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December 02, 2008

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The shift, which would come partly out of the military's huge budget, would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states.

How is it that they could prevent conflict or rebuild states? Say you had a couple brigades of these folks ready to go and you dropped them into Darfur or Zimbabwe or Pakistan – exactly how is it that they would prevent conflict or rebuild failed states? Are they going to somehow reduce tensions between India and Pakistan, or turn Zimbabwe around, or prevent genocide in Darfur?

I’m curious as to how these new armies of aid workers will be protected, given that they seem to be a favorite target for murder or kidnapping. Do you think there will be a lot of volunteers to do it for a minimal stipend like in the good old Peace Corps days? Or will we have to pay them lots of money to accept the potential danger? Will we then bemoan the fate of these unfortunates, who, due to lack of education or the bad economy are forced to take these jobs and go off to dangerous lands? Failed states would seem to be inherently dangerous places after all. What will we do when the first two or three are beheaded on TV? Will we pull them all out and give up or send in lots of soldiers to try to protect them?

This isn’t snark. IMO this is kumbaya pink-unicorn stuff. No one has offered any serious ideas concerning what this new civilian corps would/could do or how they could have any positive impact in the actual trouble spots of the world. It’s pie in the sky stuff that will never get off paper or survive beyond the campaign trail.

Great post.

The self perpetuating behemoth that is our military establishment is not only a vast maldistribution of resources, but a direct threat to our democracy. Keep up the good work.

I'm encouraged by making Ambassador to the UN a cabinet-level post, and by naming Susan Rice to the job. Rice has sought a multi-national, logical response to Darfur, Somalia and other hot-spots.

Her appointment got buried under that of another woman to some cabinet post or another, but might be as important.

==================

Steve -- it doesn't have to be an either / or situation. The aid workers could work side-by-side with peace-keepers. Moreover, there's already a working model in Doctors Without Borders and other simular NGOs.

How is it that they could prevent conflict or rebuild states?

Come now, OCSteve, didn't you see the qualifying language in that passage, to wit:

The shift, which would come partly out of the military's huge budget, would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states.

I can see how an expanded corps of diplomants might prevent conflict, not sure how they would actually rebuild failed states (as opposed to engaging in projects aiming to do so -- hard to make up for bad aim).

Good summary of the issues Eric.

At this point forecasting how this is going to shake out seems IMHO to be a near hopeless enterprise. Obama and the team he is assembling appear to be a good deal more pragmatic than the ideologues who formed the core of the Bush 43 administration, which means that they are more likely to react to events as they unfold rather than following a fixed template. In the case of Afghanistan for example I think we are likely to see some experimentation with different approaches (perhaps on a regional basis) seeking to find what works and then expanding that model, whatever it is that proves out.

On a semi-related note, Marc Ambinder riffed off of the recently released World at Risk WMD report to speculate that the Obama admin. may adopt policies shaped by an overlapping sets of concerns with the writings of Philip Bobbitt.

I don’t know if this is speculation is on the mark (pardon the pun) or not, but while disagreeing rather strongly with much that he (Bobbitt) wrote in both Shield of Achilles and Terror and Consent (especially the forward looking conclusions he draws from his historical analysis), I do recommend both of those books insofar as they provide for an integrated intellectual framework for thinking about the intersection of legal, military and political issues which look to be near the center of gravity of Obama’s security policy, judging from the team he has assembled thus far.

Also, I think the direction that the Obama administration takes will go some distance towards confirming or discrediting Bobbitt’s hypothesis that the most economically developed states are in transition from being traditional nation states to becoming what he calls the “Market State”. IMHO it remains to be seen whether the latter was a Reaganite/Thatcherite pipedream – essentially misreading the historical significance of a temporary political shift symptomatic of very unusual conditions during the era of Greenspan and globalization, or something of a more lasting change which will weather the current storm.

Jeff – I understand that this type of thing is done on a smaller scale. Doctors Without Borders has 19 offices around the world and most of the folks involved are locals. Only 10% are international staff, and only 200 of those from the US. What we seem to be talking about here is deploying tens of thousands of American civilians. (Actually I think Obama said the civilian corps would rival the armed forces in size?)


Ugh: OK, so it’s a goal and not a given. Still…


Here are 20 places that could really really use some boots on the ground in terms of aid workers. Pick even one of them (feel free to skip Iraq and Afghanistan, pick one where we have little to do with the mess) and give me some idea:

-What would you train aid workers to do?
-How would it help to stabilize the political situation or get insurgents to put down their arms? (I understand that it could make a temporary difference in peoples’ lives.)
-How would get them there?
-How would you support them once they were there?
-How would you protect them once they were on the ground?
Etc.

