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Entries in SysAdmin (59)


"Filling the Gap Between War and Peace: Creating a Stability Command"

Non-professionals talk more about the geostrategic Gap, while professionals speak more about this capabilities/institutional gap, which I proposed to fill with the SysAdmin force - always described as:

  • More civilian than uniform
  • More USG than DoD
  • More ROW than USA, and 
  • More private-sector than public sector (hence my later career stops at Enterra and now iJET). 

NOTE: when the author, Hardy Merrill, later finds my SysAdmin end-strength estimate for post-invasion Iraq too high, it may be that he's discounting my quartet of caveats above.

Later on (Blueprint), I did speak of a de facto stability command, which would be the footprint equivalent of SOCOM's current operational reach (I got the idea from senior SOCOM officers), and - nye sluchaino - would eventually match up fairly well with ISIS's global caliphate map.

H/T Phil Wisecup, a great naval officer and an old friend and neighbor.

A solid historical analysis and a well-structured argument by this Capt. Merrill out of Bragg. That opening factoid of 11 big wars versus 320 small ones is a stunner, when you think about it.

I include a link to my 2005 TED talk because Merrill cited it three times in his essay.

A Small Wars Journal and Military Writers Guild Writing Contest Finalist Article

Filling the Gap Between War and Peace: Creating a Stability Command

Hardy P. Merrill

Clausewitz tells us that low-intensity conflict is continuous, while “Absolute War” or “Total War” is like a volcano requiring years of preparation.[1] In its short existence, the United States has participated in 11 full-scale wars and 320 low-intensity conflicts.[2]  Considering Western powers’ avid study of Clausewitz, why has no one built a lasting, autonomous and networked force for handling small wars? We accept that there will always be another war, and we have built the force capable of dominating “Total War.” It is time to build a standing force that bridges the gap between war and peace.

In The Pentagon’s New Map, Dr. Thomas Barnett provided a rough road map for establishing a transition force in 2004. To be successful, the force must transcend the conventional structure of line wire diagrams at the tactical level. To accomplish this, we need to address organizational structure, military culture and design. Addressing these factors will provide us with the Comprehensive Approach that Joint Publication (JP) 3-07 preaches to achieve peace in the 21st Century. This paper will propose a Joint Force Command centered on stability operations that will fall under the umbrella of the Department of Defense (DoD) ...

Read the entire essay at Small Wars Journal.



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.


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.


Why I'm still in this business

FT story on preacher who "unites opponents of Assad."

Great quote from the man himself, Moaz al-Khatib:

  The international community has been in a slumber, silent and late as it saw the blood of the people bleeding and its children being killed for the last 20 months . . . When the international community intervenes at the right time and when it moves to defend people at the right time it makes societies stable.  The wrong international policies have led to extremism. (italics mine)

Yes, I was glad to see Obama recognize the rebels.

Like he said last night about the elementary school shooting, we have to change the way we do things.

All progressivism begins with this question.


Wikistrat's "The World According to Tom Barnett" 2011 brief, Part 9 - Final (Q&A on postwar stabilization operations and America's future allies)

Last segment of my "big brief" presentation to an international military audience in the Washington DC area in September 2011. Final questions involved postwar operations and who should be involved.


Time's Battleland: Africom to work Lord's Resistance Army problem with Uganda

Ugandan forces (Reuters)

WAPO and NYT reporting over the weekend that the US will send around 100 armed advisers to help the Ugandan military work the stubborn problem of the Lord's Resistance Army, a beyond-its-expiration-date insurgency that's terrorized rural populations across four states for a couple of decades now. These guys really are the worst of the worst, engaging in atrocities galore, mass rape as a tool of terror, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers. They check every box on war crimes.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Thinking about reconstruction post-Irene

Some background: I've been advising another technology start-up that goes by the acronym EASE, which stands for Environmental Accountability for a Sustainable Earth. The Founder and CEO Susan Mills, long of the telecom industry, sought me out after being told that what she's put together (basically, an online marketplace platform that seeks to flow financial resources back to groups and communities - rather than see them gobbled up by outside market makers) was really an operating system for my idea of the System Administrator function in a post-whatever recovery/reconstruction. So, just like any market maker sets up the transaction space and then skims a bit off the top for itself, the various EASE Initiatives (Resilient Cities, Resilient Universities, etc.) set up similar spaces, capture a bit of the action as a social enterprise, and then make those funds available to whatever community or communities are being targeted for development. To me, it's the same stuff that the City Fathers did way back when to make sure the community was to grow as a result of some new economic activity, so what EASE offers as a technology platform is really a way to make that happen in the networked, 21st-century environment.

