time, while most of the public and Congress have reflected and concluded that we need to not do this the next time," he said. "The question is, which reflection will hold sway."

"As the Iraqis Stand Up ... "

Every time that Dobbins, a former assistant secretary of State for Europe, traveled abroad to fix a troubled country, one thing was clear: He was in charge. Although his authority was sometimes complicated by a lack of staff and money, he muddled through.

Every time, that is, until Afghanistan. In early 2002, the U.S. military, following President Bush's minimalist definition of peacekeeping and nation building, rejected requests to expand the international peacekeeping force beyond Kabul. With peace limited to the capital, civilians working on reconstruction were confined to that city and its environs.

American troops fanning out across the country, however, found that guns and bombs couldn't win the hearts and minds of villagers. The locals wanted water and agriculture and clinics, and so it fell to the soldiers to provide them. That equation carried over into the planning and invasion of Iraq, in which the civilian experts were entirely left out. The U.S. military, a force of competency unparalleled in modern times despite its occasional miscues and mistakes, was in charge.

The results, by any measure, have been disastrous.

Here's one example of how nation rebuilding in Iraq broke down: Nearly two years after Bush summarized his plan -- "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" -- Iraq's army is only fractionally closer to taking over security. That failure has many causes, but rampant absenteeism is a chief one.

Newly trained Iraqi soldiers do not always appear when and where they should. Sometimes it's because they're moonlighting with militias; sometimes it's because they're scared, or not committed; but often, according to the Government Accountability Office, it's because they don't have any way to deposit their paychecks. Iraq lacks a most basic civilian institution: banks.

The Defense Department failed to anticipate the need for a functioning banking system in Iraq. The State and Treasury departments, which could have foreseen the need, were not in charge. And so every pay period, Iraqi soldiers temporarily abandon their units to carry cash home to their villages. Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Army Ranger who looked into the issue, said that banking, quite simply, "got lost along the wayside."

The question now is what to do about it. Who will be in charge next time? Will the military, having learned its lessons in Iraq, plan for banks the next time around? Or will the State Department, and other U.S. civilian agencies, push for and get the authority, money, and people to do it?

Who Will Be America's Face Abroad?

Last December, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a European think tank, published a review of U.S. foreign aid. Between 2002 and 2005, according to the report, the proportion of American official development assistance channeled through the Pentagon jumped from 6 percent to nearly 22 percent.

Read that again. By 2005, more than one-fifth of U.S. development dollars were being run through the military.

According to Stewart Patrick, director of the Center for Global Development's commission on weak states and U.S. national security, the Pentagon is spending 85 percent of its development dollars (about $6 billion) in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the rest went to tsunami relief in South Asia, various drug interdiction and humanitarian assistance efforts, and nuclear threat reduction in the former Soviet Union.

The OECD figures don't even capture the full picture. The Pentagon also spends money that isn't tracked -- to dig wells, treat impoverished medical patients, and refurbish clinics, among other things. In some countries, U.S. "security assistance" from both Defense and State has outpaced traditional economic aid.

"There are a lot of bigger diplomatic inequalities involved here," said Patrick, who worked for State's policy planning office earlier in the Bush administration. "They're being created because you have a fundamental mismatch. Congress doesn't see State as national security. It doesn't give [the foreign-assistance account] what it needs, while the [Defense] account is, for a number of reasons, going to be well funded. But aren't there reasons why the secretary of State controls foreign assistance?"

Traditionally, the military does the fighting; civilians do diplomacy and aid. But as the Pentagon's understanding of security expands to include stability -- terrorists, a Defense official said, hide among local populations, so troops have to address the people's needs -- it risks undermining the core missions of both State and Defense.

"As we charge Defense more and more with foreign- and security-assistance responsibilities, we begin to disempower the capability of the State Department and the [U.S. Agency for International Development] to oversee policy and to supervise and to implement such programs," said Gordon Adams, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who was an associate director for national security and international affairs at the Office of Management and Budget under Clinton. "And the consequences for the Defense Department are, we increasingly are putting our men and women in uniform in the job of security-assistance and foreign-assistance providers, which diverts them from their core military mission."

