Wolf in Sheik's Clothing
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates tells the Marine Corps association about his most embarrassing moment -- it has to do with Nixon, the Pope and a cigar -- then moves to a more serious topic: what America is doing right and needs to do better, in the War on Terror. First the cigar. It seems that Henry Kissinger tried to keep Melvin Laird from attending a meeting between Richard Nixon and Pope Paul VI. But Laird showed up anyway smoking a cigar. Kissinger was furious but contented himself by saying "Well, Mel, at least extinguish the cigar." Laird stubbed out his cigar and put it in his pocket. You can guess what happened next.
The American party a few minutes later went in to their general meeting with the pope. Pope was seated at a little table in front, Americans in two rows of high-backed chairs. Back row, Kissinger on the end; Laird next to him. A couple of minutes into the Pope’s remarks, Kissinger heard this little patting sound, and he looked over, and there was a wisp of smoke coming out of Laird’s pocket. [Laughter] The Secretary of State thought nothing of it. A couple of other minutes went by and the secretary heard this patting sound, slapping going on, and he looked over and smoke was billowing out of Laird’s pocket. The Secretary of Defense was on fire.
Then Gates turned to reflecting on the current world crisis.
In the years since September 11th, hundreds of thousands of our troops have done all these things and more in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the globe. There are the Marines who set up a daily news report over loudspeaker – “the Voice of Ramadi” – to counter the hostile propaganda blaring out of some of the mosques. Then there is an Army staff sergeant, a field artillery radar specialist, who was elected a sheik by Iraqi village elders for his work in their communities. He was given white robes, five sheep, and some land; he was advised to take a second wife – a suggestion frowned upon by his spouse back in Florida.
But in these campaigns, the men and women wearing our nation’s uniform have assumed the roles of warrior, diplomat, humanitarian, and development expert. They’ve done so under the unblinking, unforgiving eye of the 24-hour news cycle while confronting an agile and ruthless enemy. And they’ve done it serving in a military that has for decades been organized, trained, and equipped to fight the “big wars” rather than the small ones. They have shown what General Victor Krulak later wrote was the “adaptability, initiative and improvisation [that] are the true fabric of obedience, the ultimate in soldierly conduct, going further than sheer heroism.”
For the next 10 minutes or so, I’d like to offer some thoughts on where our military – and our government – must apply the lessons that we’ve learned from the ongoing conflicts to build the capabilities we will need in the future. These points are clear:
- Our military must be prepared to undertake the full spectrum of operations including unconventional or irregular campaigns – for the foreseeable future.
- The non-military instruments of America’s national power need to be rebuilt, modernized, and committed to the fight.
- And third, we must think about, envision, and plan for, the world, the future – of 2020 and beyond.
All of these points will be familiar to the readers of this site. And it's eerie how close the wording Secretary Gates uses is to the ideas expressed, even by commenters, in this forum. Only a few days ago, commenting on Michael Yon's dispatch of political action in Baquba, I wrote:
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.
And I think that with variations in emphasis and wording, my screed is very similar what Secretary Gates is saying. And more importantly, the similarity is not due to any particular aptitude on my part at reading anyone's mind but because the idea itself has now become obvious to a wide group of people. The old received wisdom is passing away. A new paradigm is taking its place. Gates goes on to explain why the other non-military sources of national power have been absent from the scene. Many capabilities had simply been abolished by a leadership confident the Cold War was over, that the world was at "the end of history" and nothing remained except to perfect the machinery of multilateralism. The nonkinetic instruments of national policy were dismantled and the kinetic instruments were drawn down.
We’re still struggling to overcome the legacy of the 1990s, when so many of the key non-military capabilities in the American government – in diplomacy, strategic communications, international development, and intelligence – were slashed or eliminated following the end of the Cold War.
During the 1990s, the State Department froze new hiring of Foreign Service officers. I was in the White House in the Carter administration after the fall of Iran, and we had a group called the political intelligence working group and we examined what had happened. And among other things, we determined that in 1979, in the embassy in Riyadh, we had two Foreign Service officers who spoke Arabic and they spent 40 percent of their time squiring around CODELs.
The United States Information Agency, which had been an enormously successful organization for communicating America’s values and message around the world, was abolished in the 1990s as an independent entity and folded into the State Department – a shadow of its former self. The Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts – its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 to 3,000 today, becoming essentially an outsourcing and contracting agency.
Today, the total number of U.S. government civilian employees working in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in both Iraq and Afghanistan is approximately two hundred.
So, the goal for us must be an integrated effort, a reinvigoration of all elements of national power. It will require a serious commitment of resources and priorities from the Congress and the country. I believe we have little choice if we are to secure our nation and our freedoms in the years ahead.
I might disagree that the Cold War capabilities, had they not been dismantled, might have been adequate to fight the nonkinetic portion to today's war on terror. But from a bureaucratic point of view their retention might have been an advantage. They would have provided a kernel around which to build new capability. And maybe as things Washington go, Gates wishes there were someone he could call as a place to start. But the numbers have been disconnected, consigned to history. Yet looking on the bright side, perhaps it's best that the Cold War information warfare arms were dismantled. Their abolition means they can be built from scratch, without the bother of tearing down old and obsolete organizational structures.