Tag Archives: Robert Gates

Policy and the End of the Bush Administration

Spencer Ackerman has a spectacular article up about the State Department’s new policy document “Counterinsurgency: A Guide for Policy-Makers,” which is going to be published in November. The policy handbook has a lot of interesting things to say.

The handbook seeks to provide a framework for considering whether Washington should intervene in foreign countries’ counterinsurgency operations, raising difficult questions about whether such nations deserve U.S. support; under what conditions that support should occur, and whether success is possible at acceptable cost. No systematic approach to strategic-level questions in counterinsurgency currently exists for senior U.S. government officials.

Asked for comment, the handbook’s chief author, David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who is now an adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, explained that it tells policy-makers to “think very, very carefully before intervening.” More bluntly, Kilcullen, who helped Petraeus design his 2007 counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, called the decision to invade Iraq “stupid” — in fact, he said “fucking stupid” — and suggested that if policy-makers apply the manual’s lessons, similar wars can be avoided in the future.

. . .

The handbook instructs policy-makers about the necessity of using all elements of national power — not just military force, but also diplomacy, development aid, the rule of law, academic disciplines and other specialties often considered peripheral to warfighting — to triumph in counterinsurgency. Victory, as well, is defined as support for a foreign nation’s ability to successfully govern, rather than a decisive U.S. military effort.

“No amount of competence, know-how or dedication on the part of an intervening country can compensate for lack of determination by the government affected by the insurgency,” the draft reads. “Thus, the primary focus for USG [U.S. government] or international agencies engaging in COIN [counterinsurgency] is often the building of governmental capacity within a host government, rather than directly killing or capturing insurgents.”

There are lessons in the handbook that the U.S. government has clearly been reluctant to adopt. It explicitly instructs policy-makers to “co-opt” insurgents whenever possible — something that the Bush administration’s rhetoric about the “evils” of Iraqi and Afghan insurgents makes problematic.”The purpose of COIN,” the handbook says, “is to build popular support for a government while suppressing or co-opting an insurgent movement.”

Kilcullen added that negotiations are a two-way street in counterinsurgency. “A government that offers [insurgents] no concessions [will] usually lose,” he said, but “an insurgency that offers no concessions will usually lose.” Another piece of advice — one that resonates in the wake of the administration’s torture scandals — simply reads, “Respect People.”

Similarly, the handbook attempts to integrate civilian and military agencies into a concerted strategy — something the Bush administration has been unable to substantively accomplish in Iraq and Afghanistan. “COIN planning should integrate civilian and military capabilities across each of the four COIN strategy functions of security, politics, economics and information,” it reads.

The handbook urges that military and civilian efforts in counterinsurgency be launched simultaneously. “Economic and political progress is not dependent upon a completely secure environment, nor does the ability to provide adequate security depend entirely upon on political and economic progress,” the draft reads. “Establishing security is not a precursor to economic and governance activity: rather, security, economic and political efforts must be developed simultaneously in parallel.” Accordingly, the handbook is a joint effort of the Depts. of State, Defense, Justice and the U.S. Agency for International Development, with input from other bureaus, including the Central Intelligence Agency.

Beyond the fascinating implications of the handbook itself, Ackerman raises a very interesting point about the upcoming transition between the Bush administration and whoever comes next.

Crane, of the Army War College, worried that the handbook’s scheduled publication — sometime after the November election — might make it a casualty of an unpopular and lame-duck Bush administration. “The dilemma that the writers are gonna have is: do you make it the last gasp of an outgoing administration — or the first policy shot of a new administration?” he said.

For all of the Bush administration’s myriad flaws it has made some substantial policy progress recently. Some of the recent shifts, like negotiating more directly with Iran, will likely stay as American policy, especially if Obama wins. However, there are other areas where neither candidate may be willing to invest the political capital to keep going.The advances in Counter-Insurgency doctrine is one of the major areas, but Secretary of Defence Robert Gates’ fight with the Air Force is another that stands out. Obama’s camp could well be hamstrung by the inherent distrust of Democrats on national security policy that some in the military have, while McCain’s advisers certainly don’t seem to be the type to wage major battles to change things at the Pentagon.

A lot of the things that are going on here, like Gates’ battles and the Kilcullen report, are the administration learning from its mistakes. There is always a big risk of losing learned knowledge when adminstrations change, especially when there is a change of parties. Bush wasted a lot of time and effort trying to change every policy Clinton ever held, which had disasterous results such as in North Korea. Now, maybe the fact that Barack Obama has already set up the beginnings of a transition team will help aleviate this problem if he is elected. But he has to win first. Meanwhile, the McCain camp seems to be in disarray, and in any event he is staffed by the type of ideologues who think that Bush has been making major mistakes recently, so there are no guarantees even if there isn’t a change in parties.

