Do As I Say, Not As I DoD
Will the Pentagon ever value nation-building as much as war-fighting?
A Pentagon directive issued this week might herald the most dramatic upheaval of the U.S. armed forces in 20 years—or it might dissolve upon first contact with reality, like so many reform plans and nostrums before it. We'll know in the next few months, or maybe weeks, whether the order gets taken seriously or waved off as empty rhetoric.
Department of Defense Directive 3000.05, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England on Nov. 28, declares the following to be new Defense Department policy:
Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission. … They should be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all DoD activities, including doctrine, organizations, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning.
On paper anyway, this is huge. First of all, it amounts to an admission that the White House and the Pentagon botched the planning for the war in Iraq—that their dismissal of "nation-building" as a worthy concept and their subsequent failure to plan for "stability operations" in Iraq (the official term for securing order and building stable institutions after an armed conflict) account, in large measure, for the mess we're in now.
Deeper into the 11-page directive, the implicit indictment gets specific. For instance, it notes, "Whether conducting or supporting stability operations, the Department of Defense shall be prepared to work closely with relevant U.S. Departments and Agencies, foreign governments and security forces, global and regional international organizations … U.S. and foreign nonGovernmental organizations … and private-sector individuals and for-profit companies." This, of course, is precisely what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in his machinations against arch-rivals at the State Department and the United Nations, refused to do.
Second, beyond taking a scornful glance at the past two and a half years, the directive prescribes a radically new course for the future. To put "stability operations" and "combat operations" on an equal footing—not just in a memorandum but for real—is to alter the way that the Pentagon not only plans and fights wars but also recruits, organizes, and even envisions the U.S. armed forces, especially the Army and Marines, which do the fighting and stabilizing on the ground.
Here are just a few of the things that would be involved: new curricula and training methods that entail learning foreign cultures and languages as well as firing guns and driving tanks; new budget priorities that boost pay, maintenance, logistics, intelligence, and communications, perhaps at the expense of buying certain weapons systems; the recruiting of many more military police, civil-affairs personnel, foreign-affairs officers, and psychological-warfare specialists.
More than any of these things (which could, theoretically, be driven through by a determined president or secretary of defense), a truly serious adoption of this policy would require new sets of incentives that make it clear, beyond any doubt, that a career in stability operations will offer at least the same chances for prestige and promotion as a career in an armored brigade or a weapons-procurement office. If equality is not achieved on this day-to-day level, the mission will never be taken seriously, and those who go that route will be widely seen as losers.
That's roughly what the situation is now. Stability operations are almost entirely a function of the National Guard and Army Reserve. In the entire U.S. Army, just one active-duty battalion—the 96th Civil Affairs (Airborne)—is devoted to civil affairs, and it comprises just 4 percent of all such forces. The other 96 percent consists of four subordinate brigades and battalions in the Army Reserve. About 55 percent of military police personnel come from the Guard and Reserve. How can the task be seen as—much less actually be—the equal of combat operations when its soldiers don't occupy a rung on the military's career ladder?
Changing this situation takes more than a directive; it takes a new culture, maybe a new generation.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.