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

Why D3?

I started this blog because despite the plethora of online resources dedicated to the military side of post-conflict stabilization and state-building (mostly related to counter-insurgency and so-called “hybrid” war), I had difficulty finding very many that were devoted to the civilian aspects of these issues.  This was troublesome since the “non-kinetic” (read non-violent) features of post-conflict stabilization are considered the most important and hardest to implement.  One would assume significant resources exist, both virtual and real, to properly address such challenges. The fact is there is not much out there.  The blogosphere is replete with blogs by national security analysts (not to be confused with national security experts). The focus of their writing, with a few notable exceptions, deals mainly with the military-related aspects of post-conflict stabilization and state-building or the diplomatic maneuvering of senior government officials.


D3 (also known as “The Three Ds”) refers to Diplomacy, Defense, and Development.  Though its genesis and validity is in dispute, the trinitarian term is short hand for using all the elements of national power at the U.S. government’s disposal.  Though not explicitly stated, this is meant to include other levers such as intelligence, information, economics, and culture.   Properly combined, the Three Ds result in the projection of “Smart Power,” which according to Joseph Nye, the man who coined the term, is “the ability to combine hard and soft power into a successful strategy.”  Translation: win America’s wars and prevent new ones from occurring.


My hope is this blog will be a central point of information for those following issues related to the civilian side of implementing the Three Ds and the projection of Smart Power in specific. I hope to create a forum for those interested in the development and declination of states in general, whether they be members of the general public, bureaucrats in Washington, soldiers, diplomats, and development or humanitarian aid workers on-the-ground in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.


Here is a general listing of the topics I will cover:


State Failure:  Occurs when countries fail to maintain sovereign control over their territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.  State failure happens when the government lacks the ability to make collective decisions, provide basic services to the citizenry, or interact as a single unit with the international community.  Common characteristics include economic decline, widespread corruption and criminality.  See Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq from 2003 to 2008.

Post-Conflict Stabilization:  What happens when you crack a regime Humpty Dumpty style and your national interests require you to put that country’s governing institutions back together again?  Now imagine some of those little pieces of broken shell have arms and legs and are punching the hell out of each other and you while running around trying to stop you from doing anything. Add in the fact that all the while some dudes from down the block are trying to jack you up.  Welcome to post-conflict stabilization. 

Building and Strengthening States (International Development):  Political philosophy, how one orders the most just political regime, is the noun (h/t: to my old professor Father Schall, S.J.). State-building (not to be confused with nation-building) and institution strengthening are the verbs.  Good governance and a stable social order are the goals.   The end user is the citizenry.   Local politicians and bureaucrats are supposed to be the system administrators keeping everything running smoothly and setting the conditions for growth.

The Future of States: Technological innovation, globalization, and the super-empowerment of individuals, criminal organizations and small networks/tribal groups, will increasingly permit the hollowing out of state institutions and the setting up of shadow governments in territorial autonomous zones. As legacy bureaucratic management systems (and increasingly corrupt governing officials) fail to provide good governance, security/order, or legitimacy to populations and are unable to adapt to a changing world or cope with complex emergencies this becomes reality.  If you think this is nonsense, consider the favelas in Brazil, the narco-cartels in Mexico (and it’s spillover in the U.S.), Waziristan, or these events in Detroit, Newark and New Orleans, and of course, the basket cases that are Somalia, Afghanistan, and most of Africa.   It’s possible politicians and bureaucrats will be able to manage future system perturbations, but the calcified organizational cultures of federal department/agencies and the fact that the best and brightest do not generally run for office makes it highly unlikely.  We may all need to get ready to form smaller scale, resilient communities with the ability to locally supply security, energy, and sustenance.  The seminal thinkers here are John Robb and Phillip BobbittJames Howard Kunstler and Thomas P.N. Barnett are also key theorists, though the latter seems to me a bit too optimistic. 

War and the Future:  Osama Bin Laden is estimated to have spent $500,000 to carry out 9/11 while the Government Accountability Office estimates the attacks’ direct/indirect costs to the U.S. economy were $83 billion in 2002 dollars.  That doesn’t include subsequent action in Afghanistan or Iraq, or other long-term security costs when “everything changed,” which will be a trillion plus, if it isn’t already.  In strictly financial terms, that's an amazing return on your investment.   An eternal part of the human condition, war will never be eradicated as we have been programmed by many millions of years of evolution and self-selection.  It will just evolve to include systempunkt, cyber war, more robotics, synthetic biology, and whatever new fangled technological innovation scientists come up with while maintaining its essential character: the application of violence, both virtual and real, to achieve political ends.  So the smart money is on those who study it and those who have the smarts and tools to wage it effectively and cheaply.   Don’t believe the peace hype.  Slap a hippie peacenik or punch a Quaker in the face when he/she claims to be a pacifist and watch him/her fight back.  It’s simply war on a micro-level. 

Iraq & AfPak:  I have lived over four years of my life in post-Saddam Iraq.  I entered in March 2003, and since then have spent more time in Iraq then in any other country.  My connection to Mesopotamia goes back to family relations . . . I have Iraqi relatives and some of my earliest memories include eating dolma and watching Nana in her hijab yelling something in Arabic at my mother, who herself spent time in Iraq back in the seventies.  I’ve never been to Afghanistan or Pakistan, though many of my friends have, but regardless, the general contours of the mission there do not seem much different.  So I’ll be commenting on AfPak when it suits me.