What follows below is a think piece I worked up with Susan regarding a possible application in New England post-Irene. Naturally, we're looking for any advice/leads on how to make this happen.


Can States and Communities Fill Their Coffers Using Silicon Valley Techniques?

 How e-coupons could stimulate business, help neighbors and build resilience

by Susan Mills and Thomas P.M. Barnett

The daily deal e-coupon juggernaut, Groupon, has changed the game when it comes to marketing and selling. Their e-coupon buyers get both a price discount and a group experience that generate excitement and connections.

And market-maker Groupon rakes in cash: an estimated $2 billion last year. 

We think there is something to learn from Groupon’s approach that could help our financially struggling schools, businesses, cities and states get back on their feet: an innovative idea that connects discount buying and group fun with the added benefit of helping others. This new type of e-coupon helps the retailer attract customers and the coupon buyer to get a deal - as well as a group activity. Plus, they both get to dosomething ‘extra’ to help their state, a community or a person.  

“Get a good deal, have a good time, AND do a good deed” is a patent-pending idea by HiWay Couponing, an initiative proposed by EASE. Right now, it is an untested concept looking for its first trial, but we see it as a private-enterprise approach that can help American communities and states become less dependent upon the federal government to maintain services and infrastructure in these fiscally constrained times. Purchasing ‘for a purpose’ can also offset tax cuts to programs and causes, stimulate the economy, and make self-reliance more feasible for hard-pressed communities. 

Here’s how it works: with a HiWay™ e-coupon, the seller offers a ‘deal,' sets the price, determines the deal’s specific third-party beneficiary, and defines how much of the deal price goes to that designated cause. The seller also specifies the characteristics of the coupon’s intended buyer, meaning attributes such as age, location, or area of interest.

Then, using its exclusive technology capabilities, HiWay precisely matches the deal with the people who have the pre-specified characteristics, or those buyers whom the seller hopes to attract to this offer. HiWay distributes the coupon to the target buyer’s laptop, smart phone or tablet. The person is alerted of the deal and can purchase it at any time using a simple ‘buy here’ button on the screen.

Funding flows quickly - almost immediately after purchase - to the retailer and to the cause. Think about how much money typically gets wasted in fundraising. Well, this direct and immediate matching method revolutionizes all that.

Yes, the social enterprise known as HiWay also receives its fee for managing the coupon service. But for the coupon’s beneficiary, funding comes to them with no fuss, no bureaucracy, and no ‘qualifying conditions.’ The money they receive is an expression of neighbors (the retailer and the coupon buyer) helping other neighbors (the beneficiary) at a time of need. Simply put, it's the "buy local" impulse that we all want to engage in, with the charitable flow hard-wired into the transaction.

In large-scale upheavals, having such immediate access to funds can be crucial to survival and recovery - a huge difference maker for non-governmental and private-voluntary organizations (NGOs/PVOs). Once established, this e-coupon program can start generating funds for a purpose almost instantly. 

In addition, HiWay tracks the money flow to ensure that the coupon’s intended target actually receives the funds as promised - a huge dose of transparency in an industry that can always use more. The HiWay system is really different from most donation flows. Usually, charities acknowledge the receipt of a donation, but they don’t specify how that donation is used. The HiWay approach puts money directly into a specific purpose or task, with transparency and trustworthiness.

Let’s apply HiWay to the current challenges facing Vermont as it responds to Hurricane Irene’s devastation. Vermont seems to embody the self-reliant spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. In one hard hit area, towns that have working electricity, phones, and roads are hosting potlucks and inviting anyone to join them. That's a wonderfully traditional response. At these dinners, friends and strangers exchange food, invitations to take a hot shower, offers of a place to stay and other kinds of help - sort of an oral couponing approach. They also sing a lot, tell stories and have fun in spite of the hardships caused by the hurricane. A positive attitude and a community spirit are stronger than the destruction caused by the storm.

Well, why not take that instinctive community response to another level?

