Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Day Late Part 2

A little more on the conference of October 15 on Post-Iraq Civil-Military Relations.

The peace and justice community has long complained that U.S. foreign policy has been increasingly militarized ever since the National Security Act of 1947 that created the National Security Council, the CIA, and Office of the Secretary of Defense and subordinated the War, Navy, and Air Force Departments to the Defense Secretary.

No question, this has been the effect, but why this happened as it did arguably has less to do with the uniformed military actively and constantly beating the war drums for new missions and more to do with the abdication by non-military departments and agencies of capabilities that they once exercised. One startling statistic involves the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): in 1970, there were 12,000 men and women working in the Agency. Today the Agency employs 2,000.

I recall during the 1960s up to the early 1990s, along with U.S. embassies and consulates, there were U.S. libraries and information/culture centers in major cities around the globe that served as windows, however tiny, into America. And there were the four-year “American Universities” in key capitol cities.

This is not to say that everyone in uniform ducked for cover whenever the politicians in Washington started eyeing the Pentagon just across the Potomac in Virginia. Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay was prepared to bomb communist troops and countries at the slightest sign of interference – and the sooner the better. The non-existent “bomber gap” and “missile gap” were used just like terror is today: to keep tensions elevated.

One also cannot help but speculate that more than a few presidents reveled in the role of “commander-in-chief.” Probably because he was a general before becoming a politician, Dwight Eisenhower did not fall into this psychology. Yet it was Eisenhower who first transformed the army by placing emphasis on nuclear weapons as a substitute for troop numbers. This opened the first post-war growth in defense industry. Then came the creation and mythologizing of Special Forces. These shifts all required new weapons, which translated into more influence from contractors, some of whom started developing weapons platforms and other military equipment and convincing the civilians and key generals that the Pentagon this product (whatever it was) was indispensable for success and was worth killing for.

Of course, it didn’t help that Secretary of State Dean Acheson, in a speech dealing with areas and countries whose continued freedom was of concern to Washington, inadvertently left South Korea off the list of countries to which the new policy applied. Most historians believe that this omission precipitated the Korean War, the first war that was not a clear win – and one that many considered a waste (e.g., "who wants to die for a tie?" was a widespread sentiment).

As anti-Vietnam, anti-U.S. sentiment spread in the 1960s and 1970s, the culture centers became targets of demonstrations. Many were burned and most were not even considered for reconstruction because of the increased danger of kidnapping or loss of life. Here the military arm served to cripple the diplomatic/informational power of the State Department.

One of the drawbacks of the inter-agency process for setting policy is traceable back to the separation of war from its opposite – in violation of Clausewitz is observation that war is politics (diplomacy) by other means. As a hierarchical organization, the Defense Department knows who is in charge of their effort. But depending on the activity and the non-military departments and agencies that are participating, everyone else has to sort out the command and control arrangements that are to apply. (As the senior executive department, State should be “first among equals,” but State may not have the necessary expertise. And it is sometimes the case that the executive order or the legislation involved specifies whether the military is in over-all control of the effort.)

The real first question should be, “What is policy?” The second should be, “What are the contributions from those participating in the inter-agency process?” And only then should the participants worry about the command and control.

In Iraq, the order of the questions was reversed. Thus the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld rejected the plans and the preparations for “post-combat” Iraq and tried to develop its own on the fly. The $18.6 billion for Iraq reconstruction approved by Congress went to Defense, not State. Defense had to create an Office of Development Assistance; Between 2003 and 2005, its share of all money earmarked for development went from 6% to 22%.

And it is a circle that is hard to break: something needs to be done quickly; the hierarchical Defense Department can get on the ground; it gets the money and the program; the next time Defense is tapped again.

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