The only current realistic answer to the last three questions is: US Armed Forces. That seems to be self defeating in terms of the stated goals.

I don't think I disagree with you OCSteve, it all seems a bit much for aid workers to accomplish.

Also – many folks in the military do it for personal reasons and not the money. I assume that many civilians would hear the call and respond as well.

But an E-3 (been in 6 months or more, completed their training, ready to be actually put to work) makes $16,282.80 base pay. They get room and board and various other pay on top of that, but the base pay is lame. How many civilians are going to sign up for that? Less than $20k/year to go help out in some hell hole? I just don’t see it happening.

The only current realistic answer to the last three questions is: US Armed Forces. That seems to be self defeating in terms of the stated goals.

Not necessarily. A limited military presence to protect aid workers is perfectly consistent with the stated goals. See, ie, Exum's Haitian example and my treatment thereof.

-What would you train aid workers to do?

Depends on the situation. If there were another tsunami or Pakistani earthquake (frex), we would hopefully have a contingent of skilled aid workers on hand with technical/regional/language skills to administer aid.

Last time, we relied almost solely on the military. Which did an admirable job, but a job that doesn't need to fall in their purview entirely.

Other than the transport/force protection.

How would it help to stabilize the political situation or get insurgents to put down their arms? (I understand that it could make a temporary difference in peoples’ lives.)

Depends on the situation. An enhanced diplomatic corps would, conceivably, be able to better focus on potential regional hotspots before they flare up and design strategies to address them. Those strategies would be highly contingent and based on regional exigencies.

For example, at this time, our diplomats are working pretty intensely to defuse tensions between Pakistan and India. In 2002, Armitage did this quite skillfully.

Such efforts can also work to disarm and de-militarize war-torn areas through gun buy-back, education and job training programs. When the situation is right.

But no, they're not going to solve a raging insurgency.

But neither is our military. At acceptable costs. And neither is it our military's job.

But neither is our military. At acceptable costs. And neither is it our military's job.

Just to add on: and neither should it be our policy to actually start insurgencies.

Aid missions that can be accomplished at an acceptable level of cost considering competing demands on our budget should be undertaken. Missions that would be open-ended, overly costly, military-centric and/or with limited efficacy should not be undertaken.

That is just dealing, realistically, with the limits of American power.

OC,
I imagine the model that you have would be a massive force with curfews and the like to put out the fire of violence, followed by attempts to recreate a social hierarchy that would be respected. The trick is to avoid having the intervention be viewed as modern day imperialism, either as a projection of our forces or as a ploy to maintain the status quo. This highlights why it's important to deal with these situations before they reach the combustion point, which is why diverting the cost of the F-22 or the Crusader to non military initiatives is more of what is at issue.

I think there is a large enough pool of people who are interested in doing something like that, not as a permanent job, but as a short term opportunity. However, that would require that tensions be reduced to a much lower level then they are at this point. Frex, I do work in Vietnam training teachers and go there for a short 2 week program with a quasi organization that was set up by a friend of mine, and the group does this in Bangladesh, the Phillipines, Laos, Vietnam. However, it only works because we plug in to local networks and because there is a functioning social hierarchy in those places. My friend, before he passed away, was trying to organize something along those lines to Iran.

So, the short answer is that you aren't thinking of dropping aid workers in Darfur or Somalia, you are thinking of sending them to places that might turn into Darfur or Somalia in the future. The idea that we could not have avoided being completely taken by surprise by something like the collapse of civil society in Afghanistan or Ethiopia really strain credulity. In all the places where we are seeing these insurgencies, we've had plenty of time to see them coming.

Well said lj. Thanks.

Adding: among the places listed by OC in the Top 20 were Jamaica, Thailand and South Africa.

We currently have aid workers in each of those locales (GO and NGO), so I'm not sure what the argument is against sending more to do more of what we're already doing, only with more manpower and resources (taking into account lj's points about heavy-handedness and imperial posture).

One part of what Obama has proposed involves, as lj says, preventing things from becoming crises, not dealing with them after they are already crises. And that's something that I think aid workers could do quite well. The other part is rebuilding failed states. Here, I think of things like: sending in people to try to rebuild or help the legal profession, in particular judges, in order to help restore the rule of law; building infrastructure (e.g., roads), which in some places can make a surprisingly big difference in terms of governability, etc. -- The military already trains foreign armies, hoping to instill some sense of professionalism and civilian control. I think part of the idea would be to do this for non-military institutions as well, and for the same reasons.