The HiWay e-coupon idea is an extension of Vermont’s neighbor-to-neighbor generosity, support, and caring. In addition, the e-coupons stimulate business revenues and give coupon buyers a deal on something the buyer values - all necessary activity if the long-term recovery is going to unfold. 

So we're thinking: what if Vermont’s spirit of community self-reliance were tapped by statewide e-couponing? Could it raise millions to rebuild from Hurricane Irene? States definitely need a new approach that delivers care to their people and programs. Federal aid is not going to be the complete answer in these tough fiscal times. Federal legislators are proposing that states impacted by Hurricane Irene must trade the costs of near-term federal emergency relief for guarantees of budget cuts later - sort of a deny-me-now-or-cut-me-later approach that does little to prime the recovery pump. This demand is made at a time when state budgets are already cut to the bone and the hurricane has put people in additional - and profound - distress. 

Why can’t the disaster recovery be financed by the large and small businesses across a state or within a region issuing e-coupons? Vermont citizens could purchase coupons that appeal to their immediate wants and needs (like a dinner out) and to their broader community interests - perhaps helping rebuild a covered bridge. Everyone benefits.    

More to the point of those of us outside the disaster area who might want to help: the coupons don’t need to be issued solely in Vermont. Anyone, anywhere could participate by creating a Vermont HiWay coupon. 

How fast and how well would Vermont recover if:    

  • Interested businesses each issued a Vermont HiWay e-coupon that gave a discount on an item and also raised money for a state fund such as rebuilding Vermont’s infrastructure, or for a local fund such a town’s police, fire and library services?
  • Individuals, like veterinarians, offered a coupon for an extra free service and designate that the coupon’s revenue go to a fund for animals or to repair of the fairgrounds?

The point is that almost everyone has something to offer and lots of people and locations have needs. And we all spend money on things and we all like to get extra value from our purchases. States already do this sort of thing with lotteries, which come with a lot of negative externalities. HiWay Couponing would deliver the same sort of flows with much lower costs, charging a discounted service fee of 2% on any coupon that aids disaster relief causes.

Everyone gets a good deal in this model. The HiWay e-coupon approach brings attention to, and personalizes, a business. The coupon buyer feels directly involved in helping address a problem. And the process showcases the needs that we, as a community and wider society, would like to help. Together, e-coupon sellers and buyers can help build a healthy community, region, and state, rather than see all that savings/profit go to the market-maker - like Groupon.

We're thinking that HiWay Couponing’s type of private enterprise approach might empower citizens in ways that create less dependence on government financing. It also would stimulate more participation, flexibility, and creativity in the ways we repair and grow the communities we love.   


Time's Battleland: Army not lucky, just desperate to avoid Leviathan supremacy over next decade

Picking up on Mark's thread this morning, Galrahn, the eminent blogger at Information Dissemination, likewise sees a fight that's getting nasty, arguing yesterday that the Army was "lucky" (in that, Will-no-one-rid-me-of-that-meddlesome-flag-officer! way) to see two of its great rivals for the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff falter in recent days. Those two are current Vice Chairman and Marine General James Cartwright (recently clearedof decidedly smear-like charges of sexual misconduct with a subordinate officer) and current EUCOM/NATO Admiral James Stavridis (who we're now being told didn't do so well in his interview - something Galrahn finds incredible, as do I).

Read more at Time's Battleland blog.


Time's Battleland: If issued, Libyan ICC arrest warrants would continue "perfect" Africa record for court

After many weeks of speculation and veiled threats-by-extension from Western government leaders, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced on Monday that he is seeking arrest warrants for Muammar Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam Qaddafi and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanousi for systematically targeting citizens in Libya's ongoing protests and civil strife. Libya isn't a signatory to the ICC treaty, and prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo declared that the Libyan people should take it upon themselves to make the arrests, if warrants are granted. Moreno-Ocampo said he had enough evidence to go to trial immediately, just another sign that the Qaddafi clan has crossed a line that disallows their staying in power - as far as the West is concerned.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: "Counter-terrorism beats nation-building? Are we going to bury COIN all over again?"

