Academi (formerly Blackwater) and other military contractors received an early Christmas present on the 20th: a windfall in future profits from diplomatic security:
[B]oth the influential independent commission on the September attacks in Benghazi and a Senate hearing on Thursday pointed to flooding the State Department’s security corps with money. And one of the key post-Benghazi decisions the next secretary of state will make is whether to continue spending that cash on hired guards or to bolster the ranks of State Department employees that protect diplomats themselves. The Benghazi commission, run by former Amb. Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, recommended spending an additional $2.2 billion over the next decade on “construction of new facilities in high risk, high threat areas.” It also urged using emergency war funding to finance “respond[ing] to emerging security threats and vulnerabilities and operational requirements” in dangerous postings. Ironically, even while the commission blasted the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for inadequately protecting the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, its recommendations will line the bureau’s coffers.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my Twitter and Facebook streams. Articles were posted and resposted warning that diplomacy is inherently dangerous, a fortress mentality would only prevent diplomats from doing their jobs, and that the new contracts would lead to a return to the low points of Iraq War military contracting. Certainly, returning to the era of "Big Boy Rules" (if that is what this means, which is by no means self-evident) would be a net loss for American national power. But just like my blogmate Dan's UAV-loathing nemeses, the cottage industry of contractor-haters tends to ignore the real problem at hand while focusing their ire on a handy external object. However, frantically attacking a goateed, black polo'd voodoo doll will not make policymakers stop using private military contractors--the fault lies in larger questions of statecraft.
Diplomacy is indeed inherently a dangerous business. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and other environments of transitional authority, State Department employees have risked their lives alongside general-purpose forces, special operations forces, and CIA agents and tactical operators. But there is a crucial difference between a diplomat and a soldier, a difference that has been unintentionally obfuscated by ten years of "civilian surge"-ing. As Steven Metz noted, only DoD has the redundancy and capacity to deploy, equip, feed, and protect large numbers of Kevlar-clad men in places where many residents with guns aren't Americans trying to get out. Diplomatic risk is unavoidable, but without something akin to the British imperial civil service there is a limit to the level of risk an under-resourced organization like State can bear.
It is easy to criticize the State Department's tendency towards bunkering in Iraq only if one forgets that the United Nations, which lacked proper security, was attacked with significant loss of life. Sérgio Vieira de Mello is evidence of the unfortunate fact that credible influence has costs. Many non-governmental organizations are now agonizing over whether or not to use private military contractors themselves. Much of the world is in the middle of political transitions, many states have not established full control, and local political factions don't always see foreigners with good intentions as a boon. In fact, stability and the rule of law can actually upset the informal arrangements that undergird many political systems. In Haiti, cracking down on gangs robbed established politicians of their enforcer cadres.
But this does not answer the question of why diplomacy is a dangerous business for Americans. Whether or not you damn or praise America with the ideologically charged term "empire," the growth of a network of contractual relationships is the most tangible legacy of our centuries-long climb to global preeminence. Great powers contract out security, logistics, and economic commitments to trusted agents. But those agents must struggle to legitimate said commitments to domestic audiences. Libya's largely pro-American populace did not produce or sanction the Benghazi attack. But there were still men with guns who did, and the government will not act against them.
The principal-agent problem arises when trusted agents in places like Libya are unwilling or unable to fulfill their contracts. Diverting resources to benefit a distant power, stepping on local interests, and risking being damned as the pawn of foreigners is costly. Withdrawing from contracts is not. The patron needs the client, and failures to complete the contract are often unpunished. This is why Pakistan can funnel money, arms, and even operational direction to those who kill Americans and Afghans with impunity. To make matters worse, the nature of strategic geography often dictates that clients are sought in some of the world's most unstable locales. Every administration since Carter has the same Persian Gulf security policy, and that policy involves cozying up to repressive states. The logistics tail of the Afghan war proved beneficial for many a Central Asian autocrat.
