This Week at War, No. 5

What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal.

Will civilians take back America's foreign policy?

Will civilians take back America’s foreign policy?

The Obama team suffered several embarrassing flaps this week, one of which included picking the replacement for Ryan Crocker as U.S. ambassador to Iraq. On Wednesday, Foreign Policy’s Laura Rozen was all over the story about how retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni was offered and then un-offered the job in Baghdad. General Zinni’s selection was yanked in favor of Christopher Hill, a career Foreign Service officer with much experience in Europe and Asia, but little in the Middle East. General Zinni, by contrast, was the commanding general of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000.

What remains unknown is why General Zinni’s appointment was rescinded. Was it because of his recent employment at Dyncorp, a large defense contractor with extensive work in Iraq? Or was it because President Obama had just selected another general, Karl Eikenberry, to be U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan?

Perhaps President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are paying greater attention to warnings, delivered by both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, against the militarization of U.S. foreign policy. More broadly, what does it symbolize when the most experienced and well-connected Americans for two critical ambassadorships are retired generals?

If America’s career civil servants and Foreign Service officers are not similarly measuring up, what can they do to get back into the game?

The truth is that there are many Foreign Service officers with long experience in the Middle East who if given the chance could make their marks, just as John Negroponte and Crocker, both career Foreign Service officers, did in Iraq and elsewhere during their careers. Before Iraq, Crocker had been U.S. ambassador to four other Muslim countries, including Pakistan. If he wants to step back from putting too much of a military face on the execution of America’s foreign policy, might President Obama give more consideration to the Foreign Service officers currently serving as U.S. ambassadors in the Islamic world?

Meanwhile, some U.S. government programs are putting U.S. civilians in the field. In January, the Defense Department established a civilian expeditionary workforce that will organize and prepare Defense Department civilian employees, on a volunteer basis, to deploy overseas along side their uniformed counterparts. The intent is to free up military personnel for purely military tasks and also reduce the use of contractors, which have attracted some notoriety. This directive will put a more civilian face on these operations. It will also give civilian government workers more experience with other cultures, which will benefit them and the country later in their careers.

Similarly, the State Department created a Civilian Response Corps within its Office of Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. The Civilian Response Corps, which will include active and reserve components, will perform reconstruction and stabilization duties under State Department direction.

Finally, this week saw another pushback against the militarization of U.S. foreign policy execution. Writing at Small Wars Journal, retired U.S. Amb. David Passage, a career Foreign Service officer, argued for the elimination of two U.S. regional four-star commands, Southern Command and Africa Command.

In his essay, Ambassador Passage took note of how these two commands have structured themselves to implement humanitarian assistance, foreign aid, training programs, and non-aggressive military activities. Both of these commands have senior State Department diplomats as deputies to the commander. But in spite of these adjustments, Passage argues that U.S. military commands for Latin America and Africa are unnecessary, provocative, send the wrong message to those regions, and make America’s problems in those regions worse rather than better.

The military and the media — two scorpions in a bottle?

An anonymous journalist who covers the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ventured onto the Small Wars Journal discussion board to ask the question, How well have we incorporated the media into COIN [counter-insurgency] efforts? The anonymous journalist went on:

I’m intrigued at how the media, especially our own Western media, seems to be treated differently than other players in the COIN fight. Many who are adept at co-opting former enemy fighters into their COIN strategy are quick to malign, insult or disparage media organizations who, like it or not, will be the ones telling the story to the local populace or those back home.

The media is clearly a part of COIN strategy at higher levels, but for some reason this view does not seem to have trickled down to lower levels to the extent that other COIN strategies have. I’ve heard many soldiers in Iraq tell reporters that they don’t like the media in general or the reporter’s paper in particular. I’ve never heard soldiers tell Iraqis that they just don’t like that person’s neighborhood, party or sect – even if they might feel that way privately. I think you can see this on these very boards: Many complaints about the media, very few complaints about the local populace or their organizations. This seems counterproductive.

This reporter’s reasonable question was met with some impassioned responses from the Small Wars Council’s combat veterans. The soldiers expressed their frustration with what they saw as the media’s preconceived conclusions and propensity for distortion. One soldier noted the differences he personally witnessed in the media’s behavior covering Bosnia (supportive of the policy) compared to Afghanistan and Iraq (not supportive).

The tempestuous relationship between the military and the media is both ancient and enduring. But it is also an issue that the U.S. military, and especially the Army, is now addressing in a thorough manner. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the commander of the Army’s Combined Arms Center (a sprawling system of schools and training programs), has had his staff study the issue and prepare how-to manuals on media relations, written for soldiers in the field (see here and here). Chapter titles include such topics as, Arab Media Interviews and the American Commander, Breaking Through the National Media Filter, and The Al-Qaeda Media Machine.

It remains to be seen how long it will take General Caldwell’s efforts to reach down to the captains and sergeants now on patrol in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

New books

David Kilcullen is the author of The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. In his new book, Kilcullen attempts to disentangle the global war on terror from the array of small wars that originate from unique local circumstances. Kilcullen is a retired Australian army officer, holds a Ph.D., and was a top adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad and to the U.S. State Department. He is also one of the most popular contributors to Small Wars Journal, which collected his writings here.

Thomas P.M. Barnett, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and an advisor to the U.S. government, has authored Great Powers: America and the World After Bush. In this book, Barnett attempts to get his audience to consider what America’s grand strategy should be, taking into account not only U.S. military and economic power, but also America’s cultural reach and the influence it has had over the past century. Barnett discussed his new book in this Small Wars Journal interview.

Previous issues:

This Week at War, No. 4 (Jan. 30, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 3
(Jan. 23, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 2
(Jan. 16, 2009)
This Week at War, No. 1
(Jan. 9, 2009)

Robert Haddick is managing editor of Small Wars Journal.

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.