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9:34AM

The SysAdmin was meant to be "light"

Nice piece in Foreign Policy about what it takes to do nation-building on a light footprint.  Title is, "Wanted: Ph.D.s Who Can Win a Bar Fight."  Reminds me of my "Pistol Packing Peace Corps" line from Blueprint.

The start:

Looming budget cuts, ground forces worn down by years of repeated deployments, and a range of ever evolving security challenges from Mali to Libya and Yemen are quickly making "light footprint" military interventions a central part of American strategy. Instead of "nation building" with large, traditional military formations, civilian policymakers are increasingly opting for a discrete combination of air power, special operators, intelligence agents, indigenous armed groups, and contractors, often leveraging relationships with allies and enabling partner militaries to take more active roles.

Despite the relative appeal of these less costly forms of military intervention, the light footprint is no panacea. Like any policy option, the strategy has risks, costs and benefits that make it ideally suited for certain security challenges and disastrous for others. Moreover, recent media coverage of drone strikes and SEAL raids may also distort public perceptions, creating a bin Laden effect -- the notion of military action as sterile, instantaneous, and pinprick accurate. Yet nighttime raids are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg: the most visible part of a deeper, longer-term strategy that takes many years to develop, cannot be grown after a crisis, and relies heavily on human intelligence networks, the training of local security forces, and close collaboration with diplomats and development workers.  For these smaller-scale interventions to be an effective instrument of national policy, civilian and military leaders at all levels should make a concerted effort to understand not only their strategic uses and limitations, but also the ways the current defense bureaucracy can undermine their success.

The most critical resource requirement in smaller interventions is human capital: talented, adaptable professionals who are not only fluent in language, culture, politics, and interpersonal relationships, but also willing to deploy for long periods and operate with little guidance. Smaller-scale missions mean less redundancy, less room for error, and more responsibility for every person in the field.

Worth reading.  Guy relates his own experiences in field.

Then the depressing ending:

The looming defense budget cuts only complicate matters, as they are likely to greatly intensify the Pentagon's natural institutional tendency to protect large, high-tech, expensive programs, while "squishy," esoteric programs such as language lessons, culture immersion, broadening experiences, advanced education, advisory units, and other human capital investments -- all invaluable to smaller missions -- have little hope of being prioritized. Without a concerted, sustained effort by military and civilian leaders at all levels, the state of affairs within the defense establishment may come to resemble the parable of the blind men and the elephant, with doctrine writers, strategists, operators, and budget analysts all drawing different lessons from the past decade of war and telling a different story about how the institution should change to remain relevant. Unless speeches and policy documents are backed up by culture, processes, doctrine, and strategic clarity, the light footprint will likely remain a niche capability confined to a few fringe military units, not an effective instrument of national policy.  

Sad but true.  We prefer our toys.

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Reader Comments (5)

Hmmm...I thought it was better to have friends than enemies. I had hope that we would construct a military that wasn't preparing for the next big war. Understanding people gives us the ability to assess their needs. Then we can address their needs. then they can learn to address their own needs. Then they can stand on their own. Then we don't have to worry as much about MOOTW or at all about MWO, at least not in a nation-building theater. Am I naive?

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJack

What irritated me was earlier, when he talked about how poorly the Afghan hands program was put together to begin with. How does a career soldier who rose to the top of a very large military wind up not including a career path provision?

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

When our embassey was stormed and the hostages were taken in Iran, I believe the FBI had one Farsi speaker. Congress was apalled and amid podium pounding and firey speeches many promises were made that the lack of language specialists would never be a problem again. Never. Well, it was a problem again and again. Why? A number of reasons. Field offices were waiting for fresh replacements from Quatico. They did not want to see graduates heading for 9 month language schools. Savy recruits realized (or were advised by veterns) that learning Farsi, for instance, determined your future assignments. This was also a problem at State. Everyone wants to learn French so that they can be stationed in Paris. Nobody wants to learn a language spoken in a tiny, or bacward, or dangerous country. In other words, countries that terrorists love. Carreer military officers are now very leery of being assigned to "Cyber Warfare" units since there are no bayonet charges to be made and therfore no medals to be earned.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTed O'Connor

I'm not sure the US has fully learned the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan - and the best people to query are Afghans and Iraqis.

It isn't America's usual style to listen to the locals, so I suspect the major lessons will be unlearned.

The World is full of artificial states, so America will be dealing with a lot more Iraqs in future. This shouldn't be rocket science - understand the political economy & the emerging pressure groups, once you do that, you've pretty much decoded the nation.

This will be the way to deal with Africa with its scores of artificial states and hundreds of ethnic groups.

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

Tom's books really detailed US strengths and weaknesses when addressing foreign interventions. The 5 flows, the A-Z ruleset, having 25 troops per 1000 population during postwar. All public knowledge to share and inform regular people. This was more helpful for me from 2005 to present than any newscast and taught me what to look for in political and economic debates. If people desire the information, they will seek the answers, otherwise lessons will be unlearned until successful. I trust the US will come to the right answers due to internal debt and begin to partner with the rising east and most of the global south. Probably between 2025 and 2030 after the current political generation retires.

March 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerek Bergquist

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