Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Putting the "Inter" Back into Interagency

I'm fully aware that there are many of our readers who aren't fans of Michael Cohen's work over at Democracy Arsenal. A lot of that has to do with the bad rap he got over at AM many moons ago. For those of you said he was wrong, please go read his Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch series (I've linked to it previously) and see how right he's been for the past few months.

So while he still rails on mission creep, Michael has also been doing some great writing on military dominance in the D3 world (or 3D, depending on who you work for, which stands for: Defense, Diplomacy, Development). I highly recommend reading this post and this post. A lot of this is what I was getting at in this post on AFRICOM.

Michael makes some very interesting points on the role of USAID in post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization. This mission set seems to dominate that agency's agenda these days and Michael is spot on that that's wrong.

Maybe instead of an interagency USOCO as Bowen recommends, maybe DoD should have its own reconstruction arm for post-conflict everything. Lord knows DoD has the money and then reconstruction could be drawn from Title X funds instead of AID funds. I should mention that if this were the case they should be DoD civilians, not Soldiers and/or Marines. Then USAID could stop complaining about cleaning up after the military and do their normal jobs and DoD can stop complaining that USAID doesn't do enough for them. Win - win for everyone, right? Thoughts?

11 comments:

  1. I think its an interesting idea Bowen has, but the office can't report to State and DoD as equal partners. Someone has to be in charge. Thats the sticking point. It wouldn't work that way.

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  2. Ryan, you're absolutely right. The obvious organization to run the thing would be the NSC. But they're going to have to grow, or be given, bigger cohones than they currently have to be able to manage it.

    And speaking of AFRICOM and how they shouldn't have a "plus", this article leads me to believe that ditch some of their staff writers as well. Hopefully, no one on the continent will actually see this. Hopefully. While I applaud this chaplain's efforts, there are so many things wrong with connotations of this story.

    http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=3729&lang=0

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  3. Right. Cojones, not cohones. No hablo.

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  4. There's a lot going on here, so I'm going to try to briefly address just a few points.

    1) Putting post-conflict reconstruction under DOD and long-term development under AID just means that AID is going to continue to get under-resourced. The reason for this isn't entirely organizational, either.

    The public has a dramatic misimpression of how much money goes towards foreign aid -- most people think that dollar amount is much, much higher than it is. Combine this with the frequently-held belief that development aid is mostly wasted, or at least not particularly well-correlated to U.S. objectives or national security, and you end up with a whole lot of people (and by extension, legislators) screeching that the U.S. spends too much money on foreign aid.

    If you further segregate post-conflict reconstruction money -- funds that are demonstrably related to national security if only because they're being spent in places where U.S. forces have been engaged, or at least where there's been fighting of some kind -- then you're going to make it easier for the public and the Congress to oppose what will then be viewed as "non-security-relevant aid money." The debate is already hard enough when the post-war money comes from the same pot.

    2) Title 10 budgets (DoD money, for those who aren't familiar with this term) aren't likely to be slashed any time soon, but they're probably not going to get dramatically larger, either. If you try to fund post-conflict reconstruction out of DoD money, then that means you'll have to either a) divert money from personnel accounts, b) cancel systems or buy less than you want, or c) create post-war aid/reconstruction supplementals, which the White House and the Department have insisted they're doing away with.

    3) Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) are currently extant DoD mission areas. Why? Because the military has the mobility and the resources to access dangerous environments quickly in order to deliver the necessary aid. Further, DoD personnel can defend themselves (or be defended by other DoD assets). These are good reasons for the Department to handle these missions. Having said that, isn't HA/DR also foreign policy? Aren't we responding to circumstances like this out of a desire to influence foreign publics and governments? I think the answer is yes, and as far as I'm concerned, that's a civilian mission.

    More to come on this later.

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  5. There is a lot going on here, but I'll just focus for now on: "non-security-relevant aid money." That's not aid money, that reconstruction money for after we deconstructed a society. I think that's a point that Michael is making, and which I agree. AID is becoming the cleanup crew for DoD instead of promoting peace, economic success, and democracy across the globe, which is their true mission. Of course there is a lot politics behind why that is so.

    And yes, the foreign aid budget is woefully small, contrary to popular belief. If I recall correctly, it is on the order of magnitude of what DoD spends in a month from just standard appropriations.

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  6. That's not aid money, that reconstruction money for after we deconstructed a society. I think that's a point that Michael is making, and which I agree. AID is becoming the cleanup crew for DoD instead of promoting peace, economic success, and democracy across the globe, which is their true mission. Of course there is a lot politics behind why that is so.

    This is a crazy way of thinking about it. DoD is not deconstructing societies, the United States government is. The Defense Department doesn't send itself to war, the President does. We're all on the same team here. A mess is a mess, whether it was created by the Taliban or the Marines or a tsunami; refusing to do "cleanup" work for the military is a lame-ass excuse for not doing your job.

