Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Send In The State Department

By Robert D. Kaplan
New York Times
February 21, 2006

Korat Royal Air Force Base, Thailand--WHATEVER the future holds for Iraq, within a year or two there will be far fewer American troops there, and the debate over whether our military is overstretched may subside. Yet because of a bloody counterinsurgency that no one in the military wants to repeat, Iraq has profoundly affected the Pentagon's deployment strategies as it shifts toward a greater emphasis on the Pacific Rim while still facing a profusion of terrorist-related threats not just in the Middle East but also in Africa and elsewhere.

"After Iraq," one officer in the Pentagon told me, "we hope not to be invading a big country for a long time, so we'll be reduced to low-profile raiding, which the military has a very long and venerable tradition of, from the 19th and early 20th centuries." This is one aspect of what the Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review means when it speaks of the "long war."

The military wants to increasingly manage the world through quiet cooperation on one hand, and the use of host-country proxies on the other. At the forefront of this strategy is a combination of training missions with other countries conducted by marines and Army Special Forces, humanitarian efforts by Army civil affairs units, and discreet raids on terrorists in places removed from the headlines. For the military, this is "soft power," because for the most part the methods used are indirect. And when they are direct, few tend to notice, as when our surveillance planes assist local forces in sub-Saharan Africa in the hunting and killing of Salafist terrorists.

The long war, if smartly executed, can prevent a big war. In spending the last few years embedded with Army, Navy and Marine units, I have learned that the smaller the American military footprint and the less notice it draws, the more effective is the operation. A few hundred Green Berets going after narcoterrorists or Islamic extremists, as I have seen in Colombia and the Philippines, can be effective force multipliers. Ten or twenty thousand troops, as in Afghanistan, can tread water. And 135,000, as in Iraq, constitute a mess.

The goal from now on is to get into a place fast, before a problem begins to fester, when there is leeway to experiment and thus to make mistakes without suffering a loss of prestige. The way to avoid quagmires is to be engaged in more places, not fewer. Even if Iraq were to dissolve in chaos, this would not lead to a new era of isolationism, at least as far as the American military is concerned,

Take the Horn of Africa, a low-profile theater where small American military teams comb a large region and engage in military training and civil affairs projects with local forces as a way to build relationships in advance of a major crisis. Never again should we be in the situation that we were in on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where there were no intelligence assets on 9/11 because we had closed all our networks the decade before, following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Thus the quadrennial review calls for an increase in Army Special Forces of at least 15 percent. The growing emphasis on the Special Operations Command, to which the Marine Corps will for the first time send a detachment later this month, is less the brainchild of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld than a product of his forceful articulation of a bipartisan ideal, supported vigorously over the years by Democrats like former Senator Sam Nunn and John Kerry. There are even plans to go beyond merely training local forces to actually embedding small numbers of Special Forces and Marine advisers with foreign troops on select combat missions.

While this is all good planning, there is still a major omission: the civilian — or non-Defense Department — piece of it is entirely missing. The longer the war, the less decisive is military technology and what the Army calls "doctrine." The struggle against Al Qaeda and its offshoots will go on for many years after a troop drawdown in Iraq, and in this worldwide struggle the civilian piece associated with the State Department will be a vital, unconventional asset.

There is precedent here: the British Colonial Office was, in effect, an interagency office, overseeing not just the military aspects of empire but also civil service, education and the like. No matter how vehemently people deride 19th-century imperialism, the same people often ask why the Americans can't be as smart in the field as the British.

To wit: a recent month-long visit to Iraq demonstrated to me that the progress the American military has made there in reducing chaos over the past two years is being jeopardized by the absence of public works projects of the kind that soak up male youth unemployment.

Young Army and Marine officers have become expert at small-scale projects: setting up neighborhood garbage collection, fixing generators and the like, but such efforts make little dent in the long list of needs in sprawling Iraqi cities. American battalion commanders hear litanies of complaints about the lack of electricity and working sewers and often have no answers except to refer the complainants to the new Iraqi agencies, which barely function. As I saw one village elder tell an Army lieutenant colonel in the Tigris River valley: "All we ask is that you restore services to the level they were under the previous regime."

But the military's humanitarian activities around the world generally have to do with immediate relief of natural disasters, and temporary good-will gestures like holding daylong medical clinics, an unstated aim of which is to gather intelligence. Repairing the roads and electrical grid and hospital system of a large country is simply out of its domain. The military in Iraq is near the point where it has done all that it can be expected to do. The years of financial and organizational neglect at the State Department and Agency for International Development is now fundamentally apparent in shot-to-hell cityscapes like Mosul.

I am not arguing for an emphasis on the State Department over the Pentagon. I am saying that for a worldwide fight against terrorism to be effective, the State Department must become not only as bureaucratically dynamic as the American military, but also as fully integrated with it down to the small unit level. In other words, Agency for International Development officials must work alongside Green Beret teams on the humanitarian side of unconventional war.

It is no accident that Special Operations Command gets its budget not from the Pentagon, but directly from Congress, and that its bureaucratic flowchart is numbing in its interagency complexity. It was always meant to work organically with the State Department as well as the Pentagon. But this goal has been insufficiently realized beyond PowerPoint briefings at its headquarters in Tampa.

The long war envisaged by the Quadrennial Defense Review is not a sinister vision but a reflection of reality. Even in the Pacific, where the American military must be prepared for conflicts in Korea and Taiwan, the Chinese are more likely to seek dominance through a growing web of trade and military alliances with longtime allies like Thailand and the Philippines, as well as through terrorist splinter groups in Southeast Asia and its archipelagos, stretching all the way to Oceania.

The defense review's emphasis on Special Forces is correct; so is its admission that technology is not always the answer. As for integrating a newly robust State Department into this strategy, it is less the Pentagon's responsibility than that of the White House and Congress.

Robert D. Kaplan is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and the author of "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground."

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