My old classmate Fareed Zakaria recently made the argument that counterterrorism beats nation-building when it comes to winning the war on terror. Taking Osama Bin Laden's killing as a point of American pride, he says that sort of military/intelligence operation is what we're good at, and so we should stick with it versus pursue the larger counterinsurgency (COIN) effort that General David Petraeus has now led in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a broad point to be making off the Bin Laden operation, especially as Petraeus heads to CIA. While I may agree with Fareed WRT Af-Pak, let me express a larger concern.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Obama: no American SysAdmin boots on the ground! (amended)

So he tells congressional leaders in Situation Room meeting, according to CNN just now.  Of course, sometimes certain US types show up very quietly on-site and nobody counts their boots, but we get the basic point.

Still, you have to wonder, why Mr.-All-Options-on-the-Table needs to flinch, pre-emptively, in such an obvious manner before even starting operations. Why signal that lack of intent up front? What does that buy you exactly from your opponent? Especially when it so clearly marks you as afraid of your own public?  It really makes you wonder about the quality of advice President Obama receives. It just comes off as so . . . I dunno . . . European, when Europe (at least parts of it) are acting more like America used to (making you wonder if Obama's purposefully suppression of US leadership really changes anything or just shifts the leadership impulse back to Europe's France--the one country there with an ambition to lead).

This is fine and dandy and I generally approve of the division of labor.  The more the "international community" picks up the SysAdmin work, the easier for the US Leviathan to works its magic.

Think back to the Balkans:  we did it mostly through the air and put forth only a small fraction of the eventual boots. But this time, given our current load and recent history, perfectly appropriate to line up others for the follow-through.  An excellent solution.  The Leviathan intervention will happen time and again, but Iraq-the-US-hogs-the-SysAdmin-show phenom never needs repeating.

But make no mistake, really no Leviathan action without us and our willingness to participate, and that's real leadership worth maintaining, because the entire system benefits whenever we can collectively muster norm enforcement.

No, we won't get it everywhere (across Gap) and we certainly don't need it everywhere (i.e., Core).  But when the opportunity is there, and the demand is there, and you are a difference maker on supply provision, you have to step up enough to enable the response.

Already we get a sense that Qaddafi's "cease fire" will be selective, but at least now we've entered into a serious negotiating stance.  This is all very positive.


Playing SysAdmin is a lot of matchmaking

Spoke to Jason Kelly for this Bloomberg piece on Pentagon work in Afghanistan to foster economic development.  Article profiles Paul Brinkley, Under Secretary for Defense and his work in Afghanistan.  Enterra had worked for Brinkley's office in Iraq.  The theme, much in line with out Development-in-a-Box work in Iraq, is that of "matchmaker."

It's a good piece overall, capturing the challenge and the efforts of one Pentagon office to which I've offered advice and help in the past.

Here's the bit where I was quoted:

Beyond Allies

Getting companies from countries not directly involved in the military effort is crucial to the long-term success of economic development, says Thomas P.M. Barnett, chief analyst for Wikistrat Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based consulting firm.

“The guys who are going to benefit are going to be from the non-Allied pool,” he says.

Brinkley is agnostic and has recruited foreign companies, including automaker Daimler, into Iraq.

“This is not just about U.S. companies,” he says.

Another small mine project stands as a test of the viability of natural-resources investing in Afghanistan. JPMorgan Chase, based in New York, assembled investors who ponied up $50 million for a mine in the rugged fly-over country between Kabul and Herat.

JPMorgan bankers, drawing on knowledge of the country’s natural resources from its mining clients in the former Soviet Union, shared some of that intelligence with Brinkley’s team in 2008 and during the next two years worked to gather additional data. The results were presented to Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last January. With the money raised, the mining project was granted a license late in 2010.


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.


Globalization cherry picks, and so do we on the failed-state carcass that is Somalia

Voice of America piece by way of reader Robert Prescott.

The opening (in more ways than one):

Somaliland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said the willingness of residents living in the self-declared autonomous region to fully embrace democracy has played a pivotal role in making the area unattractive to hard-line Islamist insurgents, such as al-Shabab.

Mohammed Abdullahi Omar welcomed what he described as the renewed U.S. interest after a top official in the Obama administration said Washington wants to strengthen ties with both Somaliland and Puntland, located in the Horn of Africa.

The US official expressing interest is our top State diplo for Africa, Johnnie Carson.  Interest, for now, equals more diplomats and aid officials.  Our logic?  Keep the al Shabaab problem as small as possible geographically. 

