Righting the civilian/military balance

Someone might imagine that I would be unhappy with the President’s strategic guidance for the Defense Department, released last week.  It reiterates many of the U.S. military’s more traditional roles:  counter-terrorism and irregular warfare, deterring and defeating aggression, projecting power, countering weapons of mass destruction, maintaining nuclear deterrence.  It also re-emphasizes some relatively new areas:  outer space and cyber space as well as support to homeland defense.  Its implications in many of these areas are unclear, maybe even still undetermined.  Certainly who watch the Defense budget more than I do aren’t sure yet.

But it includes a clear and unequivocal step back from stability operations like those in Iraq and Afghanistan (and before in Bosnia and Kosovo), the design and implementation of which preoccupied me for at least 15 years. This is the President’s guidance on stability and counterinsurgency operations:

In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will emphasize non-military means and military-to-military cooperation to address instability and reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations. U.S. forces will nevertheless
be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required,operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible. Accordingly, U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.

In another section of the document, the guidance also suggests that U.S. forces will be:

...able to secure territory and populations and facilitate a
transition to stable governance on a small scale for a limited period using standing
forces and, if necessary, for an extended period with mobilized forces.

Surprise:  I find all of this eminently reasonable, provided the civilian and reserve capacities are built up in a serious way.  It is a mistake to use active duty fighting forces in roles that might be carried out at least as effectively by civilians, whether government officials or contractors.  Our non-military means are however still lacking.  Despite Hillary Clinton’s well-intended Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, we are still far from having in the State Department and USAID the capabilities required.

This matters.  It was the lack of civilian capacity to deal with post-victory stability and governance in Afghanistan that allowed the Taliban to regroup and regenerate.  It was the lack of civilian capacity to deal with post-victory stability in Iraq that turned a quick victory into an eight-year nightmare.  If ever we need to deal with a post-war or post-revolution Iran or Pakistan (whether the war involves the U.S. as a belligerent or not), or even post-Assad Syria, we will clearly lack adequate civilian capacity, and the military’s reservists won’t suffice either.

So yes, let’s get the military out of the peacebuilding/statebuilding/nationbuilding/postconflict stabilization/reconstruction business as much as possible.  Let’s use reservists when possible, as we have for years in Kosovo and Bosnia.  As civilians in uniform, they have talents and experience that active duty forces often lack.  But let’s not forget that we might still have to do these things, despite the best intention of the Administration to avoid it.  If even 10 per cent of what the military saves in following the President’s strategic guidance were to be spent on civilian capacity, it might be enough.  But there is no sign of anything like that happening yet.

So yes, I am happy with the strategic guidance, but it has to be backed up with budgetary allocations to the civilian side of our foreign policy apparatus to make it practical.  Righting the balance requires not just words but money and people.



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Libya on track, but delay may be wise

Geoffrey Curfman reports, from the Carnegie Endowment yesterday:

Ali Tarhouni, former finance and oil minister in the National Transitional Council (NTC) and briefly prime minister, gave an upbeat rendering of current and prospective circumstances in Libya at the Carnegie Endowment yesterday.  He was optimistic that widespread turmoil seen in other parts of the Arab world would not afflict Libya, but concerned about whether transition to a democratic regime could be accomplished within the established timeframe.

Though remarkably stable for a grassroots movement lacking fundamental sources of cohesion other than ousting an autocrat, Libya’s revolution still faces challenges. Armed militias are hesitant to relinquish their weapons. Most want to disarm, but are worried others will renege. Foggy prospects for integration into a national army and the benefits that would accrue therefrom only increase their reluctance.

Political prospects are also uncertain. Tarhouni hopes a coalition embracing centrist principles will form. Otherwise, the country could splinter or fall to the Muslim Brotherhood, by Tarhouni’s reckoning the only organized political entity in Libya today.  To level the playing field, the NTC has considered allocating funds to emerging civic organizations and political parties. But the question of who receives limited financial resources, a point of contention even in a thriving democracy, is especially controversial given the absence of a legitimate legislature in Libya.

Tarhouni is nevertheless optimistic. Fragmentation along tribal lines is a figment of Western imaginations.  Tribal divisions exist, but inter-tribal marriages have blurred many of the lines that may have prevailed in the past. Sectarianism is far less evident in Libya than, say, Iraq or Saudi Arabia. A Sunni by birth, Tarhouni points out that his own name, Ali, is one of the most popular in Libya and is traditionally Shi’a. Islam plays a more moderate role than elsewhere in the Arab world. Individual relations with God are emphasized above interactions between the state and religion. For these reasons, a precipitous decline into civil war, which may occur in Syria, Iraq and even in Egypt, is less likely in Libya.

Libya is a wealthy country. Unlike Egypt, which has been forced to borrow heavily from domestic banks and foreign markets, Libya’s oil revenues can finance the bulk of government services rendered to its small population. Wealth, however, does not guarantee societal prosperity.  Resources are still somewhat frozen given the inertia of transitional politics. State domination of the economy under Qaddafi all but eliminated a once vibrant private sector.  What remains survived on corruption, now woven into Libya’s cultural fiber.

