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Mr. Ignatius, I called it the "Department for Everything Else"

Nice piece by David Ignatius at WAPO about the "power gap" in the US foreign policy establishment.  He describes it as basically the missing link for all the complex security situations out there where the traditional "big war" US force isn't appropriate:

Here lies one of the biggest unresolved problem for U.S. national-security planners today: How can America shape events in an unstable world without putting “boots on the ground” or drones in the air? Does this stabilizing mission belong to the experts at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)? Or to the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, which was created in 2011 to deal with such problems? Or to the facilitators and analysts at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which was created in 1984 to help resolve conflicts peacefully? Or maybe to the covert-action planners at the CIA, who work secretly to advance U.S. interests in key countries?

The answer is that all of the above would have some role in shaping the U.S. response to a potential crisis. But in practice, the overlapping roles mean that none of them would have ultimate responsibility. Thus, in our imaginary NSC meeting, no one takes charge.

Actually, I called it the System Administrator force at first, and I said it would ultimately be more civilian than uniform, more USG than DoD, and more private-sector funded than fueled by foreign aid.  

That was in The Pentagon's New Map, which Ignatius praised so much in a December 2004 WAPO column that he got me fired from the Naval War College a few days later (so yes, I have known what it was like to have your government career axed by a flattering MSM piece).  

I haven't had a full-time job since - and never will again (by choice).  As the old Roman proverb goes, A slave with many masters is a free man.

Then, in Blueprint for Action, I argued that my Sys Admin force needed a bureaucratic center of gravity in the USG for all the reasons Ignatius cites in this recent column, and I called the Department of Everything Else.  And yeah, it was all about the "power gap" he describes there: 

I’ve talked recently with officials from all these agencies, and what I hear is discouraging. They’re each heading in their own direction, working on their own particular piece of the puzzle. The pieces get assembled in well-managed U.S. embassies overseas, where the ambassador makes the country team work together. But similar coordination happens too rarely in Washington.

The U.S. Institute of Peace, headed by Jim Marshall, prides itself on being a small, nimble organization with a cadre of specialists who can travel to crisis zones and meet with different sects, tribes and parties. But the organization likes its independence and doesn’t want to be an arm of the State Department or any other bureaucracy. It’s a boutique, but that means its efforts are hard to multiply. And its presence can create confusion about who’s doing what.

State’s new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations has the right mission statement. But it’s only 165 people and shrinking, and it doesn’t even have the heft to lead the State Department’s activities, let alone the full government’s. The bureau’s chief, Rick Barton, wants State to designate a “center of gravity” for each budding crisis, so that there’s at least an address for mobilizing resources. It’s a good idea but just a start.

USAID has been America’s lead development agency for decades. But it’s also a perennial area of bureaucratic dispute, and many analysts argue that the nation gets less bang for its development buck than it should. It’s hard to imagine USAID being the strategic answer. The same goes for the CIA, which under John Brennan wants to refocus on its core intelligence-collection mission, rather than covert action.

It’s a cliche these days to talk about how America needs more emphasis on “soft power” and its better-educated cousin, “smart power.” Meanwhile, for all the talk, the problems fester and the power gap grows.

What I was told by many government types back then was that I was right, but that it could not happen until an entirely new way of thinking emerged on the subject - USG-wide.  

Well, I spent the next decade trying to spread that thought both here in the US and in about four dozen other countries.  I gave that talk about a thousand times (literally) to about half a million people - live and in person.

And I still try to spread that vision.

What I've said to people all along is that we simply need to suffer enough failure to finally realize that the old packages don't work.  We can go in and blow everything up (Powell Doctrine, Bush in practice), or we can pretend a mafia-style decapitation/assassination campaign will work (Israel for decades, US under Obama).  

But the real solution still hangs out there, waiting for us to get serious about finally addressing it - instead of chasing this "pivot" fantasy against the Chinese.

So no, the problem isn't going anywhere, and neither is the solution - sad to say.

But eventually it happens, because eventually we'll fear the change less than the repeated failures.

Hat tip to Jeffrey Itell for alerting me on the Ignatius column.


In less than decade, SysAdmin notion goes from radical to routine story by way of Chris Ridlon, a military officer.  Poll of US military officers in conjunction with conference held by US Global Leadership Coalition, with Clinton, Gates, Geithner and Shah (USAID) all up on stage together.

The sea-change in thinking on 3D (defense, diplomacy, development) shows it's here to stay.