These Somalis are more than happy to get direct US aid:

“Somaliland has been stable for the last 19 years and we have definitely adopted (a) system into our politics. And, we have had a free and fair presidential election a few weeks ago, whereby a new president won the election. This has demonstrated that Somaliland’s political system has matured.”

He added that Somaliland’s “matured” democracy has renewed interest not only from Washington, but also “other western countries, and made them change their view on Somaliland.”

And I would guess there is some eastern country interest as well.

Five points:

1) Note the pattern that where US troops go since the Cold War's end is to intervene mostly in fake states, and that one outcome of such interventions is that, where there was originally one state, now there are more than one state, meaning we effectively play mid-wife to the birthing of new countries--ones typically buried by past European colonial creations.

2) Globalization, which comes in many forms, has an interest in salvaging as much of Somalia as possible, making chunks open for business and access to East Africa, cutting down on the footprint of the pirates (not mentioned here so must not be a problem here), and keeping the al Shabaabh reach as small as possible. Somaliland really has been a break-away province going all the way back to our first intervention there at the junction of Bush-Clinton. It now presents just enough stability for the connectivity to happen.

3) This is my old story of the break-up of a fake or weak state when globalization shows up:  the more stable and ambitious parts are more than eager to break off and make a better life for themselves with globalization, thus ending--in their minds (and often in objective reality)--their tragic relations with the other "losers."

4) Somaliland's emergence shows that we and other Core powers will be in the nation-building business for the very long haul.  That doesn't--by any stretch--always result in troops or even aid, as most nation-building results from private-sector activity generating local public demand for government services--NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!  But yes, if you, the state in question, can put on a good show of a modicum of democracy and stability, that is highly attractive, because it means whatever public nation-building efforts are made will proceed with little to no controversy back home.

5) Our goal for places like East Africa is to encourage overarching economic union in a radial pattern, meaning from the inside of Africa to the coasts like slices of pie. We want to help stitch together a pattern of economic complimentarity wherever possible, so that even places with modest resources are at least selling their location for transit of other peoples' goods.  We want, in effect, to create larger associations to which these fledging states can belong.  So as Africa is remapped by globalization and more states appear (like South Sudan shortly), we help provide a larger regional pattern and structure for them to glom onto--local political disintegration married to regional economic integration.

This is a perfect example of SysAdmin function unfolding with merely modest US interest and resources.  It happens simply because globalization is coming to Africa whether or not America cares.  It happens because globalization will remap fake states whether or not America cares.  It happens because everybody and anybody, when given just the slightest chance by circumstances, reaches for connectivity and the options it brings.

All of this happening in a place where we've studiously avoided a military return.


Less absolutely, a deep reduction in flow/change in philosophy and a redirect to Twitter

Two triggers for yesterday's declaration:

1) interview with Canadian journalist (Globe and Mail; nice guy) where I found myself, as always, defending the SysAdmin concept from its usual caricatures (all military, all US or at best all West, and all public spending).  And you know, I just get tired of repeating myself after seven years, reminding everyone that I said from the start: more civil than mil, more USG than DOD, more rest-of-world than just US or West, and--duh!--overwhelming private-sector funded.  So what does Afghanistan tell us about Canada's future choices with its military?  It tells us that the West and the US in particular still myopically chooses to view the SysAdmin task as overwhelmingly military-centric, DoD-centric, NATO-centric, USG-centric, and official developmental aid-centric, and guess what? None of that, even piled on top of itself, constitutes a quorum for Afghanistan. The only package that works there will be heavy on Indians, Iranians, Turks, Russians and Chinese--in addition to the Pakistanis.  It will involve those countries building and defending networks and markets. Victory won't involve the creation of a democracy--at least not one we'd recognize any time soon. Instead, as usual, given our vast costs sunk thanks to our stubborn unilateralism and government-firstism, we'll view any such outcome along the lines of "We fought the war, but the X won!"  It's a stupid and petty mindset and eventually enough frustration with outcomes will drive it out of us, but such change tends to come generationally--go figure.  Anyway, I go on a long riff with this guy and I wonder why I'm still making these arguments in broadcast fashion to an audience that's apparently unready for it, when there are so many private-sector actors and non-US governments moving down this path with a vengeance--meaning better clients.  Why not run with them and pull back from this evangelical path here in the States, somewhat embodied in the time-intensive blog?