Btw: I've been off having my gall bladder removed. (No warning; it just went bad.) But I'm back now, and feeling better, in a post-surgical way. No complications or anything bad. (Yay!)

Btw: I've been off having my gall bladder removed. (No warning; it just went bad.)

Eek!

But I'm back now, and feeling better, in a post-surgical way. No complications or anything bad.

Yay!

Very relieved to know you're good, if lacking in gall.

I've been off having my gall bladder removed.

A no-bile pursuit!

hilzoy -- yucky to have surgery, lucky to recover uncomplicatedly. Welcome back.

Oh, sorry: I wish you a speedy recovery, hilzoy. Laparoscopy? Even those hurt for days after, but it's better than the recovery after a big incision.

There are those in academic circles, think tanks, military War Colleges, the lot, who now are proferring "the new paradigm" of foreign aid, which is to say, "humanitarian intervention" as a closely-linked effort by (Western) governments of combined corps of soldiers and social scientists directed at "failed states" to remove the causes of terrorism, and to replace with "legitimate and stable security institutions", "good governance", and the whole panoply of meddling and interference that has characterised the developed world's attitude toward post-colonial countries round the globe. And in fact The US Army has published several treatises invoking "the new paradigm" of military intervention: the use of small, mobile, wholly wired, technically advanced, "culturally sensitive" forces as military adjuncts to "failed-state makeovers", where local military commanders will act as pro tem governors until "democratic institutions" are put in place by the civilian component to an occupation.
William Easterly did a masterful job of summarising this "new thinking" in a recent issue of NYRB, where he took issue with the major premises one of the strategists and researchers in the field, and Easterly's review is worth reading:
Foreign Aid Goes Military!
By William Easterly
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
by Paul Collier
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22126

With the US rapidly going broke, and a $800bn Pentagon budget comprising traditional military appropriations to support global warmaking, The New Paradigm fits nicely with an incipient and severe downsizing of the DOD's fixation on massively expensive weapons of war into something more adaptable to "small wars" within the context of "the long war". Now, Barack Obama may in fact impose a new definition of "the long war", binning the GWOT rubric, and introducing a more palatable and sanitised version of the military option, and it remains to be seen whether the Petraeus COIN approach will find its way into an "Obama Doctrine" as well. As the noted journalist and writer on security matters, Thomas Powers, remarked recently, "...in the long run counterinsurgency comes down to the same self-defeating strategy--killing locals until they stop trying to make us go away".

No complications or anything bad. (Yay!)

I'll second that - the (Yay!) part - all the best for a speedy recovery!

PS: Must have been sudden - you didn't have time to liveblog it?

OT: Chambliss wins GA.

Would have been a great time to try out twitter from the OR, especially if they did it under a local...

lib: general, alas. Plus, owing to a long story, I ended up without my iPhone, even after I remembered to bring it. Thus, no internet, and worse, no phone numbers for anyone.

The hospital room did have C-SPAN, though. ;)

Gall bladders are pesky things--my doctor explained that even at their best, they are no more than 80% efficient, they usually hover much lower, but below 20% they are effectively useless.

The only problem is that the back up, which is the liver, can go from 0-200%+ efficient. 'Ware the greasy foods, and good luck with your recovery.

Non-violence does work. And yes, you can get people to go into harm's way without guns. Peace brigades, Quaker Peace Teams, Christian Peacemaker Teams, all go into some very dangerous places and have members who serve there with enormous courage.

This is truth is applied to Iraq

"By and large, a country like the United States only needs to commit to an ongoing posture of counterinsurgency if it is also committed to serial military domination of foreign populations. In fact, the United States is currently so committed, on a bipartisan basis."


...and slander if applied to Afghanistan.

What geopolitical convenience or agenda is served by being there.

The foreign presence in Afghanistan is what is reactive, much more so than the insurgency. It's reactive to the country's history as a terrorist sanctuary and various local factions lack of interest or ability to stop their territory from being a sanctuary again.

If international forces have no business in Afghanistan now, then we have to reconsider whether they ever had business being there.

If they did have sufficient cause for being there after 9-11, what has changed that makes their presence obsolete?

