Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus

Summary:  a quick look at the basis of America’s post-WWII grand strategy, and why it no longer works.  Ninth in a series of notes , we discuss solutions.

Regeneration

America is a State, not a person.  The arrow of time points only one way for an individual, but nations are reborn every generation.  It’s outside the scope of this series to discuss how America can reclaim itself and become what we wish to be.  But clearly our current condition offers little hope for ambitious foreign policy goals, let alone the expeditions or crusades that have seized the imagination of many in our intelligentsia.  The nation is too weak (bills coming due from years of feckless policies) and the institutional apparatus that conducts foreign policy — both diplomatic and military — is almost dysfunctional.

We have a sound theoretical basis for reform, as described in these posts, based on the work in the field loosely called fourth generation warfare.  Unfortunately we do not know how to apply it.

Getting America’s Government Fit to Implement a Grand Strategy

The early history of Communism provides a relevant parallel.  Marx’s theories might have remained historical curiosities if Lenin had not developed a method for forcible regime change — under the suitable conditions.  Perhaps we need a Lenin to “operationalize” Boyd’s theories.  This might mean, in effect lawfully waging 4GW war on our own bureaucracies, as a means to force their evolution.  Perhaps this requires a peaceful institutional “revolution.”

We must reform the massive “arms” of our foreign policy machinery, the Departments of Defense (DoD) and State (DoS), so they can successfully operate in a 4GW world.  Otherwise we’ll be in effect running sail-powered navies in the Age of Steam.  The DNI site has many articles detailing the crippling managerial, financial, and operational flaws of the US DoD.  This is relatively well understood.

DoS is in worse shape, perhaps the weakest of our national security agencies — and almost ignored by 4GW experts (who focus on DoD and the intelligence agencies).  Crippled since the 1950’s “who lost China” blame game and the following McCarthy-era witch-hunts, reform of the State Department might be the most difficult task on the 4GW “To Do” List.

It’s no secret.  Journalists have long described how the weakness of State vs. Defense has influenced the course of the War.  Note this incisive analysis:

Dealing with the military, the President learned, was an awesome thing.  The failure of their estimates along the way, point by point, meant nothing.  It did not follow, as one might expect, that their credibility was diminished and that there was now less pressure from them, but the reverse.  … Once activated they would soon dominate the play.  Their power with the Hill and with journalists, their stronger hold on patriotic-machismo arguments (in decision making they proposed the manhood positions, their opponents the softer, sissy, positions), their particular certitude, make them far more power players then those raising doubts. …

These years show, in the American system, how when a question of the use of force arose in government, the advocates of force were always better organized, seemed more numerous and seemed to have both logic and fear on their side, and that in fending them off in his own government, a President needed all the help he possibly could get, not the least a powerful Secretary of State. …

{What we have instead is} a forceful, determined, hard-working, intelligent man who was in charge of the political aspects of American policy, and he would have made a very great Secretary of Defense, it was his natural constituency.

This nicely describes Secretary of State Colin Powell’s role in the Iraq War.  Sadly for America, it was written about Secretary Rusk’s role in the Vietnam War, an excerpt from The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam.  Our inability to fix long-known problems is a major symptom of our institutions’ weaknesses.

Seeing today’s State Department, it’s difficult to recall that it was long considered the senior department of the Executive Branch (ref the Secretary of State’s status as #4 in the succession to the Presidency).  Appropriately so, as State should be the center wheel of our geo-political machinery.

  • State is everywhere on the front lines, the nerve ends of our Government’s international sensory systems.
  • Negotiations with State and non-State actors are the routine between (hopefully infrequent) armed conflicts, and that is largely State’s role.

State is the natural counter-weight to DoD.  In a parochial society such as ours the State Department staff should be those best able to understand the outside world in any fullness, in a multidimensional fashion. It has experts with a depth of foreign experience unmatched by other Government agencies – unlike the academics in the CIA or the military professionals in DoD.

Deep knowledge of foreign cultures and their leaders is necessary for success in a multi-polar world.  We’ll need people like Robert Clive and Sir Richard Burton, and State is where they’re most likely to find a home in our bureaucracy.  But not, of course, in today’s State Department. Nor anywhere in the US Government apparatus, which often rejects people with great initiative and expertise as surely as your body rejects foreign bacilli.