On the one hand, nobody wants civilians to take charge more than the military does. Although former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his senior coterie of civilians didn't have much fondness for the State Department, the uniformed officers in the Pentagon's upper and middle ranks have been among the State Department's staunchest supporters, both politically and financially.

"Our civilian agencies are under-resourced to meet the requirements of the 21st century," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House and Senate Armed Services committees in his budget testimony in February.

On the other hand, the military can get that money quickly when the president says it is needed to support the troops.

"The conundrum for the Defense Department is, the more capability it builds, the incentive decreases for anyone else to build up those capabilities," said Kathleen Hicks, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and, until last year, director of policy planning at the Pentagon. "What you see is the Defense Department trying to straddle this. The capability doesn't exist elsewhere, and the culture of the military is to say, 'We're just going to do this now, because nobody else is going to.' But long term, you get into this paradox: 'If we show we're too good, then nobody else can.' And Congress isn't going to create duplicate capability, so to the extent the Defense Department builds it, no one else will build it."

Lessons Learned

Dobbins's Beginner's Guide, his third book in a series on nation building, is part of a burgeoning cottage industry. Nearly every think tank in town, including CSIS, Rand, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Brookings Institution, has a prominent program or two looking at some aspect of the foreign-assistance conundrum.

The Defense Department's war colleges are adding stabilization operations to their curricula. The State Department's new Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization just made an alliance with State's foreign-aid coordinator. USAID now has a military liaison office. The National Security Council signed off earlier this year on models for interagency cooperation for the next country collapse and on an idea to create a National Security Education Consortium to provide joint education and training for civilians and the military.

To understand what everyone is trying to correct, consider the experience of Deborah Alexander. In spring 2002, USAID sent Alexander to Afghanistan to build relations with the U.S. military and pave the way for forthcoming agency experts to help in the country's reconstruction.

It was a tough job. Alexander would land at a clandestine airfield and then hitch a ride with a passing United Nations convoy to get to a base. Once there, she would find the civil-affairs unit: "Hi, I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Civil-affairs soldiers were always happy to see her, even if they didn't know she was coming, and they would quickly brief her on the local water, agricultural, and health challenges. She made friends and learned about the needs to be filled by the USAID experts -- who arrived 18 months later.

"It takes a while to get them recruited, trained, and out there," Alexander said. Unlike the military, neither USAID nor State has a standing reserve of civilian experts ready to deploy. They can send a few people quickly, but for such substantial operations as those in Afghanistan or Iraq, both have to recruit staff, write and sign contracts, and conduct training -- a time-consuming process for which the situation on the ground can't wait. As a result, in the short term, the burden falls on the military.

The Defense Department took steps to address that burden in November 2005, when Rumsfeld made stability operations -- building local security forces, correctional facilities, judicial systems, governing councils, and the like -- a core U.S. military mission, equivalent to combat. "U.S. military forces shall be prepared to perform all tasks necessary to establish or maintain order when civilians cannot do so," read his directive, now commonly referred to in the bureaucracy by its number, 3000.05.

What the directive means in practice, explained Janine Davidson, director of stability operations capabilities at the Pentagon, is that when a lieutenant colonel finds himself in charge of a couple of cities, he needs to know what to do.

"In an ideal world, the military would be a supporting partner to a broader civilian-led operation. But that's challenged by the very real fact that the civilian agencies are under-resourced," she said. "Even if they started building capacity today, it would still take a long time. So we're faced with our job to prepare the next set of troops to do whatever they're called upon to do by the president."

The Pentagon is incorporating stability operations into training, the planning of the regional combatant commanders, and the war colleges' curricula.

The military has a PowerPoint presentation for everything, and there's probably more than one PowerPoint for 3000.05. But one that Davidson likes to cite has a box on the right, representing the military, and a box on the left, representing civilians. Arrows, representing capacity, arch out of both boxes toward the center. The message, she says, is simple: "We're going to build until they meet us. We hope it happens sooner rather than later."