Nearly 90 percent of active and retired military officers say diplomacy and development are at least partly helpful to achieve U.S. national security objectives as opposed to just a strong military presence, a poll out Monday shows.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition also found among the 606 active duty and retired officers surveyed that 83 percent also think humanitarian efforts such as food assistance and health, education and economic development lend to an effective strategy.

Why so strong?  For the same reason why I felt comfortably making the SysAdmin argument by 2001:  we're talking about a generation of officers who've spent darn near their entire careers involved in this stuff (crisis response, humanitarian response, nation-building, counter-insurgency) and the military-heavy approach simply does not cover enough of the gamut.

And it's not just the military saying "more aid please."  Note the realization that interplay is required.

The poll shows mixed opinions among the military about who is better to lead missions relating to non-military action, including providing security for local populations, training police and armed forces, offering assistance to civil institutions, building infrastructure and working with local leaders on development. The first two missions should be the work of military or the military with civilian agencies, the poll showed, while the last three should more likely be civilian or civilian mixed with military coordination, the numbers show.

And that reality is what pushed me to propose the Department of Everything Else in "Blueprint" (2005).  Part of that is realizing that USAID will remain an afterthought if buried inside State, and part is realizing that setting up ad hoc structure each time these elements come together isn't working.  Plus, if it's always left to the military to organize, the military will be left with too much to do.  So you need serious bureaucratic structure that--in effect--represents a meeting ground for the three.  Otherwise you get a mil-heavy operation right up to the point where you hand off to an overwhelmed State (going on now in Iraq).  You need the bridging entity. 

And as I've said all along, the DoEE is more of a command structure with budgetary authority than a department in a classic sense.  When unused (not that likely a situation), it can be the proverbial command-in-waiting with a skeleton staff, to which State, USAID and military personnel/units can be loaned out as required.  But you create a bureaucratic center of gravity that both signals our intent and gives potential allies (including the UN) an element with which they can cooperate that isn't Defense and isn't State but something in between.


Quelle surprise! State now freaks out over its just-assumed--and huge--SysAdmin job in Iraq

Unremarkable, I-told-you WAPO story about State realizing that it is unprepared for the SysAdmin role it's stepping into in Iraq.

Sad to say, but this may be the failure we're looking for in terms of eventually birthing the Department of Everything Else.

People always ask me what good thing needs to happen to bring it into existence, and my answer is always that it'll take the right bad thing.

Waiting on State's evolution here is a fool's errand.  I need my good cop (State) and I will always treasure my bad cop (DoD), but I need somebody in between to play midwife across the Gap as globalization remaps a lot of fake states (thank you Europe and Uncle Joe!).

State will freak out and then backtrack in its ambitions to the point of dissipating a great deal of what's been achieved with blood and treasure since the end of 2006, and that level of tragedy will trigger some intense debate.

I can hope for better from State and from the Iraqis themselves, but I am not optimistic.

And so the search for seriousness continues . . ..


State with its own mini-army? Tell me we don't need a Department of Everything Else!

AP story details how State is now building its own mini-army to guard itself inside Iraq once US troops leave.

The gist:

The State Department is quietly forming a small army to protect diplomatic personnel in Iraq after U.S. military forces leave the country at the end of 2011, taking its firepower with them.

Department officials are asking the Pentagon to provide heavy military gear, including Black Hawk helicopters, and say they also will need substantial support from private contractors.

The shopping list demonstrates the department's reluctance to count onIraq's army and police forces for security, despite the billions of dollars the U.S. invested to equip and train them. And it shows that PresidentObama is having a hard time keeping his pledge to reduce U.S. reliance on contractors, a practice that flourished under the Bush administration.

In an early April request to the PentagonPatrick Kennedy, the State Department's undersecretary for management, is seeking 24 Black Hawks, 50 bomb-resistant vehicles, heavy cargo trucks, fuel trailers, and high-tech surveillance systems. Mr. Kennedy asks that the equipment, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, be transferred at "no cost" from military stocks.

Contractors will be needed to maintain the gear and provide other support to diplomatic staff, according to the State Department, a potential financial boon for companies such as the Houston-based KBR Inc. that still have a sizable presence in Iraq.

"After the departure of U.S. forces, we will continue to have a critical need for logistical and life-support of a magnitude and scale of complexity that is unprecedented in the history of the Department of State," says Mr. Kennedy's April 7 request to Ashton Carter, theDefense Department's undersecretary for acquisition and technology.

Old story:  State is built for the Core--not the Gap.  And when situations get even somewhat dicey inside the Gap, it's basically "show's over" for State--unless it outsources the function.  

We need something built for frontier integration in all its complexity, and it's not quite DoD and it's not quite State but something in between--something for the everything else.