Conclusion

American history offers no precedent for institutional changes of this magnitude.  The recent re-organization of the Homeland Security agencies – a much smaller project – does not provide grounds for optimism.  There might be no precedents for reform of such large, entrenched organizations.

Perhaps this should be the next focus for discussion by experts on 4GW warfare:  how to turn 4GW theories into plans for the reform of the US Government.  This appears a precondition for implementation of any Grand Strategy for the United States of America.
Afterword

If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about the State Department:

  1. Truly cracked advice to the State Department, receiving wide applause, 13 February 2008
  2. Ready, Aim, “foreign policy” away, 7 March 2008
  3. The State Department needs help, stat!, 22 December 2008

11 thoughts on “Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus

  1. I agree that a re-organization of this size has never been done before. DHS offers no hope, and I don’t think that any revolution would come from within. Perhaps only a President has enough clout to effectively perform the changes. A President who runs under the campaign of smaller government. I don’t see either canidate offering these possibilities.

    I remember the basic synopsis of a Tom Clancy novel; at the end of one novel, as Jack Ryan is getting sworn in as something or other, a 747 flies into the packed Congress, killing both the House and Senate, the JCs, the Supreme Court, etc. etc. Long story short, Jack Ryan gets to pick everyone in the new government, and goes on to do great deeds. Too bad…
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I disagree on all counts. Humans and human institutions are never are beyond hope. Hoping for a savior President, rather than pressure for reform from some form of collection action, misunderstands our political process. The dream for a “fresh start” is understandable, but point in a dangerous direction.

  2. This is a fresh thought I hadnt heard before. We have more or less accepted the senescence of the State Department. It’s tempting to think this is just a reflection of the prior militarization of our foreign policy, the increasingly strong presence of DoD, and the predilection of Presidents since Kennedy for military assertiveness (which itself stems from 60’s years of inflated fears of Russia.) DoD dealt with the big threats, while State kept Europe informed and an ear on pre-strategic spots like Africa. Who was our last strong (i.e. policy-making) Secretary of State. Dean Rusk? John Foster Dulles?

    The explanation at bottom may be that the gfrowing post-WW II expansionism and globalism of Amereican business and finance has led to more active and abrasive kinds of intervention in foreign countries, while economic penetration, formerly the chief concern of State, has been turned over to transnational agencies like the IMF.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: All great points. However, Rusk was the opposite of a strong Secretary of State. He deferred to DoD in all things. Vietnam was to some extent a result of State’s — and Rusk’s — weakness.

  3. Insightful post, as always, Fabius. I think an application to some of their internships seem like a good place to delve into this subject. Like any 4GW fighter, they aim to attack their opponents political will, the SD seem key to key to helping COIN succeed. Although, this thought wasn’t obvious until now.

  4. Working within the system that currently exists, we begin at the state level with the education system. The focus must change from self esteem to performance and personal responsability. These are the areas that education has failed. Breaking down the school districts into smaller sizes will make the easier to control for the public and harder for the teachers unions to take control of.

    I think once we start working at this level then it will work it’s way up the chain. It may take 40 years but in the long run it would be worth it. The current direction is just not working. Eventually, an influential group, probably about the 3rd of the populace, will demand change and some individual will promise it and thing will change on a new road.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: While I agree with your recommendations, this has been the core plan for most social reformers during the past 20+ years. As a result the schools are a battlefield of competing special interests (some winners, some defeated). Like most war zones, the result is rubble — a wasteland. Of course, the combatants feel no responsibility for the outcome.

  5. So you suggest circumventing the traditional policital action of voting our leaders into office in favor of some other sort of mass change? I don’t see how the self-serving interests in DoD and DoS (along with the powerful defense industry lobby) let’s anyone get into power that might rock the boat. I think you see that too. While there are undoubtedly good men (and women) in both organizations, how do they unmire themselves from the beauracracy?