Instability at State

A couple of years ago, somebody tried to put together a directory of all the people in the U.S. government who worked on lessons learned. The Pentagon's side of the directory was, predictably, voluminous: The U.S. military has an enormously sophisticated program to debrief soldiers after action and to pass on what they've learned to others. Observations from the field can appear in training scenarios within days.

The civilian side of the directory had one name. It belonged to a presidential management intern at the State Department.

About a year and a half before Rumsfeld signed 3000.05, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell created an Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. The first coordinator, Carlos Pascual, wanted $350 million to build a Civilian Reserve Corps. Congress gave him $7 million. The Pentagon came to his rescue. After learning of Pascual's money woes, Gen. Pace offered him $100 million out of Defense's 2006 budget.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. Pascual departed for Brookings, and a bitter fight broke out between the coordinator's office and USAID over which should get the Pentagon money. The coordinator's office won, but not until nearly the end of the fiscal year, by which time both the funds and the time to spend them were limited. "That fight never should have happened," Pascual said succinctly. (The Pentagon offered money again this year. The funds are, so far, flowing smoothly to the coordinator's office.)

In the two and a half years since Powell established it, the coordinator's office has, as a former Defense official diplomatically put it, "not progressed as we imagined." Under Pascual, the office took over planning for the response to the Sudan crisis. Pascual needed six months to corral everybody into an agreement, and then higher-ups promptly shelved the plan.

The office has not yet run a single operation yet, although it did recently take the planning lead for Kosovo should that Balkan province gain its independence from Serbia and need help getting on its feet. It has also created an active response corps of in-house State Department employees for rapid deployment throughout the world, but building the ranks has been slow. By the end of the year, it hopes to have 30 people trained and ready to go.

"It's not manned, it's not funded, and until that happens, it's not going to do its job," said Joseph Collins, a National Defense University professor who served as the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability operations from 2001 to 2004. In December 2005, Bush signed a presidential directive anointing the coordinator's office as the lead unit for organizing interagency operations on reconstruction and stability missions, but the office doesn't control any money.

If everybody comes to the table, Collins said, and "the Defense Department brings billions, USAID brings hundreds of millions, and these people bring a piece of paper with the president's name on it, that's not going to work."

The coordinator's office has had a hard time getting the resources it needs. When it wanted $25 million this year to create the Civilian Reserve Corps, OMB shot it down. State asked for it again in its budget pushback; OMB again declined. Bush mentioned the corps in his State of the Union speech, but his fiscal 2008 budget request to Congress the following month included no money for it.

Over the past two months, however, prospects have started to look up. Under its current director, Ambassador John Herbst, the stabilization coordinator's office slid across State's organizational chart in February to fall under the foreign-aid coordinator, who also runs USAID, giving the office a powerful ally.

The National Security Council signed off on a new interagency planning process for stabilization and reconstruction to be directed by three co-chairs: the stabilization coordinator, an NSC director, and the relevant regional bureau head from the State Department. (Granted, a working group co-chaired by three people sounds like a plan for some very long meetings, but a senior administration official said that "more specific understandings" will be worked out.)

Most important, though, the conference committee version of the Iraq supplemental budget bill, at the request of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, allows State to spend $50 million of its own funds to create the Civilian Reserve Corps. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill authorizing the corps.

Experts who are watching this process say that the corps is the key, and that its creation comes close to a make-or-break deal for a partnership between the civilian and military wings of the government. It would represent the first real investment in desperately needed civilian capacity. If the concept fails again, then Defense might start looking at building its own civilian corps.

"If I were at the Pentagon, I'd be looking at my authorizations to see if I could create the civilian component myself," Pascual said. "I think that's the wrong answer, but that's what I'd be doing."

The Dark Side of Defense

Last year, the Pentagon took a piece of the work it was doing in Iraq and Afghanistan -- training and equipping the national armies -- and expanded it around the globe. The program is known by its legislative handle, Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act. Last year Defense spent $200 million on the task; this year it is spending $300 million; next year the Pentagon wants $750 million.