Just wait until these guys kill some locals, because if I'm an insurgent or terrorist, I simply engineer that scenario time and again until I get the disastrous outcome that serves my purposes.


Conservatives embrace "new" idea of SysAdmin's responsibility for "expeditionary economics"!

From the panel reports from a conference jointly put on by the Kaufman Foundation (focus on free enterprise) and the Command and General Staff College Foundation (Leavenworth), via John Richardson at Esquire's The Politics Blog (to whom the ideas here are radical and "new").

First, Richardson quoting from the conference and/or report or just feeling like he should italicize:

Too often, in both the military and the international development spheres, there has been a failure to consider the postwar economy is any strategic sense. Military doctrine has usually treated operations other than war as secondary matters to be handed off to other agencies. These agencies, USAID in particular, have rarely conceived of their work as part of  a larger strategy for the country in question or for promoting U.S. interests. One-off projects and bureaucratic delays — due in no part to congressional constraints on USAID - have created the impression that dependence and subsistence are the inevitable future for countries such as Afghanistan. Economic growth is rarely even considered a posible goal ... yet economic growth plainly is a positive force in society and for governments; it is no coincidence that most conflicts today, most of which are civil wars, occur in countries with weak or stagnant economies.

Dare we say, "disconnected" from the global economy?

From the future panel report:

Most people agree that the concept of “expeditionary economics” needs to play a greater role and be incorporated into doctrine in future stabilization and reconstruction efforts in post-conflict countries. The questions are “How do we get there?” and “Who should do it?” Answers to these questions vary. While there is a general consensus that the United States is not adequately nurturing economic development in places where security and engagement requires it and that we are not adequately stimulating the entrepreneurial dynamism that has produced global economic prosperity, there is audible disagreement over whether these responsibilities should fall to the military.


Key Takeaways:

• In an ideal world, economic development in post-conflict situations lies within the purview of civilian organizations such as the World Bank, IMF, USAID, and Department of State. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, these institutions often lack the requisite resources and capacity for post-conflict economic development. As a result, responsibility for the economic dimension has fallen to the armed forces; yet, the military also lacks a guiding doctrine for such work. For future operations, we must develop doctrine for both the military and civilians, as well as consider new ways of implementing expeditionary economics.

• The primary objective of a stability operation is different than that of a development imperative. When you build a water plant, the secondary objective is to bring clean water to people in the town. The primary objective is the psychological change that reduces violence as a result of building the plant. But if we are not measuring for and evaluating the right things, we can’t determine if the $50 billion that’s been spent in Iraq could have been better spent. We’re scratching our heads because we haven’t won over hearts and minds, and we don’t know why. We need to find better ways to measure the psychological impact of stability operations and, more specifically, economic development efforts.

• When assessing the economy of a country in which we might engage, we can’t fall into the pattern of merely looking at the absences. We must pay attention to the assets that do exist—natural, physical, and human assets that can anchor future economic growth. Moreover, our view must be a regional one as opposed to just local or national. In considering how to stabilize failed states, we need to consider what is the right balance between the state, the market, and civil society 

• When considering who needs to lead to economic development in failed states, the tendency is to look to the State Department and USAID. But the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank of the United States also should play a major role in investing in and underwriting risk.

• The U.S. preference is to separate political, economic, and military concerns when dealing with states abroad. An imperial approach is well understood, and less complicated than our democratic approach. However, it’s more difficult when the objective is to leave once enduring conditions are set so we don’t have to intervene again. Rather than continuing our tendency to view things in a two- to three-year thought cycle, we need a longer-term approach.

• In war, just as there are human casualties, there also are financial casualties, and we need to accept this reality. Some dollars will be misappropriated, and some will go to the enemy, to criminal networks, to ineffective local leaders, and to bad projects. This doesn’t make it okay, but we need a productive dialogue to determine what is a reasonable level of these financial casualties.

• The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 defined foreign aid as a State Department function because it was a tool of public diplomacy geared toward poverty alleviation and moral good. But the problem with public diplomacy as an imperative is there’s a need to take credit and ensure people know about it. In Iraq and Afghanistan, however, we’ve learned this can generate ill will and be counterproductive. We need to sacrifice public diplomacy to be more effective at counterinsurgency and long-lasting and effective development.

• One proposal is to create a FEMA-like agency with a very modest staff, 100-150 people, that would spring into work when there’s a stability operation. The office would report jointly to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State and would have a limited, circumscribed role. It would coordinate with the chief of mission on the ambassador side and the commander general on the military side.

