Thursday, July 26, 2007

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. ...

Yon continues.

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.


Blogger vnjagvet said...

This will probably get some people to yowling, but what would be wrong with setting up an agency patterned after the British Colonial Service (obviously without the colonial function and without specifically referring to that organization) to take on the civil affairs functions handled so poorly early in the war.

The one thing the Colonial Service was often able to do successfully was create order out of chaos in India, Hong Kong, and other pretty tough places (Iraq, even).

Had the Colonial Service been trying to foster independence in those countries rather than hold the "empire" together history might have had a different flavor.

A professional, trained organization devoted to working hand in hand with the military would be helpful it seems to me.

7/26/2007 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Sounds like Thomas Barnett's conception of a SysAdmin group.

7/26/2007 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

The ironic aspect of this is that the military has been moving away from maintaining its own “cities” by means of organic resources and is instead moving more toward use of contract personnel for the “roads and commodes” functions.

In 1991 the disintegration of the USSR left the military with high level leadership who had eagerly grabbed the reins after the Reagan defense buildup, which had been a period that emphasized R&D and acquisition of weapon systems. The 90’s were to be the time of the “operators” – those of the operational forces. But the end of the Cold War meant that the times were changing before they got started.

The military response was to cut back on the non-combat, non-operational functions and instead retain a larger percentage of “warfighters.” The Clinton Admin emphasis on nation-building for nation-building’s sake helped to emphasize this.

Now, we are finding out that, gee, we do need the stuff - and the kind of people – that we more or less threw away in the early 90’s.

The question is not if the U.S. military is large enough to do the job – but whether it is large enough to be able to think about what it will need to do.

7/26/2007 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger amr said...

One contributing factor may be that most organizations' personnel outside of the military are required to be unarmed; and to my knowlegede that is not a Iraqi/US military requirement. I unvolunteered to go to Iraq when I was told by my employer that I could not be armed. Beyond that, private contractors provide most of the NGO and maybe some of the government agencies' security and they are not cheap.

7/26/2007 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Good points Wretchard and ones unlikely to change anytime soon. We won't ever see the comfortable, suburban diplomats and NGO leaders in places like Iraq, Liberia, Somalia, or Sudan. More likely Geneva and New York.

To solve the networked insurgency, well the obvious way is to destroy the network, rather than each node. Since the elites which are threatened by the soldiers (see: TNR and the fake stories by the blogging soldier) will force this ability to counter the networked insurgency the only other solution is destruction of the total network. Or rather, anyone who might be part of the network.

Well, the Left has already prepared that ground. Obama finds Genocide no reason to stay in Iraq, and the Left has said Iraqis are not worth American lives and Muslims incapable of freedom and democracy much less nation building.

7/26/2007 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

So in Yon's story, after a full day of watching this one house with mega-expensive toys and lots of trained personnel, they managed to toss a few explosives in its direction, none of which hit. Then the "Battle Commander" (what "battle"?) called it off, pulled back and restarted the discussion.

After a full day, the house is still standing, and a whole bunch of Americans are still standing around scratching their asses, trying to figure out what to do about it, so as not to cause the accidental deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Goatherder next door, who are probably the parents of the shooter to begin with.

Color me impressed by their compassion and humanity. Not.

7/26/2007 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger Norman said...

So, Nahncee, what exactly is your point?
For sure, I'm not surprised that there was a battle commander present at the scene of a potential battle...

Color me confused.

7/26/2007 11:22:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Nicolo Machiavelli told us how to do this work years ago, real simple. The question is: Do we want to do the necessary work?

7/27/2007 01:26:00 AM  
Blogger Tiptree said...

I think this passage is chock-full of wisdom:

"We live far better on base here in Baqubah than many people who are living downtown (though there are some very nice homes), and it’s not all about money. Not at all and not in the least. When Americans move into Iraqi buildings, the buildings start improving from the first day. And then, the buildings near the buildings start to improve. It’s not about the money, but the mindset. The Greatest Generation called it “the can-do mentality.” It’s a wealth measured not only in dollars, but also in knowledge. The burning curiosity that launched the Hubble, flows from that mentality, and so does the revenue stream of taxpayer dollars that funded it. Iraq is very rich in resources, but philosophically it is impoverished. The truest separation between cultures is in the collective dreams of their people."

This particular truth about human nature seems to be evident only to those who participate on the "can do" side. Those are not blessed with that attitude are forever doomed to be jealous of those who do, but for all the wrong reasons.

I suspect that a "can do" attitude may not be easily transferred to adults already immersed in a victim's culture; rather, it must be imbued from birth through the joint efforts of parents, neighbors, and the educational establishment.

7/27/2007 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger herb said...

vnjagvet had a real good idea. Only problem is the State Dept wouldnt stand for it.
Wretcherd said: "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."
State wont do it because it requires thought and imagination. They use all theirs up trying to undermine the Presidency.
DOD is the only organization in the United States Government that has the flexibility to do something like this.
Somebody once said that the only thing Governments do well is to kill people and break things, and those get done efficiently only when they are funded without limit.

7/27/2007 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Iraqui vets will be providing USA leadership for darn near the next 50 years.

7/27/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Unfortunately, when you make a list of all of the attributes of an organzation to do the real "nation building" job you end up with something that looks just like the military. I have worked a great deal with government civilians in a military environment, and while they are the only real solution in some cases, they have some severe limitations - even when they include a large percentage of ex-military.

In the end it is far better for only the military to be the military. In fact, the alternative is potentially horrific.

7/27/2007 01:07:00 PM  

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