Normally, U.S. funding for other countries' armed forces comes from the State Department. Defense spends most of that money, but, for decades, the power to write the check has rested with State, which can be slow to move. The State Department's military funding programs, for example, run on three-year budget cycles.

The Pentagon had previously tried to get Section 1206 authority, but then-Secretary Powell had rejected the request as an incursion into State's territory. ("Over my dead body," was how Patrick, who was then at State, summarized Powell's stance.) Rice, however, assented: There was a need, and Defense was the department that could get the money from Congress.

But the Pentagon's advance into the State Department's territory worried Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He sent six staffers around the world to take a look at Section 1206 operations. As a result of inadequate funding for civilian programs, they wrote in their December report, military units are increasingly being granted authority and funding to fill perceived gaps: "Such bleeding of civilian responsibilities overseas from civilian to military agencies risks weakening the Secretary of State's primacy in setting the agenda for U.S. relations with foreign countries and the Secretary of Defense's focus on war fighting."

According to the report, one-quarter to one-half of the American aid going to some countries was security assistance; one country got military aid only. Nearly all of the ambassadors whom the Senate aides interviewed reported inadequate civilian staffing and an increase in military staffing at their embassies. One worried that uniforms might outnumber suits within a year.

Money talks. The report cites an ambassador who "lamented that his effectiveness in representing the United States to foreign officials was beginning to wane, as more resources are directed to [military] special operations forces and intelligence. Foreign officials are 'following the money' in terms of determining which relationships to emphasize."

The military is trying to coordinate with the diplomats, the ambassadors said, but the Pentagon often ends up setting the agenda. In Chad, a Central African nation that would likely become a haven for terrorists if the government collapsed, Defense saw a "model country for security assistance," Lugar's staff reported.

The American Embassy there saw the situation differently. Chad's government is repressive and has an abysmal human-rights record. The rapidly growing U.S. military presence, and U.S.-labeled equipment carried by Chadian soldiers undergoing U.S. training, raised the possibility of complications with the civilian population, the embassy staff said. "It would be a major setback if the United States were to be implicated in support of operations shoring up the repressive regime, regardless of the stated intent of such training."

What Mission?

The Defense and State departments have worked out some of the kinks from the first year of Section 1206 funding, when, according to a February GAO report, only five of the Pentagon's 14 proposals were coordinated with the relevant embassies before being reviewed in Washington; in another five countries, the Pentagon didn't tell the embassies what was going on until it had notified Congress of the projects, well after they had been approved in Washington. This year, with better guidance from the top, people from State and Defense are talking to each other, officials say.

But coordination alone can't settle the basic question: Who is in charge? Are America's relations with foreign countries set by commanders or by diplomats? The lines between the two have been blurring for years. In 2003, journalist Dana Priest of The Washington Post wrote The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America's Military, describing the Pentagon's ascendance in foreign policy.

But Defense's takeover in Iraq -- from the outset, L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, reported to Rumsfeld, not Powell -- and its ability to incorporate and apply the lessons it has learned there faster than the civilians, may have accelerated a rupture between the two departments.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense has developed a new and comprehensive proposal, the Building Global Partnerships Act, that would authorize the military to do nearly everything it has done in Iraq and Afghanistan anywhere in the world, without subscribing to the human-rights and other restrictions that govern State Department dollars.

Under this legislative proposal, the Pentagon wants to permanently expand its Section 1206 authority to train not just military partners but also foreign police forces. It wants to give commanders around the globe access to the funds in the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which U.S. officers in Iraq and Afghanistan draw on to quickly build clinics or dig wells, for example. It wants to expand its humanitarian-assistance dollars to cover stabilization activities -- more clinics and wells.

The proposed legislation is still under discussion between the Pentagon and the State Department, which objects to several provisions. National Journal obtained a copy of the draft bill and asked the Wilson Center's Adams to review it. Pointing to the expansion of the Pentagon's humanitarian programs to cover such things as wells and clinics, he said, "Hello? That's USAID!"