The NTC has worked to lay the foundation for transparency, which Tarhouni sees as an important prerequisite of free markets in Libya. Laws protecting property rights and requiring the publication of all oil contracts will be crucial. Just as corruption became a cultural phenomenon over time, so too will transparency emerge gradually.

Forming an inclusive coalition is a priority, but who is included and how disparate actors might be brought together is still an open question. This much is clear:  in five months, 200 representatives will be elected to draft a constitution, which will then be revised based on recommendations from the NTC. Once the NTC approves a draft supported by an up-or-down vote taken in the drafting body, the constitution will be put to a referendum before being ratified, thereafter providing the framework for future political activity. It is important for this process to occur in a timely manner, since only then can the economic activity required to restore normality in Libya ensue.

But more important than the speed of state formation are the underlying politics. Whether Libya’s new government is sustainable will depend on its legitimacy in the eyes of the people, which itself will be a product of the extent to which society is involved in the formation of the new state. State formation cannot be an exercise restricted to elites and intellectuals, even if they play a strong leadership role. This is especially true given the success Qaddafi enjoyed in driving many elites out of the country during his reign, thereby removing them from day-to-day life in Libya. Elites must interact with society and account for its various preferences, which will take time to develop.

For a country that has been systematically de-politicized over the last forty years, the current timeframe might be too hasty. The unavailability of public funding to stimulate civil society reinforces the need to allow time for an organic process to develop. A democratic government can invite the activities characteristic of democratic politics, such as the formation of civic organizations, special interest groups, and political parties. But this only occurs if societal groups buy into the governmental arrangement in the first place. If not, they’ll work outside the system and undermine it.

What happens in the interim is more important than the amount of time elapsed. In Tunisia, the elected assembly is now drafting a “mini-constitution,” which includes legislation governing institutional procedures that will apply until a permanent constitution is ratified. This “low stakes” effort allows different actors to enter the political fray and influence negotiations without immediately cementing a permanent order.

Political unraveling in Iraq is providing a stark example of the dangers attached to premature political settlements. Libya would be wise not to repeat these mistakes.

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A stage for a lying murderer?

Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), suggests “an international conference on Syria to stop the atrocities and the killings,”  in the likely event that the SNC plea for a “safe area” goes unheeded. I’d be the first to admit that the record of international conferences in stopping anything is mixed at best. Certainly the international conference on Yugoslavia in the 1990s was not 100% effective, though some of its spinoffs like the Badinter commission played an important role in clarifying the rules of the game.

I wonder whether this is an idea worth exploring, admittedly out of desperation.  So far, the Russians and Chinese have stymied the UN Security Council.  It is much harder for them to stymie an international conference, where there is no formal veto and a good deal of pressure to come up with a consensus statement.  The Iranians may even be tiring of what Bashar al Assad is costing them.  If the Syrian government refuses to attend, as well it might, that would enable the SNC to speak for the Syrian people.

The Americans would want to go to such a conference knowing exactly what they could hope for by way of results.  It seems to me a conference statement denouncing violence on all sides (yes I know that the regime is by far the bigger offender), endorsing the mission of the Arab League human rights monitors and noting the failure of the Syrian government to cooperate fully with them is not out of reach.  I don’t know that it would help much, but anything that undermines the legitimacy of the Assad regime is at this point useful.

Could a conference give Bashar al Assad a bully pulpit that would be useful to him in reaffirming his legitimacy on the world stage?  Yes, but that’s what we’ve got diplomats for:  to stage manage this so he comes off as the lying murderer he is.

Tomorrow is Friday.  Let’s hope the demonstrators turn out in numbers, building on last week’s extraordinary showing.  Here are Arab League monitors documenting violations by the Syrian Army near Deraa yesterday:

Or if you prefer, here is first-hand testimony of a former Defense Ministry official:

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Yemen: hard to be hopeful

I spent the morning with people who know a lot more about Yemen than I do.  Nothing about the discussion convinced me that Yemen is any less complicated and difficult than I’ve already said.  But here are some interesting points from the discussion:

