What the Troops Really Need

By Janine Davidson, an adjunct professor at George Mason's School of Public Policy and a former Air Force officer and Tammy S. Schultz, a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at Georgetown University (THE WASHINGTON POST, 17/12/05):

"Clear, Hold and Build" is the new official security approach for victory in Iraq. President Bush presented this strategy in a recent series of speeches, and the phrase is featured prominently in the White House's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." The wisdom of this policy suggests that the U.S. leadership may finally "get it."

History demonstrates that successful counterinsurgency requires an integrated civil-military effort focused on strengthening local institutions, not just chasing down bad guys. Unfortunately, the United States lacks the nonmilitary institutional capacity to carry out this strategy -- and if current political trends continue, it will not have the capacity to "build" anytime soon.

In the new strategy, "clearing" an area of insurgents through aggressive military operations is only useful if that same area is then "held" by security forces that can prevent insurgents from resuming violence against the civilian population. But U.S. forces cannot hold these areas forever. The population's future depends on the "building" of durable local institutions, including mechanisms for security, governance and economic development. This building requires the assistance of nonmilitary experts -- the type that the United States has failed to develop and deploy in sufficient numbers to adequately assist the troops in the field.

What is the cost of such neglect? Just ask the military commanders on the ground in Iraq. Trained and educated for traditional warfare, commanders find themselves spending as much time kick-starting microeconomies, building sewage systems and running town hall meetings as they do providing security. They do this not simply out of altruism but because these experienced leaders recognize that their ticket home depends on the capacity of Iraqis to govern as well as fight, and because there is no one else to get the job done. Most say they rely on what they learned in their political science classes -- if they were lucky enough to have taken any -- and ask, "Where is the State Department?"

The State Department is only one of a number of nonmilitary government agencies that are critical for success. We need Treasury and Commerce Department officials to help build the regulatory mechanisms of legal economic life. We need Justice Department experts to assist with the rule of law and the training of police. And we need State Department diplomats to tend to the governance and the coordination of these disparate efforts.

If you think that the $500 billion military is stretched thin, take a look at the anemic, $10 billion State Department. Most military officers crying for assistance in the field do not realize how small their diplomatic sister agency is. There are more musicians playing for the military services' bands than there are Foreign Service officers at State. This severe lack of capacity leaves the military with the bulk of the building, in addition to the clearing and the holding.

Although the Bush administration demonstrated that it recognizes this institutional shortfall when it supported the creation of the State Department Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, the new office does not have authorization to work on problems in Iraq. Even worse, by recently cutting the administration's $100 million request for the office's crisis response fund, Congress ensures that any future counterinsurgency operation will be equally stymied. This is unfortunate given that, according to the State Department, an effective civilian response that allows one military division to come home six months sooner would yield a savings of $7.2 billion, not to mention the potential savings in lives.

As Iraq clearly demonstrates, viable institutions do not spontaneously emerge in the aftermath of war. The uncertainty and instability that prevail in war-torn environments present unique challenges to the leadership of these societies. Nations assisting them must have expertise and competence in diplomacy, the rule of law, economic development, conflict resolution and democratization -- areas in which civilian diplomats and professionals in nonmilitary government agencies have a significant advantage over military officers trained and educated for warfare. Funding the new State Department office is a small but significant step in the right direction -- and the military knows it. The Pentagon has even offered some of its own money to support the office (a move, incidentally, that is also not likely to win congressional approval).

If we really want to support the troops, we need to get serious about supporting the State Department.