Nation Builders

Agencies must rally to save failing states.

In mid-April, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey traveled to the Middle East to assess U.S. operations aimed at stabilizing Iraq. He interviewed dozens of American, Iraqi and coalition officials in Iraq and Kuwait, attended numerous briefings by military and government officials and met with troops, embassy officials and intelligence personnel involved in the full range of challenges, from fighting the insurgency to rebuilding critical infrastructure and establishing viable systems of governance and economic development.

Although he is guardedly optimistic about Iraq's future, McCaffrey believes the country will remain "in a serious crisis" for the next two years. "The U.S. interagency support for our strategy in Iraq is grossly inadequate," McCaffrey wrote in a report to colleagues at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where he is an adjunct professor of international affairs. "A handful of brilliant, courageous and dedicated Foreign Service officers have held together a large, constantly changing, marginally qualified, inadequately experienced U.S. mission. The U.S. influence on the Iraqi national and regional government has been extremely weak. U.S. consultants of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office do not live and work with their Iraqi counterparts, are frequently absent on leave or home consultations, are often in-country for short tours of 90 days to six months and are frequently [replaced by incoming personnel] with no transfer of institutional knowledge."

McCaffrey noted that in Iraq, "Nothing is possible without carefully managed relationships between U.S. officials and their Iraqi interlocutors. Trust between people is the prerequisite and basis of progress in this deeply Arab culture. The other U.S. agencies of government, such as Justice, [Homeland Security], Commerce, Agriculture and Transportation are in Iraq in small numbers for too-short time periods. The U.S. departments actually fight over who will pay the $11 per diem on food. This bureaucratic nonsense is taking place in the context of a war costing the American people $7 billion a month-and a battalion of soldiers and Marines killed and wounded a month."

It is no secret that America's security objectives cannot be met by the military alone. Increasingly (and belatedly), U.S. officials recognize that all elements of national power-military, diplomatic and economic-must be brought to bear in a more coordinated fashion. To be effective, that power must be rooted in deeper understanding of the cultures the United States hopes to influence. Nowhere today is that more evident than in Iraq, says Marwan Muasher, who served as the Jordanian ambassador to the United States from 1997 through 2001. "You cannot just do it by brute force," says Muasher. "Brute force doesn't work."

Reforming the Bureaucracy

In the summer of 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell attempted to balance the U.S. propensity for brute force in foreign intervention by creating the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, whose mission is to plan and organize civilian agencies' response to crises overseas, either alone or in support of military operations. CRS aims to draw senior personnel across government to do in-depth advance planning for potential post-conflict involvement and to develop a deployable corps of diplomats and regional and technical experts who can work hand-in-glove with military personnel in the field.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed a considerably more ambitious agenda in January in a speech at Georgetown University, where she announced potentially far-reaching changes at State through a program of "transformational diplomacy:" Fewer diplomats would serve in European capitals, and more would be pressed into service in regional hot spots.

Even the Pentagon got religion when it comes to the collection of democracy-prodding, stability-proffering tasks formerly known as nation building. Last winter, Defense published a new policy that makes stabilization a core military responsibility on par with combat.

But while there is widespread agreement that the federal government needs to be better organized and prepared to collectively cope with failed and failing states, acting on that knowledge is another matter. Outside the Defense Department, few agencies have the money, people or training to do long-term planning, let alone the ability to execute those plans, especially in less-than-hospitable circumstances.

John Hillen, a former Army cavalry officer and now the assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, is acutely aware of the challenges for non-Defense agencies. "There's a lot of disappointment across the government that [the mission in Iraq is] still a DoD show," says Hillen. "The great 'aha' of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review is that we cannot kill or capture our way to victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan or the [global war on terrorism] in general."

It's clear that the most critical security challenges of the day stem from dynamics within states rather than between states, and the State Department isn't well organized to respond. But because "we're still in the business of managing relationships between states," reforming the department to deal with new threats is tremendously difficult, Hillen says. "One of the questions you learn in the corporate world is 'What are you doing now that you'd like to get out of the business of doing?' There's not much we're doing now that we can get out of the business of doing. But by the same token, we have this whole set of currents of power that are shaping the threat environment that are not related to traditional states. How do we approach that?"

In Iraq, the question is not academic. While McCaffrey had high praise for U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, he singled out State for particular criticism: "The State Department actually cannot direct assignments of their officers to serve in Iraq. State frequently cannot staff essential assignments such as the new [provincial reconstruction teams], which have the potential to produce such huge impact in Iraq. The bottom line is that only the CIA and the U.S. armed forces are at war," he noted in his report.

According to State Department spokesman Jason Greer, there are 190 Foreign Service officer positions in Iraq, 147 in Baghdad and 43 in regional offices. Ninety-eight percent of those positions currently are filled, Greer says, and 93 percent are filled through the summer of 2007. According to the USA JOBS Web site, the official portal for federal jobs, in late May, there were 162 unfilled civil service positions with all agencies in Iraq.

Hillen agrees that State needs to do a better job of getting more people beyond Baghdad's Green Zone, but says the military needs to understand that Foreign Service officers and civil servants at State don't have the same kind of backing-from training to logistical support-that the military has. "This department is on its fourth year of volunteers for Iraq and Afghanistan and a lot of other things. It's a more courageous step [for someone to volunteer from State] precisely because you don't necessarily have a department behind you that's got all this institutional wherewithal and pedigree to operate in these environments; you're just going.