    I’m at a loss…

  6. State can never act as a natural counter-weight to DoD because of their wildly different budgets. Congress-critters are hooked on the drug of “free money” that flows into their districts from the Pentagon for useless military equipment and needless bases, and work mightily to increase it through appropriations, earmarks, increasing the size of the military (the Army and Marines are currently being increased in size), etc.

    The Pentagon contributes by asking for money every year at a time when the US is not threatened by any military force, by stationing troops in as many client states as possible, by sending retired officers to military contractors, etc. The result is a large presence overseas by both the Pentagon and its contractors. While this presence is advertised to promote peace and stability, it actually has the opposite effect, most recently demonstrated in Georgia where a penny-ante madman, because of his cozy relationship with the US military, believed he could take on mighty Russia.

    There is no backing down from this profligate spending, these welfare payments to Congress and their corporate friends, only increased spending. Example: The Pentagon has recently determined that North Korea is no longer, after fifty-six years, a military threat to South Korea. So will US troops be removed? Oh, no. The lack of threat means that Korea will now be a three-year accompanied tour, and new bases will be built complete with family housing, schools, fire departments and all the other small-town amenities that military families will need in this far-off corner of the world.

    All of this subverts any diplomacy that State might care to do — they simply can’t compete. What good is the World’s Finest Military if we can’t use it? And it has nothing to do with national security, except to lessen it.

  7. Excellent comments, Don! When the regulatory agency (the congress) is dependent on the thing it’s supposed to regulate, there’s little chance of reform. It seems the solution has to come from outside, when the external world changes so that the military solution is no longer viable. For one example, when countries of all political persuasions around the world have significant nuclear arsenals, perhaps the US will then see the wisdom of nuclear disarmament. If Venezuela can successfully defend itself and eventually lead a bloc of Latin American states out of the American economic sphere, US military presence in LA may someday seem counterproductive and unnecessary. Europe seems to be slowly tilting toward a more geographically natural alliance with Russia; without the umbrella of NATO and OES, US military adventures would be less easy to sell, more obvious for what they really are, naked power plays.

  8. plato’s cave,
    Again, it has nothing to do with logic, it has to do with dollars, green, Ben Franklins, free money flowing into congressional districts that congress-critters can brag about snagging for their lucky constituents while they reap the financial campaign-contribution rewards, as the Pentagon dreams up supporting rationales like “Global War on Terror” that give the pigs at the trough a cover story to justify their larcenous behavior.

    Congress has no interest in the “why,” they just want the money, so they allow corporate non-elected puppet Robert Gates to come up with a new National Security Strategy, which he just did. Bob knows what’s best — everything he can possibly imagine. Bob recently released a billion bucks to Lockheed-Martin for six F-35 airplanes. Seems like a bargain to me, eh what?

    It is a Grand (Financial) Strategy, in the best tradition of America. (Money talks and BS walks.)

  9. “Seeing today’s State Department, it’s difficult to recall that it was long considered the senior department of the Executive Branch (ref the Secretary of State’s status as #4 in the succession to the Presidency). Appropriately so, as State should be the center wheel of our geo-political machinery.

    State is everywhere on the front lines, the nerve ends of our Government’s international sensory systems.
    Negotiations with State and non-State actors are the routine between (hopefully infrequent) armed conflicts, and that is largely State’s role.
    State is the natural counter-weight to DoD. In a parochial society such as ours the State Department staff should be those best able to understand the outside world in any fullness, in a multidimensional fashion. It has experts with a depth of foreign experience unmatched by other Government agencies – unlike the academics in the CIA or the military professionals in DoD.

    Deep knowledge of foreign cultures and their leaders is necessary for success in a multi-polar world. We’ll need people like Robert Clive and Sir Richard Burton, and State is where they’re most likely to find a home in our bureaucracy. But not, of course, in today’s State Department. Nor anywhere in the US Government apparatus, which often rejects people with great initiative and expertise as surely as your body rejects foreign bacilli.”

    Fabius,

    (please feel free to cull down the selected quotes from your post above).

    As someone who’s in a fairly unique (read: nebulous and uncertain) limbo at present between the DoS, DoD, and DHS, I think there’s a number of misconceptions and caveats regarding the DoS v. DoD that are worth correcting and/or interjecting into this debate.

