The Field Grade Mayor
Michael Yon describes why the kinetic battle in Iraq can be precise beyond belief and follows one command center as it tries to root out al-Qaeda holed up in a house with a minimum of violence. Then he segues directly to the political battle, where the battlefield is the meeting the room or with people along the street.
What our people are trying to accomplish here is simple. Simple in the sense that a simply stated goal might be very hard to achieve. After vanquishing al Qaeda (that’s what the Iraqis here call them), the goal is to have no pause in the restoration of services. This is about mental inertia and psychology. The idea is to jump start the people and facilitate their taking responsibility for their communities.
After the initial invasion of Iraq, things seemed to just stop in most places. Many people held their breath. We paused. The type of folks who read these words are more likely to know the rest of the story. ...
Even though LTC Goins must leave the meeting and return to the field, each day he and other commanders has to put his mind to work on how to administer Baqubah, and he knows one of his problems is water. Solve water, and lots of things can be carried forward on that momentum....
The idea is to get the Iraqis to run their own cities but most of the old leaders are gone, and the new ones are like throwing babies to cow udders. Many just don’t know what to do, and in any case, most of them have no natural instinct for it. So our soldiers are mentoring Iraqi civil leaders, which is a huge education for me because I get to sit in on the meetings. The American leaders tell me what they are up to, which amounts for free Ph.D. level instruction in situ: just have to be willing to be shot at. ...
I have wondered now for two years why is it that American military leaders somehow seem to naturally know what it takes to run a city, while many of the local leaders seem clueless. Over time, a possible answer occurred, and that nudge might be due to how the person who runs each American base is referred to as the “Mayor.” A commander’s first job is to take care of his or her forces. Our military is, in a sense its own little country, with city-states spread out all around the world. Each base is like a little city-state. The military commander must understand how the water, electricity, sewerage, food distribution, police, courts, prisons, hospitals, fire, schools, airports, ports, trash control, vector control, communications, fuel, fiscal budgeting, fire, for his “city” all work.
This is all good news, but there is something wrong with this picture. The diplomats, the aid-workers, professional information warriors, the "nation-builders" are all missing from the scene. Yon describes how the military had been forced to discover hidden political and administrative skillsets within themselves. It was not something they had signed up to do when they joined the Armed Forces. This involuntary retooling probably occurred because they had no choice but to learn it and kept at it like a man learning to hammer tacks for the first time, however sore his thumb got. And the retooling was necessary because the State Department, the aid agencies and other civilian agencies, for reasons related to their organizational culture and inability to provide their own organic security, were unable to do the job.
In the long run it might best if the West evolved some other way to deploy "all the sources of its national power" other than the modes provided by traditional diplomacy and aid-working. Those modes may work just fine when operating in a functional nation state. Then diplomats can meet with the counterparts in the capital; aid workers can fan out to the countryside in comparative safety and things can proceed more or less as before. But in the places where terrorism is mostly likely to be rooted -- in failed or failing states, in places wracked by ethnic conflict, sown with mines, infest with assassins and snipers, crawling with infectious diseases, etc -- the military is the only agency of government which is organically able to survive.
Perhaps one reason institutions like the UN have been sympathetic to a withdrawal from Iraq and the replacement of field operations by a negotiated settlement among the regional countries is the need to shift the scene of action back to the green baize table, where they are most effective. But whether the traditional instruments of statecraft alone can address the problems of chaos in the Third World or a networked insurgency is doubtful. Who knows how or whether the problem can be solved. But a good place to start would be recognizing that some means must be found to project "all the instruments of national power" to the field. The military found a way. But only because it had to.