Unfortunately, contractual relationships have a nasty way of enmeshing the US in local political disputes, because our support makes us an actor in other states' domestic politics. Americans--diplomats, soldiers, or otherwise--are thus targets to any faction with a grievance or a desire to position themselves in the political arena. Counting on the locals to respect a little thing called the Vienna Convention is a fool's errand, and the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis should have signaled loud and clear that norms of diplomatic conduct are just scraps of paper to armed "students," terrorists, and militiamen.
Increased security, private or governmental, is a ready solution when trusted agents cannot or will not protect Americans from those who seek to do them harm. The Libyan government cannot properly protect the American consulate, does not exert effort to capture those responsible, and does not even provide security for American law enforcement to investigate the attack. So if the host nation cannot do the job, why blame the State Department for turning to those who can? Blackwater, for all of its lethal flaws, never lost a principal.
Note too, as Dan and Jason Fritz have, that Benghazi is also a symbol of how light-footprint interventions magnify the consequences of the principal-agent problem. The US was willing to overthrow Gaddafi but preferred exerting influence rather than control over the turbulent post-conflict environment. The fact that the Benghazi consulate's security was contracted to an unreliable militia is a potent symbol of how trying to avoid the costs inherent in the exercise of power can sometimes lead to disaster. This is not to argue that a large American occupation force was the answer. But as Fritz observes, the reluctance to pay the cost afterwards to advance American political goals should have been a deciding factor in the intervention itself.
The real problem with PMC diplo-security is that it only accentuates the fundamental problem--unreliable client governments offloading costs onto the United States. By waging air war on Pakistan's proxies instead of holding Islamabad to account for its misdeeds, we become the focus of the Pakistani public's rage. Meanwhile, Islamabad keeps on providing the material support that keeps terrorists and insurgents in the field after our platforms return to base. Similarly, responding to Benghazis by bulking up on security entails assuming responsibility for what the Libyan government should be doing.
For better or worse, superpower status means that we will have to deal with the tough reality of trying to maintain a set of hierarchal relationships for the foreseeable future. We will struggle to manage complex security, logistical, and economic relationships in unstable places with often unreliable partners. And we will create new relationships through interventions that entail lengthy post-conflict assistance. Raging at the Blackwaters of the world is unproductive, and the consequences of Benghazi should highlight precisely why. PMCs are market-oriented institutions and no demand that is worth paying large sums to satisfy will go unmet.
Benghazi's partisan nastiness will fade as we enter 2013. But its consequences for American diplomacy are enormous. Fortress security may prevent future Benghazis, but at a high cost that we bear alone. We would do better by trying, through a mixture of various forms of national power, to incentivize the governments we rely on to actually fulfill their most basic of responsibilities: protecting the men and women we send into harm's way to advance our interests.
Kelsey Atherton, who blogs at Plastic Manzikert, writes in to examine the tradeoff between the military and diplomatic sources of national power from a historical perspective. Kelsey's opinions are his own.
The essence of a good political intrigue is secrecy
and division of power among people ostensibly working towards the same goal.
This is what made Tyrion's scenes in the second series of Game of Thrones so
engaging, as he adroitly maneuvered around the shortsighted plots of others in
an attempt to save his city. As fiction, it is hard to do better. When it comes
to operating a foreign policy from abroad, however, such divisions both in
purpose and shared intelligence lead instead to counterproductive power
Before WWII, there was little institutional conflict in how the US executed foreign policy, as the State Department was the only executive branch agency with a significant presence outside our borders, except for U.S. military units that were in Latin America from the 1880s until World War II, and in the Philippines from 1898. After the war, and during the Cold War, the presence of other agencies abroad expanded significantly, with more than 30 agencies currently having some representation overseas. As can perhaps be expected, a plethora of agencies pursuing different agendas without clear coordination can be chaotic and counterproductive. To minimize these conflicts, the modern system was based on a clear line of command. Or, a pair of clear lines: in a country at peace, the Chief of Mission (always the Ambassador) would have the authority and ability to coordinate all US executive branch agencies operating in their country. In warzones, the Combatant Commander would fulfill this role. This is a division that works, provided warzones like to be clear-cut, and conflicts never spill over in strange ways or through irregular war. Which is funny, given the origin story of the present order.