Adams's fundamental question, however, was, "Who's in charge?" In Chad, for example, security and human rights are both important U.S. objectives. If they are incompatible, which should drive the relationship?

"Which agency should be initiating our security relationships with other countries? Should it be the military or State?" he asked.

A Defense official, who did not want to be identified because the proposal is still in interagency discussions, pointed out that most of the provisions in the bill would require the concurrence of the secretary of State, but Adams said that concurrence wouldn't be enough to balance the power of the checkbook: "The downstream threat is that the State Department becomes the supporting institution for Defense Department initiatives."

The proposal, according to Adams, reaches well past the Pentagon's traditional bailiwick, which for decades has been military-to-military training-assistance programs and weapons sales. The legislation would allow Defense "to engage itself in virtually the entire architecture of another country's internal security," Adams said.

That is exactly what the military needs to do, the Defense official said, because in some countries the key forces aren't the national army. In Pakistan, for instance, the Frontier Corps works in the tribal areas where Taliban sympathizers live. But it is not part of the country's military force; it's more of a police unit.

Restrictions on the Pentagon's ability to work with domestic police forces, which are generally attached to a country's interior minister rather than to a defense minister, could prevent American military leaders from easily providing training and equipment to those forces, the official said.

As for the Pentagon's expansion into clinics, wells, and the like, the official said, "We're not trying to crowd out USAID, but in the circumstances where USAID is not available, we can't simply wait for the civilians to show up and address some of these issues, because our forces are at risk today."

A senior Republican aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who had seen a draft of the Building Global Partnerships legislation said that the Pentagon is basically trying to get out from under State and congressional restrictions and run its own program.

The staffer predicted that the measure would face skepticism on the Hill, pointing out that in March, the Senate Budget Committee prompted a small revolt when it tried to trim the State Department's funding. The panel had cut State's foreign-affairs budget by $2.5 billion. That amount would be one-half of 1 percent of the Defense Department's regular $480 billion budget request, but it was 7 percent of State's $36 billion total request.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., introduced a floor amendment to restore full funding; he rapidly picked up 23 co-sponsors, and the amendment passed. "There's a general realization that getting this out of kilter is unhealthy on a whole bunch of different levels," the staffer said.

The Juggernaut

In the short term, winning the "long war," as Defense now informally calls the global war on terrorism, requires countries that are stable and secure: no failed states, no ungoverned areas in which terrorists can take root. But in the long term, combating terrorism requires countries with such foundations of civil society as human-rights protections and participatory government, which the United States and other democratic nations built only after suffering through long periods of instability.

No matter the outcome of Defense's current troop surge in Iraq, it won't work unless the Iraqi government can find a way to channel the swirling political currents to build rather than destroy the nation. No matter how many Chadian government soldiers Defense trains, it won't work unless the Chadian people find a voice in their government. Digging a well might help a village mayor, but that mayor might be running a corrupt police force.

Defense excels at the short term: It can stabilize; it can secure. But when those objectives conflict with the longer-range goals of U.S. foreign policy, should Defense be the dominant player?

That's not a question that anybody wants to answer. The military, however, is still clearly uncomfortable doing jobs that it would rather leave to civilians. That's why Gen. Pace offered $100 million a year to State and warned Congress that the civilian agencies were underfunded. That's why Defense wants to incorporate civilians into its education system, building a National Security Education Consortium that will allow more cross-pollination between soldiers and civilians. That's why Defense so staunchly supports an interagency process.

And, irony of ironies, that's why civilians who work on nation building have a new and barely surfaced sense of optimism. Even as the Pentagon moves to fill the short-term gaps left by the absence of civilian agencies, it is firmly pushing for the civilians to get the dollars and authorizations they need to fulfill their part of the mission.

"The military wasn't with us 10 years ago," said Beth Cole, a senior program officer at the Institute of Peace and a co-author of The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building. She's been involved in nation building since the Balkans and has had a front-row seat to all of its strange iterations since. "They're with us now."