[As a side-rant, let me skewer the inane stupidity that says, "Barnett's SysAdmin concept was doomed from the start" by pointing you in the direction of Africa, where SysAdmin "forces" and "functions" are in evident display all over the place.  And guess what?  The vast majority of the work is being done by non-military, private-sector-funded non-Westerners, and IT WORKS JUST FINE DUMBASS!  But sure, if you want to reduce that force/function in all its complexity and breadth within globalization's advance to a small-unit operation in some remote Afghanistan valley and ask the question, What was Barnett thinking when he said a bunch of US Marines with guns could somehow "connect" Afghanistan to the world?  Then yes, all my vision was completely invalidated by that one apocryphal firefight!  Meanwhile, while you stare at your most American of belly-buttons, globalization continues to penetrate the Gap with stunning speed and integrating effect--and never the twain shall conceptually meet.  But understand this, I don't sell theory; I sell observed reality, which I name.  You can wallow in your caricatures and claim my defeat, and I will shake my head at your complete inability to read what I write and hear what I say--in every single brief I've ever delivered.

But I regress . . .]

2) As I move down this path, I run into days where I find the blogging requirement crowds out too much good personal and professional stuff.  Today I spent a long block of time thinking through cyber governance issues and it was great.  If I have the blog on the usual high-volume sked, that's impossible, as is a certain amount of parenting. Plus, after seven years of being in the evangelical mode, I simply want to move on.

Still, I like the site that I've built, and I like having a place to centralize certain things in terms of presentation and archiving.  I also want to put certain things out there regularly, like announcing latest columns and posts at Esquire and other stuff I write and publish.  Then there's always that simple desire to express myself and to record, diary-style, certain things I do (like a planned trip to China in October).

So I know I'm going to finally cave into my wife on the time-lost-to-the-blog complaint (there's the two new kids impact), especially since my career evolution (different role at Enterra as it matures and thus wider network of activities, which was my norm until a couple of years ago) demands both more focus and concentrated efforts and involves a lot of partners who are, as I stated yesterday, not much interested in this broadcast mode but desire more exclusive content more exclusively delivered.  And when I realize that my most circulated stuff on the Web is what I write for WPR and Esquire, then why maintain the blog at such a high level?  Simply put, it strikes me an outdated model:  I started it as pure analytical diary and it became too much the formal presentation as the field was quickly crowded by mainstream venues re-establishing their natural hierarchy (so every mag now has a blog and most bloggers of note operate within organized structures).

[Second side rant:  Why did I talk myself or let myself get talked into this pathway of formalizing the blog? Too many people complaining that I didn't take myself or my legacy seriously enough, which I think I do in my formal writings.  I just don't think I should have to adhere to that level of formality here.  I didn't in the beginning, and I'd like to go back to that and screw all the references and some of the visuals and instead go back to the analytic diary and pure self-therapy of writing for release.  Too many times in recent months I've found myself staring at the blog entry screen, saying to myself, "Type something profound, damn it!"  And you know what?  As soon as you say that you're doomed to be boring and trite and predictable. Plus it takes so long.]

So the question becomes, why not drop out from the old model and go to something more relaxed--as in, write what I want when I want, and shift the quick-and-dirty recording of semi-interesting articles via Twitter, where the lack of visual requirements and the restrictions on text length guarantees a modicum of effort and no more?

And so that is what I will do, and I'll see how that goes.  What I know is this: I don't want to fill this space like I used to.  I find myself needing to retreat mentally from that level of broadcasting/sharing.  I've spent 7 years doing the evangelic thing and it's been fun, but having done it, I will admit to a certain level of boredom with it--the usual seven-year-itch that seems to regularly relocate me in a geographic sense (from Wisconsin to New England to mid-Atlantic to New England back to the Midwest and now plotting a return to the mid-Atlantic).  I'm about seven years having left my job at the Naval War College (I really left in 2001 when I went to OSD, then again in 2003 when I left OSD, and finally--truly--in 2005, so let's split the difference) and I can feel the reinvention coming, which corresponds nicely to Enterra's nifty maturation and settlement into three core areas of exploitation (healthcare, supply-chain management of consumer products, and supplier-chain management of complex sustainment efforts in the defense sector).  So as things are simultaneously settling down and expanding and blowing up, I find that natural itch to reinvent and recast and rebalance.