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More of Obama in the Middle

Yesterday, in his foreign policy speech, Barack Obama said

And just as we renew longstanding efforts, so must we shape new ones to meet new challenges. That’s why I’ll create a Shared Security Partnership Program – a new alliance of nations to strengthen cooperative efforts to take down global terrorist networks, while standing up against torture and brutality. That’s why we’ll work with the African Union to enhance its ability to keep the peace. That’s why we’ll build a new partnership to roll back the trafficking of drugs, and guns, and gangs in the Americas. That’s what we can do if we are ready to engage the world.

We will have to provide meaningful resources to meet critical priorities. I know development assistance is not the most popular program, but as President, I will make the case to the American people that it can be our best investment in increasing the common security of the entire world. That was true with the Marshall Plan, and that must be true today. That’s why I’ll double our foreign assistance to $50 billion by 2012, and use it to support a stable future in failing states, and sustainable growth in Africa; to halve global poverty and to roll back disease. To send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, “You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.”

Also yesterday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates renewed his call Tuesday for more spending on U.S. diplomacy and international aid, saying the U.S. government risks “creeping militarization” of its foreign policy by focusing its resources on the Pentagon.

With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in attendance, Gates said in a speech that the government’s civilian institutions, especially those with the tasks of diplomacy and development, had been undermanned and underfunded since the end of the Cold War.

. . .

“The solution is not to be found in some slick PR campaign or by trying to out-propagandize Al Qaeda, but through the steady accumulation of actions and results that build trust and credibility over time,” Gates said.

Again, Obama is squarely in the middle, yet where he was months ago, at the same time.

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Should Gates Stay On?

Joe Klein fleshes out an idea I’ve sort of been mulling over since Andrew Sullivan floated it a few weeks ago, that Robert Gates should stay on as Secretary of Defence in an Obama administration. The core of the argument is really pretty simple; Gates has done a pretty fantastic job as Secretary of Defense thus far:

He has demanded accountability. He fired the Secretary of the Army after the Walter Reed hospital scandal and the Secretary of the Air Force for lax stewardship of the nuclear arsenal. Early on, Gates encouraged the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq; he has been one of the few Bush officials open to negotiations with Iran. He has called for a larger budget for diplomacy — “which makes him far more popular than SecDefs usually are around here,” a State Department official told me. He has clearly sided with the Army reformers against the Old Guard, and even called David Petraeus back to Washington to preside over a promotion board when it became clear that Petraeus-style officers — the bold and creative proponents of counterinsurgency strategy — were being blocked.

Beyond that, “he’s been willing to face down the plutocrats of the defense industry – the thugs in $3,000 suits who’ve robbed our military for decades, stealing your tax dollars.”

Reactions have been mixed. Noam Schiber loves it:

No question that there would be some irate liberals if Obama went this route. But it would send a powerful message at the outset of his administration. In particular, it would buy him some real political cover for withdrawing from Iraq, however he decided to execute that.

While Matt Yglesias hates it:

The problem with retaining Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense is the same as the problem with the idea of appointing Chuck Hagel or when Bill Clinton about William Cohen — these guys are Republicans. It’s desperately important for the Democratic Party’s leaders to avoid re-enforcing the idea that Democrats can’t run national security. If you find a moderate Republican with sound views on key environmental issues and make him or her head of the EPA, that says “climate change is an important issue and there’s bipartisan support for taking action.” If you put a Republican in charge of the Pentagon it says “Obama likes diplomacy, but even he knows that when the going gets tough you need to call in the GOP.”

I’ve long been very sympathetic to Yglesias’ point. Democrats have long been considered, and considered themselves, weak on national security. When Bill Clinton appointed Cohen it was basically saying, “here, there’s a Republican in charge now, I don’t want to think about defense policy.” Clinton had meandered through his first term with no well defined ideas on foreign or defense policy, lacking any sort of coherent response to the end of the Cold War, the genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda or to the rising importance of non-state actors. He got a little better, though not much, in his second term, when he committed to the Kosovo intervention began to take a real, sustained interest in foreign policy. But initially, appointing a Republican was essentially a cop-out that allowed him to not pay attention to defense policy because a Republican was in charge.

Obama would be different. The nature of Yglesias’ objection to Gates staying on is that it would say that Democrats can’t run defense policy. But the precondition for Gates staying would obviously be him agreeing to administer a massive change of policy on Iraq. Obama would very clearly be running the show, especially on the one defense policy issue the general public, which is the only group that the perception problem even exists with, is paying attention to. Furthermore, as Scheiber gets at, it would allow Obama to sieze the center of the foreign and defense policy universe, despite the fact that Obama is advocating a pretty big break with past foreign policy practice.

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