October 27, 2007

More on State and COIN

The always reliable Small Wars Journal Blog has an extended post on the issues surrounding the State Dept's role in COIN campaigns. In particular it highlights comments from Inside the Pentagon of one of Charlie's favorite retired Army colonels, Robert Killebrew:

… “We are best served by a strategy of decentralization to forward-station forces that are permanently in the country, that can be molded and adapted and reinforced as the crises builds,” he continued. “And when I say forces, I mean primarily the U.S. State Department country team headed by a capable ambassador” and other government organizations enforcing an interagency approach to the situation.

“Every counterinsurgency expert always says that in a counterinsurgency situation, the political should lead the military. And we absolutely do not do that when we send military forces into a country with the U.S. ambassador,” Killebrew said.

The emphasis on local forces waging a war is rooted in a belief that the presence of foreign troops in a country like Iraq, regardless of well-meaning motives, always prompts insurgents to claim that infidels are trying to conquer their lands, he explained.

To that end, the next administration must rebuild the State Department’s capabilities, he said. “And when you do that, you have to understand that you’re dealing with a traumatized child. State is so accustomed to being abused by Congress,” he said, adding there are not enough senior staffers to fight for more resources on Capitol Hill. “That has got to change,” Killebrew said…

Charlie has heard Killebrew beat this drum for some time; his proposals for a reinvigoration of the Military Advisory and Assistance Group (MAAGs) are one of the few that actually constitute a "strategy" for The Long War. Charlie is particularly intrigued by the idea that the US should be involved, you know, before everything goes to sh*t. Killebrew's argument isn't merely about force structure or force employment, but a fundamental re-envisioning of how to best meet the demands of US interests in the 21st Century.

At the operational level, Killebrew argues that the "inter-agency" will never be solved in Washington. Instead we should let local commanders and ambassadors work out issues on the ground as part of a action-oriented country team. (Some see the Khalilzad-Barno days in Afghanistan as one model to emulate.) As one who allegedly teaches about the inter-agency, Charlie has deep sympathy with Killebrew on this front.

All of this begs the question as to what State's role is in COIN campaigns? Charlie has heard military officers refer all too often to "civilian capacity" with the idea that the Foreign Service is chock full of experts on agriculture, water and electrical systems, tribal cultures, and more. This blogger is pretty sure that if those people existed, they'd volunteer to be on the first flights overseas (and to the extent that those skills do exist, those folks are true first responders). But the Foreign Service exists to represent US interests in foreign capitols. If we want an expeditionary State Department, we're going to have to (re)create one in much the same way we have to (re)create those capabilities in the Army and Marine Corps as well.