And so that is the way it will be:  irregular posts here on stuff I really, truly, absolutely want to archive, with the rest going via Twitter, where I will limit myself--poetically--to as few syllables as possible (I thought I did pretty well today).  I will continue the archiving of formal pubs, along with their announcements here, and I will likely archive travel and other special stuff.

But I will abandon the volume standard that I settled into (totally self-imposed) and let the rest migrate to Twitter (the pointing dog stuff).  That just doesn't interest me like it used to; been there, done that--done. Plus, when I compare my original posts from the spring of 2004 to now, I realize that, back then, I mostly riffed and made scant reference to MSM materials (just using them as launching points), and now the bulk of my text are excerpts, which feels like I'm playing fact checker. [Another triggering realization: I had a lot of fun riffing on that Andy Krepinevich piece recently, but I hardly go long like that any more in the blog; instead, I spend too much time cataloguing--and reminding--and watching what I say.  But again, what gets reposted mostly is the more careful, edited stuff I write on WPR and Esquire, so why not go back to the casual standard here--as in, I write-for-myself-so-f@3k-off!  Because that stuff I can write very fast when I choose to, meaning no real burden.

Anyway, I had long feared/hoped this would happen when I finished the Great Trilogy, and that day has finally arrived.

So I kill the formal blog and reclaim the diary, my debt to society and history fulfilled in the dead-tree Trilogy.

But yeah, I will still rant mostly about globalization, because it's the most interesting thing I know.


Explaining the surge's successes

WSJ weekend interview with General Odierno, once the poster boy for a shoot-em-up Army ill-suited for SysAdmin work, now the longest serving general in Iraq and the poster boy for COIN done well enough.

Good quotes:

[The surge] shows we learned to adapt, to change.  We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations--all while in contact [with the enemy].  That's an incredible feat.


In 2007 I would go out and Americans would show up in a community where they hadn't been in a while. For the first three days, no one would talk to any of the Americans.  But as soon as they started setting up their base—usually meaning they put T-walls around a couple buildings—[Iraqis] would come out of the woodwork. Why? Because when they saw the T-walls go up they knew it was gonna be somewhat permanent, that [the Americans] were going to stay . . . not just gonna come through here for a few days and leave us and we'll be slaughtered.


Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you're there living and reading their newspapers and what they're saying—it's very clear they want to be their own country. They don't want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.


A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.


It's going to be three to five years [after 2011] for us to figure out if this is going right and if it's what we want. There's a real opportunity here that I don't think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there's an opportunity we might never get again.

Good interview.


COIN: It may work in the real world, but does it work in theory?

A serious piece, I am sure, in the Washington Quarterly that explores the "impossible trilemma" of counterinsurgency.  Got it via WPR Media Roundup.

This was the para that caught my eye.

While at present there is general agreement on how to carry out counterinsurgency,3 a clear analysis of the tradeoffs that all counterinsurgents have to deal with is still lacking. While challenges within the field remain, counterinsurgency still faces numerous challenges in theory. Neither scholars nor practitioners have developed a theoretical framework that has been able to explicitly specify the existing tradeoffs among the three typical goals involved in this doctrine.

Only an academic could write that with a straight face.

I guess I don't see the challenge lying primarily in the realm of theory but rather in fieldable technology (e.g., tagging, facing recog, sensors, etc.).

But, by all means, if it doesn't work in theory, we should back off!


What the Leviathan taketh away, the SysAdmin better provide

Great NYT piece on "shadow war" (the usual term of art when your Leviathan ops--meaning kinetic--are conducted by your special ops guys here and there).  The gist:

At first, the news from Yemen on May 25 sounded like a modest victory in the campaign against terrorists: an airstrike had hit a group suspected of being operatives for Al Qaedain the remote desert of Marib Province, birthplace of the legendary queen of Sheba.

But the strike, it turned out, had also killed the province’s deputy governor, a respected local leader who Yemeni officials said had been trying to talk Qaeda members into giving up their fight. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, accepted responsibility for the death and paid blood money to the offended tribes.