"Insurgency can’t pose an existential threat to the country. Is there a single instance of insurgency warfare conquering foreign territory? Even if you consider South Vietnam and North Vietnam to have really been separate countries, it was, as certain hawks never tire of pointing out, Hanoi’s regular Army that conquered the South. The FLN could kick France out of Algeria, but it could never rule France. Hezbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon in the 1990s using guerrilla warfare. It couldn’t use the same tactics to drive Israel out of Galilee. Insurgencies can prevent foreign or local governments from consolidating control over the insurgents’ “own” territory. Guerrilla movements that get big enough have been able to take power in their own countries.

But they can’t conquer. Insurgency is fundamentally reactive and, if not always merely “defensive” . . . parochial. "


This was true of the VC and FLN, who were quite distinctly, guerrillas, following a different M.O. from say the wholly non-insurgent, terrorist Japanese Red Army. Back in the groups tended to concentrate more on territorial insurgency or international terrorism.

The waters have gotten more muddy since then. Insurgents no longer self-police their borders when they win, through negligence or malice alot more of them launch international terrorist attacks (and/or rampant crime) or allow them to be launched. Relevant examples coming to mind include Taliban Afghanistan, Chechnya between 1996-1999, and post-victory Hezbollah.

Also, who made himself boss and decided that countries only get to fight "existential" wars. Countries will often fight wars when foreign forces may not threaten wholesale destruction of the state but simply constant retail killings of their citizens. Retail genocide is what Americans under the fatwa, Israelis, Russians, Kashmiri pandits and many others face and a big part of what makes their citizens want to try some military actions that sometimes may have the effect of trading their own militaries' lives for civilian lives.


"When some of its leading practitioners and scholars liken COIN to "eating soup with a knife" the proper take away is to order something else from the menu."

Agreed, never go out to gratuitously choose missions like these. But, in 2001, Afghanistan jumped off the menu and ordered us. In 1999, Chechnya jumped off the menu and ordered Russia, in 2006 Hizballah jumped off the menu and ordered Israel.


Is there solid evidence that this is the problem in Afghanistan:

"Trying to impose a centralized, Western-oriented system of governance on a country with little meaningful history of centralized rule and a dislike of foreign interference"

--I mean are we really trying to overly westernize or centralize the place? I'm not sure. People may just be fighting us because we're getting in their way in the local power game.

"Rather, a negotiated settlement that engages the various regional powers whose interests and concerns must be addressed is the far more prudent course. Although not an easy or guaranteed fix itself, it has the advantage of not requiring enormous military commitments for the next decade or so. "

Is there empirical evidence that a lack of respect for Afghanistan's neighbors' security needs is a significant source of the coalition's problems?

Is there any cause to believe that negotiated agreements have any longevity?

I think its sort of desperate straw-grasping to say "there's no military solution, only a political one". Generally in countries we say that about, the whole original problem is that politics is *all militarized* with nobody following any freaking rules except the barrell of the gun. I think when we're tempted to say there's "only a political solution" we should man up to the truth and just say there is no solution, period.

What works to get the Pashtuns to do things we want, like an eensy, weensy, minor request like "don't host Al-Qaeda"?

It's been said that the only thing you can bribe a Pashtun to do is exactly what he was going to do anyway.

"You can't buy a Pashtun, you can only rent one" - but its not even very clear what the lease terms are and when they come up for renewal.

Do we have confidence that moral suasion about not hosting Arab terrorists would succeed?

I think the problem in that region and many others is the lack of a chain of command, the lack of reliability, the lack a monopoly of force. That lack of cohesion does indeed mean they will never be organized enough to ride tanks through the champs elysees, and that they will never surrender on the battelship missouri. But it also means that they'll been unable to enforce any diplomatic agreement either. Conquest, surrender, and peace maintenance skills all go hand in hand - the peoples of what A Doak Barnett calls "the gap" largely lack those three skillsets.

To elaborate on this BTW:
"Also, who made himself boss and decided that countries only get to fight "existential" wars. Countries will often fight wars when foreign forces may not threaten wholesale destruction of the state but simply constant retail killings of their citizens."....and many consider wars fought for less urgent causes, like resisting the enslavement of other continents, to have been justified.

Anglo-Americans have not really fought an "existential" war since maybe King Philipp's War in the 1600s. The existence of a coherent Anglo-American population has never really been at stake since then. All the other wars America fought on its own continent have been about which members of the elite rule and how they do it, or they've been about expanding the borders. In this century the wars haven't been so much about security from retail slaughter and/or balance of power, but never "existential".

