Sunday, October 08, 2006

A uniquely American crisis

The U.S. is facing a crisis. It has to do with Iraq, but our involvement in Iraq is only a symptom of the broader problem. This thought is still forming, and remains a bit rough around the edges, but I want to through it out because it's been so long since my last post.

The U.S. military has become so effective, so powerful, so efficient at it's job: defeating identified enemies, that it has far outpaced not only our enemies and adversaries ability to fight back, but it has outpaced even our own ability to prepare for the aftermath.

What am I talking about? The men and women in our armed forces can, on very short notice, be nearly anywhere in the world, engaging in successful operations against nearly any traditional enemy we could face. The problem this creates--and where the crisis comes in--is that the rest of our government is not, and I believe should not be, in a position to deal with the consequences of such rapid victories.

Put in a concrete situation, the U.S. force in Iraq was 1. enormously effective at eliminating the Iraqi threat; and 2. Woefully prepared to handle the post-conflict element of operations in Iraq. Recent publications from George Packer's "Assassin's Gate" and Bob Woodward's "State of Denial" suggest that much of this has been caused by the administration's unwillingness to face the realities caused by America's actions.

If true, this attitude would clearly be a major contributing factor to the problem. It, alone, is not sufficient, however. Planning an attack, or a campaign, against a target or a country is a complex undertaking. It requires an understanding of the force being faced, it's strengths and weaknesses, the terrain, and myriad other items. But it is fairly transferrable from one place to another: tanks are always tanks; guns are always guns. Achieving victory, then, is something that takes a great deal of effort--but is something that our military is eminently well suited to do.

Achieving peace, prosperity, and ultimately political success, is something our military has not trained for, and is not presently equipped to do. Unfortunately, neither are any of our other federal departments or agencies. Creating a stable, productive, and peaceful country where there was a despotic autocracy requires a very differents set of skills and knowledge--and a country (or even provincial-level) expertise that our soldiers do not have the luxury to afford. On V-E and V-J day in world war two, the U.S. Generals in charge had spent the entirety of those wars facing the adversaries. They had at their disposal staffs with extensive knowledge of the countries and cultures in play--not just the relevant military information, but extensive information about history, culture, society, and in-country networks that existed or were believed to exist. And they had several years of working with these people to develop a clear sense of what would be needed not only to win the war, but, to use a cliche, "to win the peace."

Since World War II, our military has in both real and relative terms become a force unrivaled. Our experience in Vietnam gave us the "Powell Doctrine" of using "overwhelming force" to defeat an enemy. These two together, have left the U.S. in a position where our political leadership, and our military commanders no longer have the time to gain sufficient knowledge about a place, or establish networks of people who have this information, to create and put in place (much less execute) a plan that will allow the U.S. to succeed after the military operation has been successful.

This is not just a problem, it is a crisis. Unless we can bring our ability to win peace in line with our ability to fight wars, the United States will have more situations like Iraq in our future, not less. We will identify threats to our safety. We will neutralize them. And, perversely, we will be less secure after the threat is gone then we were when the threat was there.