The strike, though, was not the work of Mr. Saleh’s decrepit Soviet-era air force. It was a secret mission by the United States military, according to American officials, at least the fourth such assault on Al Qaeda in the arid mountains and deserts of Yemen since December.

The attack offered a glimpse of the Obama administration’s shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies. In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.

The White House has intensified the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, approved raids against Qaeda operatives in Somalia and launched clandestine operations from Kenya. The administration has worked with European allies to dismantle terrorist groups in North Africa, efforts that include a recent French and Mauritanian strike near the border between Mauritania and Mali. And the Pentagon tapped a network of private contractors to gather intelligence about things like militant hide-outs in Pakistan and the location of an American soldier currently in Taliban hands.

While the stealth war began in the Bush administration, it has expanded under President Obama, who rose to prominence in part for his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged.

This is why, when I divide up the "kids" between Leviathan and SysAdmin in the brief, I put the SOF triggers pullers with the Leviathan but shove the Unconventional Warfare guys (a misleading label because they're really the hearts-and-minds/milk-mil training crowd) into the SysAdmin pile.  My excuse:  I don't care to explain publicly what the trigger-pullers do--and neither does the USG.

But the larger point:  fine to do the nasty work on the nasty types, but that needs to be publicly balanced with highly transparent SysAdmin efforts, otherwise the shadow war starts to feel like a cynically maintained shadow empire of the "escape-from-New-York" variety--as in, we put a fence around bad countries and enter them at will primarily for the kinetics/killing.  

That is a defense but not a solution.  It's also morally unsustainable.

Obama has shown an amazing toughness on the kinetic side, acting far beyond his words.  But he's also shown a strong desire to "come home" when the SysAdmin stuff--in all its magnificent difficulty and frustrations--drags on to long.  That second instinct, when coupled with the USG's continued lack of strategic imagination regarding new allies and serious regionalization strategies (like in Afghanistan) makes us look still too unilateral and too cynical in our approach.


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 . . ..


Pakistan's government: always quick to blame the world for its inadequacies

WAPO story on how Pakistan (canubelieveit!) complains that the world's aid response to the recent flooding is inadequate. Granted, it's the nation's worst disaster, but it's also a clear sign of the government's near-failed-state status.  The clearest sign of a competent government is its ability to handle a system-perturbing event of this magnitude, and Pakistan is a lot closer to helpless than help-able.

I'm not saying Pakistan isn't correct, because, by recent measures (like Haiti's earthquake), it is being shortchanged, but I suspect a certain amount of that stinginess comes from the sense that Pakistan is an incompetent, ungrateful, hate-filled place as far as the West is concerned.  How much of that is true is obviously up for debate, but the argument cannot be dismissed out of hand--and yeah, those dynamics limit the love that comes back to you in your moment of need.

Of course, the US military steps up (a generosity that will be instantly forgotten) and--as usual--the lack of helos is the long pole in the SysAdmin tent.

I will naturally be accused of blaming the victim here, but when the victim is so willing to blame the responder, that sort of feedback is to be expected.  Nobody deserves this level of pain, but people, I have learned, tend to suffer and die the same way they love and live.  That's not karma; it's human nature.  A let's-all-pull-together place goes down fighting, while a let's-point-fingers place just goes down.  Granted, you can always blame the Brits for Pakistan's fake-state status, and you can always blame us for abusing the place plenty ever since, but Pakistan--in pockets--is a place of highly inventive and ambitious people who are nonetheless trapped in a nation-state cell with a collection of Gap populations that will not be dragged into the future without a huge fight.  America was once that state:  an ambitious and go-getting East simultaneously saddled with a crazy West that needed to be tamed.  We were fairly brutal in the latter process, and succeeded dramatically on that basis.  We were lucky to be relatively isolated from threats--unlike Pakistan, but that nation faces a very similar choice on which it has punted for decades now, preferring to nurture its hatred toward India and the West in general (the source of all its woes [at least those beyond that created by nefarious India], according to the nation's unreal conspiratorial mindset), and yeah, that narrow mindset comes back to haunt the place at moments like this--which is shameful for all sides but a cruel fact.

One can only hope the disaster pushes ordinary Pakistanis to expect better from their own government and not instinctively ask what the world owes it, because, quite frankly, the world is not in a good mood right now with regard to Pakistan, and to me, that's the real tragedy here.