Transformational Diplomacy/Smart Power:  See above.  One of my interests is how the U.S. government (USG) builds its own internal capacity to respond to post-conflict situations, the civilian aspects of conducting war, and international development.  I’ve taken most of the Stabilization and Reconstruction (see S/CRS) courses available at the Foreign Service Institute and have worked in and studied the associated issues in-depth more or less since 2003.  Future career plans include doing my best to help ensure U.S. civilian agencies have the necessary institutional capacity necessary to make the best of bad situations in the future due to misbegotten wars started by presidents who talk to God.

The Interagency:  When America threw down in Iraq, it did so without ensuring the Departments of State and Defense, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development, were all properly synchronized and positioned for managing the chaos that would inevitably follow the smashing of the Iraqi state.  The very day I’m writing this (just over 8 years after 9/11 and 6.5 years after we invaded Iraq) I dealt with a situation in which a soldier and diplomat aren’t allowed to sleep in the same building because of some bureaucratic nonsense.  A couple months ago, in a State Department memo, my overseers in Baghdad celebrated the transition of a bunch of fifth rate Chinese pick-up trucks from the military to Provincial Reconstruction Team members working throughout the country, briefly noting that it only took about six months to accomplish.  Yet despite these stories, interagency cooperation has come a long way since it became a buzzword among those involved in managing America’s wars.  The key thing to remember is that interagency cooperation is a lot more complex and harder to implement than it sounds since it involves asymmetric agency budgets, disparate organizational cultures and objectives, and most of all, personalities.  At best it creates a synergy that allows for Smart Power projection and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.  At worse it creates death by committee or fails to prevent huge failures by government officials. 

Humanitarian Aid:  Whether natural or man-made, the quick delivery of aid (primarily provided the international community when it comes to developing countries) is crucial to prevent massive loss of life.  This is something less difficult than war or state-building since it’s mainly a logistics operation to provide succor and sustenance in the short-term.  After immediate water, food, and shelter are provided, it’s up to the people themselves, indigenous government officials, and development professionals to prevent permanent communities of the displaced and/or dependent.  Providing humanitarian aid is easy, it’s getting individuals and families back on their feet that is difficult.

Strategy:   The smartest and best resourced military or civilian expeditionary response corps in the world can still fail miserably if your strategy sucks.  Sun Tzu said it best: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

War Zone Contracting:  One of the more misunderstood features of modern war is contracting.  Contractors, much maligned in any conflict situation and often convenient scapegoats for those who have problems with the mission itself, are vital to any kinetic, post-conflict stabilization, humanitarian aid, or development situation since the government never has the capacity to carry out the many tasks required of it in such environments.   In addition to my time with the military and State, I put in about a year and a half in Iraq with a private military firm called MPRI, working at the Besmaya Range Complex where I served as an Iraqi Army Advisor to the Besmaya Eagles, the base security force.  Besmaya is Iraq’s version of the U.S. Army’s National Training Center, and security was provided entirely by the Iraqi Army unit I advised, though my colleagues and I packed Glocks and Kalashnikovs when we left the main camp and headed out to the ranges.  Before the experience, I like most people thought contractors were a problem.  Having lived and studied the issue in-depth, I came to learn that properly managed, contractors add tremendous value, often times doing the job better than federal employees, whether civilian or military, and at a much cheaper cost overall.  The main problem is poor planning, constantly changing demands on the part of the client (the USG) outside the scope of the contract agreement or beyond the capacity of the contractor, oversized contracts that require a great deal of subcontracting, demagogues, and of course, lack of oversight.  War zone contractors do not equal mercenaries. Those who suggest otherwise possess a lack of understanding regarding not just human nature (who works for free?) but the definition of the term itself.   

Survival:  This might get me into trouble, but I think it’s a highly rational position . . . Oil resources are finite and will peak sooner or later.  Climate change is happening and oceans will rise, flooding out coastal living spaces and possibly even creating significant weather anomalies that disrupt crop production or cause other negative impacts.  Pandemics like the Spanish Flu Influenza can recur, but this time new super-viruses have the ability to spread lightening fast thanks to international travel and porous borders, overwhelming the ability of public health officials seeking to contain them.  What happens when one of these events occurs (or even worse, converges with the others) and the hydrocarbon-fueled industrialized/service economies on which most of the developed world is based ends up feeling the crunch?  Do you know how to grow your own food and preserve it, create energy, find and extract water from a clean and dependable source, or defend your family and/or yourself against those wanting to harm you?   I’m not expecting a scenario in which we need to be prepared to become post-apocalyptic nomads, though I can foresee needing to be ready for a Long Emergency and A World Made by Hand, or some other disruption.   Don’t mistake this for Chicken Little “the sky is falling” alarmism.  When you consider the data, it doesn’t seem all that farfetched.  Black Swans (“high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events beyond the realm of normal expectations” . . . e.g. World War I, the rise of the Internet, 9/11) are at the same time foreseeable and unforeseeable.  Neither America nor the rest of the modern world is exempt from history.  Or perhaps we have never heard about Minoan Civilization, the Bronze Age Collapse, Rome, Easter Island, pre-conquest Mesoamerica (Mayan/Incans/Aztecs), 1940s Europe, a place once called Yugoslavia, the 2001 economic turmoil in Argentina, Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan, the Congo, or Iraq from 2003-2008 (okay, for most of its history: see the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and many more, all of whom had empires that lasted longer than these here United States).  The bottom-line is unexpected and random evens happen and whether they are long or short, the smart follks will Be Prepared