    1. The DoS is at present so intertwined with the civilian field operations of the various DHS and IC DO’s acting abroad that there’s a great deal of chaos. As I’ve written previously, because the CIA officer posted at a foreign embassy using ‘diplomatic cover’ is outside the DoS chain of command, there day to day operations of Foreign Service personnel and ‘intelligence collectors’ or law enforcement ops are a complete mess. A DoS staffer has no way of determining if an intelligence agent is acting on their own, or rather on orders from D.C., and has no effective means to challenge rogue IC or Law Enforcement agents.

    2. As the whole reconstruction fubar has demonstrated (see previous link from related post), there are few professions less willing to hold themselves to outside reviews of acceptable standards of conduct than diplomats. In terms of career Foreign Service professionals, the metrics used to determine promotion and advancement within the DoS are highly risk adverse and conformist. On the other hand, there’s the 20-30% of ambassadorial appointments which are mostly political rewards for large domestic Party loyalists and fundraisers…. i.e. political ‘bag-men’ who are rewarded with choice diplomatic postings as a reward for Party loyalty above all else…. ask any professional diplomat (in private) and they will complain your ear off over the behavior and unfitness of political appointees. Yet THESE appointees are technically in “charge” of 1/5th to 1/3rd of American Embassies and consulates abroad depending on a given administration.

    3. Because procurement fraud and the “audit guidelines” that cover these types of investigations when undertaken from an embassy (as most are) are rigged by Congress to favor their own political appointees feathering their nests via their diplomatic status (so that they might give MORE money to their Parties at a later election), the DoS OIG AND the GAO are utterly unable to clamp down on fiscal improprieties. Likewise, because honest Foreign Service personnel will have nothing to do with these kinds of fraud, the political appointees and their “friends” who rake in vast fortunes abusing the pubic trust end up turning to spies, either bent American spooks, or foreigners happy to help them launder diverted money for “favors” elsewhere… so this entire system is blazingly corrupt.

    4. Because investigation and prosecution of a given administrations OWN dirty diplomats will be used as political ammo against that admin at home, and because both Parties have more or less equal exposure when it comes to dirty appointees, there is a de facto “hands off” policy regarding DoS crooks in general. Likewise, the fact that the bad apples enjoy “diplomatic immunity” whilst they are committing their various crimes (including selling U.S. VISA’s and smuggling), there is not really a LEGAL way to keep these bad apples honest.

    5. When Diplomats get involved in something rotten, or are bent, none of their honest subordinates is in a position to “whistle-blow”. If a honest DoS officer does the right thing and reports their corrupt boss, their career is over due to the “whistle-blower” label they’ll then carry. If honest Foreign Service Officers complain about dirty superiors, they’ll earn a “troublemaker” label and likewise find their careers are over.

    6. Because this whole appointment racket is SO political, there is about a zero chance that Congress will resist turning reform debates into a political referendum on the “policy” of their domestic opponents.

    7. etc.

    Last. I’ve personally performed due diligence and risk assessment security reviews of U.S. embassies on four different continents, and not A SINGLE CONSULATE or EMBASSY as passed. Anyone considering undertaking a 4GW operation should begin at the planning phase with the assumption that the embassy or consulate in the Country they’ll operating in will be penetrated and compromised. There won’t be secure communication, physical security, or data security.

    Whereas DoD officers are bound by the honor system and military tribunals, Diplomats are bound by NOTHING. If a diplomat sells out ones operation, there is NO legal recourse.

    Just to end on a historical note: Clive and Burton were both RUINED by their governments foreign ministries, as was T.E. Lawrence.

    For those of you considering or tasked to undertake 4GW type operations…. DO NOT TRUST DIPLOMATS if you want to avoid getting murdered in a ditch in some foreign backwater.

    A. Scott Crawford
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for this very helpful comment! Is DoS incapable of reform on its own? Would appointment of reform-minded people to senior positions help (unlikely as that is, as Administrations’ seldom give high priority to adminstrative reform). Any other pathways to fixing this mess?

  10. Take control of the promotion board and hiring committee. Keep it.

    Look at McMaster’s recent promotion: passed over twice until Petraeus got on the review committee and rammed him through.

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