Books Worth Reading
  • Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    by Robert C. Orr
  • Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    by Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart
  • The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    by Rupert Smith
  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    by John Robb
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    by Paul Collier
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
  • When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press

Entries in Defense Department (3)


What I think about the Wikileaks info dump . . . 

Basically, the same thing as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:

First of all, I would say unlike the Pentagon Papers, one of the things that is important, I think, in all of these releases, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iraq or the releases this week, is the lack of any significant difference between what the U.S. government says publicly and what these things show privately, whereas the Pentagon Papers showed that many in the government were not only lying to the American people, they were lying to themselves.


But let me – let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel.”


When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-’70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.


Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.


Many governments – some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.


Best.  SecDef.  Ever.


Robert Gates on "Public Business"

A few weeks ago Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke at my university and ended his speech with a favorite quote from former President John Adams, who in a letter to his son says:


"Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody.  It will be done by somebody or another.  If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not."


Gates went on to ask:


"Will the wise and honest here at Duke come help us do the public business of America?  Because, if America’s best and brightest young people will not step forward, who then can we count on to protect and sustain the greatness of this country in the 21st century?"


You can find the full text of his speech here.


Does the U.S. Need a Special Office for Nation-building?

Recently the Special Inspector General for Iraq (SIGIR), Stuart Bowen, testified before the Commission on Wartime Contracting on the need for a new “U.S. Office of Contingency Operations” to oversee future American efforts at post-conflict stabilization and nation-building (really state-building, but that’s another post).


Bowen, who since 2004 has investigated and exposed much of the corruption and incompetence in the Iraq reconstruction effort, argues the new office is necessary to prevent poor coordination and planning among U.S. government agencies, two problems which have been a distinguishing feature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The main reason the new office is needed, he says, is that there is no one U.S. government agency charged with responsibility for stabilization and reconstruction efforts and “there is no central point of planning and management," which has "bred the problems of poor coordination and weak integration we’ve encountered” in Iraq.


But as Spencer Ackerman notes, neither the Departments of State nor Defense support the proposal . . .


“In formal responses appended to the USOCO paper, two senior administration officials praise Bowen’s effort and endorse his diagnosis that civilian and military efforts in stabilization and reconstruction missions suffer from an ad hoc planning and implementation structure, saying he “correctly identifies under-funding [and] lack of capacities” within State and the U.S. Agency for International Development as a key weakness. But both reject USOCO as a solution. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy writes that the problem is “one of capacity and not of structure” and observes that congressional support for a restructuring “in today’s fiscally constrained environment seems unlikely.”


Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, presenting State’s lengthy formal response to USOCO, pledges to Bowen that the USOCO proposal will receive “full consideration” from an ongoing State Department and USAID comprehensive review of development and diplomacy known as the QDDR. But he says Bowen’s fix is “problematic on several fronts,” and that USOCO would take too much policymaking responsibility away from the Secretary of State and the department’s regional bureaus.” 


Bowen has publicly stated the he will try and sell the idea to Congress, but considering the two agencies primarily charged with the post-conflict stabilization missions are not on board with the proposal and will actively fight against, it means the chances of it coming to fruition are unlikely.


I’m a big fan of Bowen for his work uncovering corruption in Iraq and I’m glad he’s stuck around since first being appointed in 2004, but I’m against the new proposal for a couple reasons. 


First, the main cause of the screw ups in the initial post-war period had to do with political choices made at the highest levels of government, primarily the decision to not start planning for the post-war period until just a few months before the war began.  What made it worse was the planning was based on a series of false assumptions that were tailored not to the situation at hand, but on a politically expedient notion that the war would be easy (a view that made it easier to sell to Congress and the public), so ergo, not much planning would need to be done.  The problem in this case wasn’t the lack of a special office to do planning and coordination, but the lack of sound strategic decision-making by a bunch of incompetent senior government officials.  These officials were also blinded by ideology and a desire to remake Iraq into some democratic redoubt which resulted in them ignoring the complex realities on the ground that didn’t fit into their magical thinking and ended up resulting in needless deaths and lost resources.


Another problem is that the office won’t solve the issue of interagency friction.  Having spent over four years in Iraq, with that time split almost evenly between roles with State and Defense, I can tell you that employees seconded to interagency organizations (like Provincial Reconstruction Teams) will have allegiance first to the organization and leadership that evaluates, pays and promotes them.  That means working against the interagency team's objectives if they are not in the interest of that person’s organization.  I’ve seen it happen.  A special office that draws on personnel from various departments won’t be able to do combat this problem unless it can create disincentives for failing to play nicely, such as the ability to write negative performance reports or dock pay.  But this is a power home agencies are never going to give up. 


The solution to problems of planning and coordination in future missions are quite simple:  begin planning and coordinating for them early.  Planning for the post-war occupation of Germany was several years in the making before Hitler killed himself and the country surrendered.  Personnel and resources were specifically prepared for that eventuality and a special School of Military Government was even established.  This meant that once the combat phase of the war was over both military and civilian officials were ready to move in and successfully help rebuild, de-Nazify, and democratize the country.