    USAID's "true mission" isn't just to do steady-state, "Phase 0" (to piss them off with another military term) development and capacity-building. Its mission is to support the national strategic objectives of the United States through development and reconstruction. Period. AID types might not have gotten into the game to clean up after the military, and in that they have a lot in common: most military personnel I know didn't get into that business to be a development professional, a police officer, or a governance advisor. Suck it up and do the mission.

    The military bases its steady-state efforts around COCOM efforts to secure the regional and global strategic objectives laid out in a document called the Guidance for Employment of the Force (GEF). The COCOMs build theater strategic plans around those objectives. The State department has a similar planning process: each Embassy has what's called a Mission Strategic Plan (MSP) that lays out State objectives for the country.

    Here's the point: all of this is nested into NATIONAL STRATEGY. If the USG decides to get out of the business of development aid except in countries where we've engaged in conflict, then AID personnel damned well better be queuing up to go support that mission, too.

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  7. Come on now. DoS and USAID aren't deconstructing societies - that's DoD's job to do. And right now DoS and USAID are responsible as part of the USG to fix the USG's problem. I'm saying USAID shouldn't be.

    But when reconstruction becomes an inordinately large percentage of operations, when it's just a fraction of your mandate, something is wrong. For a historical perspective, and how USAID's involvements in these operations makes them look bad globally, just look at what happened in Vietnam and its aftermath. The strong link (and granted AID was doing a lot shit then that is shouldn't have) between USAID and the military caused decades of distrust for the agency.

    Believe me, AID needs to be pulling its weight for the time being. But I think it's strategically wrong to have them doing reconstruction and the other stuff. It gives the wrong message as to why they exist. They philanthropy of the USG and the national security apparatuses of the USG should be completely firewalled from each other. The conflicts of interest are obvious.

    Of course, this is all moot anyway since USAID is just just a shell of its former self. Until they move out from being a contracting agency, none of this matters anyway.

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  8. I'm not sure I've been terribly clear here, so let me add something.

    I think AID's long-term development mission is vital to our national security and the defense of our interests. I think we need to be spending more money on foreign aid of all kinds, including non-conflict development aid. If there's even the slightest possibility that intelligent investment in this arena can help us to avoid costly interventions in conflicts down the road (or less costly, but still expensive, support for a local or regional proxy in an eventual conflict), then it's something we need to be devoting more resources to.

    Having said that, there has to be a plan. The Bush Administration, in a rare feat of perceptiveness and competence, actually recognized this: they started the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to link development aid to tangible progress in governance, democratic transition, and so on. But there are a lot of problems with that approach, too. I don't know enough about all this development stuff to give answers to the question of how you ensure that your aid dollars are actually effective, but I'm sure there are people out there thinking about it.

    The point, really, is that -- as I think most people would agree -- development efforts need to be linked to strategic goals, e.g. Country X gets X amount of dollars over X period of time in order to do X such that X is avoided and we progress towards our desired regional end-state of X. This may not be the way that State and AID are used to doing business, and I understand that. (And there should perhaps -- probably? -- be a place for simple humanitarian aid that has no motive at all beyond the relief of human suffering.) But this is how governments have to set priorities and make decisions in a resource-constrained environment.

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  9. But when reconstruction becomes an inordinately large percentage of operations, when it's just a fraction of your mandate, something is wrong.

    We can agree on this one. But if you think that cutting the reconstruction bit out of AID's budget is going to result in better resourced peacetime/non-conflict development efforts, then I think you're crazy (for the reasons I addressed above -- we need a better pitch to the public and Congress for non-conflict aid to have any backing).

    Here's some help in understanding what I mean and why I think that: AID currently has less total personnel than they had in-country at the height of the Vietnam War. Why? Because the public and the government are not as interested in resourcing an organization that is about feeding hungry people without a security component, so money for USAID dried up as the Cold War drew to a close.

    Believe me, AID needs to be pulling its weight for the time being. But I think it's strategically wrong to have them doing reconstruction and the other stuff. It gives the wrong message as to why they exist. They philanthropy of the USG and the national security apparatuses of the USG should be completely firewalled from each other. The conflicts of interest are obvious.

    This argument has merit and is fine on its own, but it's impossible to consider without also thinking about what effect this would have on foreign aid dollars and staffing/resources for that agency.

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  10. Reorganizing the DoD to include a post-conflict reconstruction mission misses the larger debate that should be going on. That is, when, where and why should the US intervene in foreign lands.

    Sure enough, the DoD doesn't send itself to war, but the more capability it has to do various missions means that the politicians will increasingly be tempted to send the DoD out to foreign lands. If you give the DoD a public diplomay/reconstruction mission, there are very few places that politicans couldn't justify sending it. And I don't think the DoD is the face our nation wants to put forward to the rest of the world.

    Think about it--the only interaction an average Afghan is likely to have with an American is with an American soldier outfitted with body armor and a machine gun. Continue using the DoD for missions other than war, and that's the American face the world will see.

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  11. Very much agree with Keith here.

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