At the beginning of the current system is America’s involvement by proxy in the Greek Civil War. Following an awkward post-war realization that maybe arming every faction fighting against the Nazi occupation was not the wisest run in the long term, the Allied powers (initially the United Kingdom) decided to disarm as many partisans as they could in the immediate outbreak of peace, while shoring up support for the royalist government. Not all partisans were agreeable to being disarmed or towards the ancien regime, and Greece developed a communist insurgency. In 1947, the UK decided they could no longer afford their investment in the Greek government, and in their stead Truman decided to shoulder the task of providing military assistance in their stead. He did this through the American Mission for Aid to Greece "outside and independent of the embassy at Athens and of Ambassador Lincoln MacVeagh.” Inevitably, the Greeks observed that Griswold controlled the resources, so they bypassed the Ambassador and dealt directly with him. The Ambassador’s authority diminished, and a conflict within the Embassy emerged.
This aid mission was quasi-military in nature, but it fell into that grey nexus between clean-cut military operations and usual peacetime intelligence operations, and in the ensuing confusion both the ambassador and the chief of the aid mission were recalled for ineffectiveness. Following this frustration, Truman began the long process of clarifying how embassies coordinate foreign policy, first in the Clay Paper memorandum from 1951, later under Eisenhower through executive orders, by Kennedy in his “Leadership and Supervisory Responsibility of the Ambassador” memorandum, and finally by Congress in the Foreign Service Act of 1980. While there have been occasional challenges to the unity of command under a Chief of Mission, it is important to remember the reason for their existence: “to ensure that the political objectives took precedence over those of the military.”
During the Greek Civil War, the problem was not that we had an Aid Mission, or that it was supporting a military objective; the problem was that the Greek government sidestepped the ambassador to go straight to the chief of the aid mission, and in doing so undermined American policy. When our strongest relationship with a foreign government is through the coordinator specifically supplying them with arms, it is in that government’s interest to make sure the money & gun spigot never runs dry. Our relationship with Greece risked being one where we sponsoring a praetorian state against their own insurgents indefinitely in the name of a broad ideological war. Subordinating the aid mission to the overall mission of the Ambassador to Greece allowed us to control the dynamic of the relationship, and let the aid mission be a temporary project in service of our greater mission, which was a reliable & stable non-communist Greek ally.
If the parallels in that last paragraph were
heavy-handed, it is because I keep seeing 1947 Greece in 2012 Pakistan. As the Washington Post reported on
June 20th, the US Ambassador to
Pakistan has been recalled after losing a debate over “whether the ambassador,
as chief of mission, had the authority to veto CIA operations he thought would
harm long-term relations.” Regardless of agreement with his views on signature
strikes, it is of primary importance that the ambassador be allowed to act in
the interest of long-term relations. The administration, of course, is free to
recall ambassadors executing policy differently than intended, but given that
there are stories highlighting the rift between Munter and the CIA station chief from throughout their cohabitation in
Pakistan, it’s clear that this was a problem not of disagreement with the
administration but of confusion on the ground.
The Chief of Mission’s supremacy in coordinating policy is not designed as a hindrance on other agencies, but is instead about making sure that our intelligence and military actions are productive in the long run for American interests in the country. As Adam Elkus frequently points out, this is simple Clausewitz: our military objectives are not separate from but are instead in service of our political aims. The Chief of Mission’s focus on the long-term political is what enables them to eliminate the kind of confusion that Truman encountered in 1947, that our Chief of Mission struggled with in South Vietnam, that Munter faced in Pakistan, and that Game of Thrones so expertly depicts. This is a confusion we should confine to history and fiction.