  • It is not yet clear what President Saleh will really do.  He still controls a lot of guns and is not entirely reconciled to the “dignified exit” the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement in principle provides.  He signed the agreement because he thought the UN Security Council resolution presaged sanctions if he did not.  Things remain pretty much as they were six weeks ago, when he finally signed.  His interest in coming to the United States for medical treatment was genuine, but motivated in part by wanting to be out of Yemen during the transition.  He would however not be able to stay past the February 21 presidential election, when he would presumably lose diplomatic immunity as a sitting head of state.
  • The impunity/immunity provisions of the GCC agreement remain problematic.  The UN is uncomfortable with them because they cover things like crimes against humanity, human rights abuse, war crimes, genocide and gender-based violence, from which there is supposed to be no immunity.  The Yemen parliament may balk at passing the necessary immunity legislation, which would give Saleh the excuse to renege on other aspects of the agreement.
  • There is no real political settlement underlying the GCC agreement.  The young protesters, Houthi rebels from the north and separatists from the south were not at the negotiating table.  The protesters and separatists are so fragmented that it would have taken years to get them there.  The Houthis may realign with Saleh. Islah, one of the main opposition parties, is strong among the protesters, but it does not control them.
  • The agreement is basically between Saleh’s political party (General People’s Congress or GPC) and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the official “opposition.”  The political dynamics inside the GPC are not yet clear.  The JMP is fractious and may not hold together.  A political realignment, even one that strengthens Saleh’s GPC, is possible.  Islamist strength is not clear, though given the overall trend in the Arab Spring it would surprising if they did not emerge as a political force.  Ali Mohsen and Hamid al Ahmar, the military/tribal leaders who have played a key anti-Saleh role in recent months, are on board with the GCC agreement and are still important players.  It is not clear what their future political ambitions might be.
  • No “democratic center” has yet emerged.  Setting up the rules of the game so that it does is a major challenge.  There is also a real need for transitional justice measures, even if immunity holds, to establish the facts, clarify accountability and begin to enable reconciliation.  None of this will be easy.
  • Al Qaeda continues to occupy territory around Zinjibar. This could be good news:  it keeps them preoccupied with local issues and less able to launch attacks on the United States.

Much credit to those who deal with Yemen.  At least they’ve got an agreement on which to base their efforts and backing from the Security Council.  But is hard to be hopeful, even if Saleh does leave power, given the dimensions and complexity of the problems there.

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The evangelical/Likudnik dead end

The more I watch this poor-quality video, the more I realize the poor quality of the intellect speaking:

This is Rick Santorum unaware that his premise–that there are no Palestinians and therefore everyone who lives in the West Bank must be Israeli–not only excludes the two-state solution but also eliminates the possibility of Israel being a Jewish state.

But my purpose is not mockery: there is nothing funny about this campaign to deny the existence of the Palestinians and their right to a state. Let’s be clear:  if there is no Palestinian state, there will be no Jewish state either, or the Jewish state will have to deny democratic rights to a large portion of its population.  Danny Danon–a Likud member of the Knesset–has put forward that proposition:

These Palestinians [who continue to live in the West Bank after Israel’s annexation of it] would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel by a growing Palestinian population.

This makes comparisons to apartheid South Africa more reality than fantasy.

What we are seeing in Santorum–and in Gingrich–is a very dangerous effort to deny Palestinians not only their rights but their existence. Israel cannot survive as a democratic and Jewish state if this line wins out.  I haven’t seen this yet with Romney, who is at pains to “reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.”  Will he, too, take a turn down the evangelical/Likudnik dead end?

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How important is a Taliban office?

Today’s news that the Taliban have agreed to open an office in Doha, where they have been meeting for months with Americans and Germans, has generated a good deal of chatter about the prospects for a negotiated end to the Afghanistan war.  That seems overblown to me.

But it is also indicative:  the Americans are suing for peace.  Vice President Biden’s statement that the Taliban are not our enemy was not a gaffe but a signal, as we said here right away.  The Taliban have now indicated that the signal was received and appreciated. There are also indications that they expect release of some prisoners from Guantanamo.

It will be interesting to see if that happens–it is not an easy move for President Obama in the lead-up to an election campaign in which his presumptive opponents are more likely to criticize him for failing to make a maximal effort in Afghanistan than for staying too long.  He may try to portray the move, if it comes, as a transfer of prisoners to the control of the Karzai government, as an expected aspect of the U.S. withdrawal and turnover of security responsibility to a fully sovereign government.

The opening of the office is important not so much for establishing a clear channel for communications–that has likely already been done–but also because it begins to establish some clarity about the leadership structure on the Taliban side.  The Americans are not going to want to negotiate with more than one or two insurgent forces in Afghanistan.  It appears that the Doha office will be one that claims to speak for Mullah Omar, who led the Taliban government in 1996-2001.  It is less clear to me whether it can speak for the Haqqani network or other Taliban forces. We may well be expected the Pakistanis to deal directly with the Haqqani network, which at times has appeared to be an adjunct of the Pakistani inter-services intelligence directorate (ISI).

What does this portend for a peace settlement?  Hard to tell of course, but I’d put a small amount of coin on the proposition that a role in governing parts of Afghanistan is on offer to the Taliban, with consequences for women and human rights more generally that can only be described as odious.  Even if all the words on paper call for protection of women’s rights, getting implementation will be nigh on impossible.  When you sue for peace, you don’t get everything you want.  Secretary of State Clinton had better be ready to gather whatever women’s rights crumbs she can as the men slice and dice Afghanistan.

Here is Hassina Sherjan, Founder of Aid Afghanistan for Education and co-author of “Toughing It Out in Afghanistan” at Harvard Law School, telling her audience that wearing a burqa made her take six Advils a day:

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