• It’s important to concentrate planning efforts before a crisis arises. If you are not engaged in long-term strategy and planning, you will not get it right.

• How does the military put expeditionary economics into practice? Meeting the economic needs of the populace in an area of operations is an essential task in stability operations, and the best way to do that is with business formation. An example: If a neighborhood lacks dependable electricity, a commander could provide generators to local entrepreneurs, and give them the ability and responsibility to keep them running. This eliminates the insurgent’s ability to generate public support by attacking municipal power grids and then blaming the government or occupational forces; any attack on the power supply thus becomes an attack on individual families and locally owned businesses.

• It is essential to tie the concept of expeditionary economics to the military security mission. How can the military foster economic growth to establish security? The military needs competence with expeditionary economics tools to get through the “golden hour”—the early days of a conflict when the civilian agencies have minimal or no presence, and it’s up to the military to execute.

• Some disagree that economics is not a soldier’s job. Yet, economics is required to win, and a soldier’s job is to win. The military has no choice but to use economics as a weapon in stability operations, so let’s be as good as possible at it. What we need to be thinking is, “What are the appropriate economic principles we can teach military leaders so they can use them to accomplish their mission?”

• The military lacks a doctrine to use economic development in conjunction with other elements of a counterinsurgency effort—information, security, and stability operations. The easiest way to change doctrine is by Department of Defense or commander’s mandate, but there are other requirements: A new doctrine must be proven workable and should demonstrate added value, longevity for application, and it must foster those traits the military sees as important.

• One area of debate is over the constraints on the use of Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) Funds. Those on the ground maintain that a ten-day approval process makes CERP less useful—commanders need to make investments on the spot or at worst within twenty-four hours. This assumes commanders have a high level of ability and economic literacy that sometimes isn’t there because it’s such a complicated task that requires complete attention.

• Economic development and stability is also an intelligence problem. Almost no attention is given to economic intelligence analysis. Threat Finance Cells are for threat targeting—a different function—but if you don’t understand the economies and then intervene, you are not going to be successful.

• USAID and the State Department staff are not properly trained—there is poor investment in level- and role-specific training and education, and senior leaders could be selected for their qualifications in economic development and entrepreneurship.

A call for a Department of Everything Else-like entity that reports to both SECDEF and SECSTATE and somehow bridges the "expeditionary economics" responsibilities that bind them in failed-state or postwar interventions.  

Plus, an almost exact description of Enterra's diagnostic approach in Kurdish Iraq (a focus on critical assets, creating entrepreneurial opportunities and counterparty capacity locally for deal-execution), right down to the regional focus we used in bringing in the Monitor Group to do a competitive assessment. This is Development-in-a-Box in a nutshell.  That's why I penned the self-promoting (for Enterra) section on DiB in "Great Powers."

In short, none of this is new, and much was proven our or templated in the field by Steve DeAngelis.

The SysAdmin's economic responsibilities; the need for a Department of Everything Else that focuses on the postwar reconstruction; the market-based diagnostic focus of Development-in-a-Box, which lives on in Enterra's collaboration with Pacific Command's Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance--all good stuff.

At first the ideas are ridiculed, then violently opposed, then accepted as conventional wisdom.

Patience and perserverance are the keys, and a willingness to be told to your face--for years on end--that your ideas are bullshit, naive, and completely impracticable--never gonna happen!

Because these are not theories but inevitabilities.  There are only questions of who and when.

There is no credit sought because there is no credit to be assigned.  Everybody comes around to these realities eventually, and until enough do, it's just vision without a budget--otherwise known as an hallucination.

But yes, there is a useful role for consistent hallucinators.


The SysAdmin's civilian-soldier ratio climbs

WAPO story on Army's deputy assistant secretary for procurement, Edward Harrington.

The government's contracting out for services is nothing new, as Harrington's office notes. Its "Contractors on the Battlefield" chart outlines the number of contractors compared with the number of soldiers since the American Revolution. Back then, the ratio of contractors to soldiers was 1:6. World War I, 1:20. Vietnam, 1:6. Gulf War, 1:60. Iraq, 1:1. Afghanistan, 2:1.

An evolution toward SysAdmin operations that has created a rule-set gap:

These days, Harrington points out, the job is tougher because the government's workforce to write, manage and oversee the contractors has shrunk dramatically. The office estimates that as the workload has increased 1,000 percent since 1987, the government's contracting workforce has decreased by 25 percent.

It's why I believe it inevitable that a new bureaucratic center of gravity is created between Defense and State--the Department for Everything Else notion.

It's a serious requirement that's yet to be treated seriously in a bureaucratic revamp.