"It's very rare that the Pentagon sends somebody out untrained and unsupported. People don't leave without training, without [communications technology], without a fairly clear directive of what they're expected to do," Hillen says. "I'm not shooting [political advisers] out to the field without a new curriculum at [the Foreign Service Institute] to train them. I'm not going to send them out to the field without [agreements with military commanders] to provide certain kinds of support."

State plans to triple the number of political advisers assigned to military commands (currently there are 19, according to Greer), and Hillen has proposed a number of steps to improve coordination between Defense and State, including sharing training facilities, exchanging more officers, revamping the curriculum at the Foreign Service Institute and changing the personnel system to reward people who accept hardship assignments. For example, State is now selecting political advisers through the same process it selects deputy chiefs of mission, indicating that these positions are reserved for the best and the brightest. "One of the obligations of this department-and this will outlast [Rice] and me, is to make sure that we grow the institutional wherewithal to support what we're asking people to do," Hillen says.

While Defense has carried the burden for a lot of nonmilitary activities in Iraq, such as democracy building and reconstruction, it also consumes the lion's share of resources and is the only agency with the logistical capacity to operate in a place like Iraq. "We have a government that's not made for this environment. There's a lot of agricultural work to do in Iraq and Afghanistan that has huge civil-military benefits. And anytime you see somebody from the Department of Agriculture out there, it's a miracle, because the Department of Agriculture is [designed] to do agriculture here. God bless them. People in the Department of Agriculture find money, find ways, probably breaking a couple of rules, and get out there. It's extraordinary that they're out there at all," Hillen says.

Small Steps

In a number of ways, State and Defense officials say they are working together more closely than ever. For several weeks beginning in late February, U.S. Joint Forces Command led a multiagency, multinational exercise involving 800 participants from Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, NATO and the United States. The goal was to examine how these nations could coordinate operations, logistics, information and medical support in an environment similar to Afghanistan's in the future. "The idea here is to practice together and prepare ourselves for joint interagency and multinational environments of the future," said Lt. Gen. John R. Bob Wood, Joint Forces Command deputy commander, at a briefing for reporters before the exercise.

Working with Joint Forces Command on the classified exercise, known as Multinational Experiment Four, was Barbara Stephenson, from State's CRS, which coordinates all non-Defense stabilization activities with the military. "History has shown us over and over again that when we wait until we get on the ground to try to develop a joined-up strategy it's a little too late for an optimum outcome," Stephenson says.

"We believe that earlier and better quality collaboration among [U.S. government] agencies and with international partners will result in a significant improvement to U.S. national security and indeed international security by allowing us to better align our strategic goals with the tools and resources that are necessary to achieve them, and by heading off the need to do so much deconfliction on the ground because we had a common understanding of what we were trying to achieve before we even got there," Stephenson says.

The exercise concluded in late May in Brussels with a senior leader seminar. In a telephone briefing with reporters, Gen. Lance Smith, commander of Joint Forces Command, said, "There is a realization that we have moved from thinking only about major combat operations to thinking about the entire spectrum of conflict, and in this particular case, looking at stabilization and reconstruction as a primary function for both the military and the civil authority.

"One of the things that we truly achieved out of this is a good start at breaking down some of the barriers that are out there and the differences in these two communities, or these multiple communities," he said, "and trying to work toward changing cultures so we can be more cooperative and collaborative in the things we're trying to achieve."

In early April, State and Defense convened the first Security Cooperation Strategy Conference for two days at the National Defense University in Washington. Attendees included the four-star combatant commanders, ambassadors and other senior government officials involved in national security. Both Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld addressed the conference and stressed the need for greater cooperation. When Rice arrived at Roosevelt Hall to give her speech, she received a standing ovation before she even set foot in the auditorium, says Hillen, who accompanied her.

"Rice said very explicitly to the DoD folks that she recognizes that they have borne a disproportionate share of the political responsibilities in the environments like Iraq and Afghanistan. On any given day, an airborne major in Afghanistan is going to be as interested in doing political development with the local tribal council as he is in patrolling or [combat] or any of those traditional military things. [Rice] wants us to get in that game," Hillen says, and that's a message that resonates with the overstretched military.

"The political-military interface today is not at Eisenhower's headquarters [as it was in World War II] but on a street corner in Fallujah, at a town hall meeting in Mosul and in a thousand other places in the field," Hillen says. "This is where politics, diplomacy and military operations with strategic impact are meeting-and not simply in the still-important world of cables between capitals. [The military] needs a political-diplomatic partner on the ground as a fellow strategic actor."

While Hillen believes State eventually will need more people and money to fulfill its mission, it first must demonstrate to a skeptical Congress that it is willing and able to reform. In the meantime, Defense will continue to fill what he calls a "political-military vacuum" because it has the people and the institutional flexibility to respond to crises quickly with resources. But the military's can-do, fix-it-now culture is ill-suited for many of the challenges facing the United States today.

Last summer, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington published the study "Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: U.S. Government and Defense Reform for a New Strategic Era." It endorsed the creation of CRS as a necessary first step, but only the beginning of creating the necessary inter-agency capacity required to deal with the security threats now facing the United States.

"America pays a very dear price for not having such capacity: mission creep for the military, longer deployments without obvious exit strategies and, ultimately, higher levels of cost, not only in taxpayer dollars spent in prolonged operations but also in American lives lost," the CSIS study found. "At the end of the day, the cost of building meaningful civilian response capabilities would be far less than the costs associated with not having them."

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