I've been mulling over for days what it is about the recent talk of "strategic dialogue" and the "new relationship" between the US and Pakistan that just doesn't sit right with me. It's not the nagging question as to what has actually changed in the past month or so. It's not even the elephant of American popular image in the nicely decorated Pakistani drawing room.
Today, while reading this article in the Foreign Affairs journal, I finally figured out what it is. The writer, Haider Mullick, a fellow at the US Joint Special Operations University and a bunch of other impressive stuff, isn't actually commenting on the recent talks. He's talking about Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts in Waziristan.
Mullick makes some really interesting points. The Pakistani army isn't trampling around Waziristan creating more enemies than it kills or captures, he says, instead, it's learning from its own experiences as well as those of others to implement a comprehensive strategy that's securing the population.
"The fate of the internally displaced was the Achilles' heel of our mission," said one senior military officer involved in relief efforts. "Without protecting them, we would have no local partners, good intelligence, or popular support to carry on."
Sounds like a great starting point. After which, Mullick goes on to outline how the Pakistani army reassured the population, worked with international partners to establish well-run camps, re-tooled the soldiers in the field to try and limit the negative impact on locals. He even goes on to outline a future plan which involves the Pakistanis working with the Afghanis, Indians and Americans to "flip" someone like Hekmateyar in order to kick start the process of re-integrating the Taliban. Yep, you read it right and it's not a typo.. "Indians".
Anyway, right at the end, we have...
"But even these well-designed initiatives will fail in the absence of a comprehensive plan that targets growing problems in Pakistan's government, judiciary, and military. The government is unable to efficiently use the foreign aid that it receives, and widespread corruption plagues development efforts."
This is my gripe. While the big men (and women) of international politics smile for the cameras, corruption, bureaucracy, mismanagement etc make no more than a fleeting mention in the post script. But, really, these issues are the key to all else. Read the autobiographies of several Pakistani former presidents and prime ministers and you quickly realise that military dictator or civilian populist, they all struggled to get the simple functions of state done.
Allow the AM blog to assist if it's not quite clear. We could run a little programme for journalists and policy makers. If you need to get a feel for what is involved in making words into deeds in Pakistan, come to Islamabad and apply for a driving license. Compare the stated cost and time scale with how long it actually takes and how much you have to pay. Make a note of the difference. It accounts for much of the "credibility deficit".
If a government doesn't have a handle on the levers of power, grand international handshakes are meaningless. What Pakistan actually needs help in is delivery.
As everyone has been getting all excited about the "new relationship" the Pakistanis and Americans have been forging in Washington, I've been trying to figure out a way to express my pessimistic grumblings without coming over like a grouchy old git who enjoys letting the air out of the footballs local kids kick into his garden.
Finally, I've figured out a way. I'm gonna let a former Reuters colleague look like the man who stole Christmas.
Michael Georgy has a great story from Swat spelling out the reality in Pakistan in the places that are no longer in the headlines.
"The drive to win over the population by providing better economic opportunities and basic services is moving at a slow pace, as evidenced by grim living conditions, joblessness and lack of industries."
The point highlighted by the story is that, yes, you can talk about developing infrastructure, social services and the rest of it. But it all means very little without the ability to make it a reality on the ground. And, in Pakistan, the gap between commitment and realisation is the sticking point.
"We expect a lot from the government," said one of the men, who looked far older than his 47 years, perhaps from the stress of fighting and the ruins it left behind. "We have no jobs now."
Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.Well, if it is appeasement, the U.S. military seems to think it's a great idea for Maliki to move in this direction.
I think that the one area where the Iraq Study Group recommendations have not been followed up is in terms of reaching out [to] the Iranians. . . . We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage and then sit down and talk with them. If there’s going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us.Oh, and so does Petraeus.