I am increasingly pessimistic about Afghanistan. That is, the more I learn, the more I worry. It may be wise to start opposing to war outright.

*the war

While it would be nice if our nation never again had cause to fight an insurgency, history shows that that is by far the most likely kind of conflict going forward. So consider that a military that embraces COIN as a core proficiency is a military that fundamentally de-emphasizes VIOLENCE. COIN theory sees "kinetic ops" as highly detrimental to the successful conduct of COIN. The elimination of huge useless programs of a conventional kinetic nature like the F22, and the reinvestment of (some) of this money in units that can conduct "armed civil affairs" is the proof of the pudding here.

The theorists are not talking about dropping peace-corps kids into a war zone here, but committing some large portion of our military to civi affairs as a core mission. And these are soldiers.

As for the safety of these Americans, the confict in Iraq amply showed that force protection was best achieved by dismounted mingling with the local population, and the establishment of real personal interactions and relationships. Zooming through town in a mounted patrol from the FOB on the hill makes no friends and presents you as a fat target.

A broad commitment to Civil Affairs is taking this to the next level.

fwiw "What's Wrong With Weapons Acquisitions?" & "The Pentagon's Shopping List"

"How many civilians are going to sign up for that? Less than $20k/year to go help out in some hell hole? I just don’t see it happening."

The answer is clearly at least 15,000 at a time, and the U.S. population was a lot smaller nearly fifty years ago. They were also limited to a maximum of five year's service. Altogether, over the years, close to 150,000 people have done what you don't see happening.

"Anglo-Americans have not really fought an "existential" war since maybe King Philipp's War in the 1600s. The existence of a coherent Anglo-American population has never really been at stake since then."

This is a rather limited view of "existential." Germany wasn't out to commit genocide upon the majority of citizens of Britain, but I, for one, think it's fair to call the British fulfilling treaty obligations to Poland, France, and other countries, in defense against the invasions of Germany (post France and Britain declaring war on Germany, per treaty obligation, to be sure) in Europe, and the subsequent continued war against Britain, "existential," and think it's similarly fair to say the same of Britain.

Certainly there are those who argue otherwise, and think that Britain could have lived with a Nazi Europe, but I don't find their arguments anything close to indisputable.

"All the other wars America fought on its own continent have been about which members of the elite rule and how they do it, or they've been about expanding the borders."

Slipping "on its own continent" in there seems to beg the question, as well as being a rather glib description of the Civil War. Which also seems not unfairly describable as "existential" for the United States Of America, no matter that the Confederacy wasn't going to conquer what was left of USA.

"While it would be nice if our nation never again had cause to fight an insurgency, history shows that that is by far the most likely kind of conflict going forward."

On the other hand, this, while a wonderfully passive construction -- as if people didn't decide to engage in conflicts if they're not responses to invasions -- completely ignores Jim Henley's argument. There may be good arguments with Jim's position, but completely failing to make one won't do the job.

I mean are we really trying to overly westernize or centralize the place?

Yes.

Centralized: We are trying to establish a centralized authority in Kabul whose reach and control is largely alien to Afghan society (absent a brief and fleeting period of monarchy imposed through severe brutality).

Westernized: We are trying to establish liberal tenets that are alien to some of Afghanistan's tribal traditions.

Is there empirical evidence that a lack of respect for Afghanistan's neighbors' security needs is a significant source of the coalition's problems?

Yes. See, ie, Pakistan's interference in Afghanistan, and with its combatants. See also, Iran and India's involvement in Afghanistan.

Is there any cause to believe that negotiated agreements have any longevity?

Even if not, they have the advantage of not requiring tens of billions and the presence of troops that tend to further destabilize the region (see, ie, Pakistan).

Generally in countries we say that about, the whole original problem is that politics is *all militarized* with nobody following any freaking rules except the barrell of the gun.

Yes, and we don't have enough barrels of guns to dominate (nor the support of the locals).

I think when we're tempted to say there's "only a political solution" we should man up to the truth and just say there is no solution, period

That is a possibility, but if so, I'll take the cheaper lack of solution.

The foreign presence in Afghanistan is what is reactive, much more so than the insurgency. It's reactive to the country's history as a terrorist sanctuary and various local factions lack of interest or ability to stop their territory from being a sanctuary again.

But is that still the mission? Can it be accomplished? At what costs?

I think we should explore strengthening those groups that are more open to keeping Afghanistan a non-sanctuary, and to some extent, that might require our military being scaled back, not increasing its presence.

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