November 30, 2007
November 27, 2007
Secretary of Defense Gates made a speech at Kansas State University the other day, and if you have the time I would suggest reading or listening to it (links via SWJ). In it he made a rather unusual plea: Give The Other Agencies of US Government Some Money Too.
What is not as well-known, and arguably even more shortsighted [than the "peace dividend" defense and intel cutbacks following the end of the Cold War], was the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world – the “soft power,” which had been so important throughout the Cold War. The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time. The United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts – its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s. And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity, split into pieces, and many of its capabilities folded into a small corner of the State Department.
...[P]ublic relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals. It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the internet than America. As one foreign diplomat asked a couple of years ago, “How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world’s greatest communication society?” Speed, agility, and cultural relevance are not terms that come readily to mind when discussing U.S. strategic communications.
...Despite the improvements of recent years, despite the potential innovative ideas hold for the future, sometimes there is no substitute for resources – for money.
Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense - not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.
From this we can reasonably conclude that the Secretary is a regular reader of WhirledView. Or, if not that, that he at least realizes, unlike his predecessor the famous bureaucratic infighter, that a successful US national strategy requires cooperation, coordination, and if not parity of resources then at least a balance less skewed than what we have now, between the critical agencies of US government.
I would strongly recommend MountainRunner's commentary on this speech as well. He mentions a report from Senator Lugar's office, "Embassies Grapple to Guide Foreign Aid" (.pdf) which he excerpts here in the bulleted points:
Not only has State's piece of the pie shrunk, but its leadership has, according to the report, become muddled. From four of the nine summary findings:
The last bullet is important as we see USAID working closely with the military in Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the contested spaces. This stepchild is a core function of our mission to deny sanctuary and to counter ideological support for terrorism and insurgency. In this, the report notes the importance of the institutionalization of collaboration between the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and USAID in terms of cooperation, funding, mission, and leadership. But to really move this requires leadership that's not apparent in State.
- From the field, it is clear that we have failed as a government and as a community of international development supporters to agree on either the importance or the content of a foreign aid strategy...
- Overall agreement between headquarters and the field on foreign assistance is at low ebb and communications have been complicated rather than improved by the State Department’s efforts to provide strategic direction...
- Field complaints about the [new foreign assistance function headed by the Director of Foreign Assistance] at State focus on the lack of transparency, the weeks of extra paperwork, the differing priorities between post and headquarters, as well as inconsistent demands, but the underlying, only sometimes unspoken, fight is about money...
- USAID may be viewed as the neglected stepchild in D.C. but in the field it is clear that USAID plays either the designated hitter or the indispensable utility infielder for almost all foreign assistance launched from post...
Mountainrunner wonders in his conclusion whether "Gates [is] speaking out of turn or is the Bush Administration having Gates speak for the President?" My guess is former, since as he points out there's little evidence of any coordination with Secretary Rice on this (and Bush himself appears these days to be focused mostly on 1) attempting to maintain some appearance of relevance, nevermind the realities; and 2) trying to convince everyone that actually, General Petraeus is really The Decider.) But you do have to sort of wonder what an administration a few real adults in charge from the beginning would've turned out like.
Update - Much more at WhirledView here.
November 16, 2007
I'm still adjusting to life back in the States on some levels but one of the best things about it is definitely having access to English-language public libraries again. I've been really lucky to live in places with some very nice libraries, and when I passed through Boston on my way home back in early October I took this shot of the BPL, one of my favorite spots in the city. They had a pretty good exhibition of U.S. World War Two propaganda posters on display while I was visiting, too.
November 12, 2007
This is sort of Helpful.
This is really Not Helpful.
I've sent off about 10 applications in the past two to three weeks, and so far have received one response, informing me that the internship position for which I had been applying was actually eliminated two years ago.
November 11, 2007
Book I recently finished: Six Days of War by Michael Oren.
Acting about three years too late on a recommendation of praktike's, I now can claim to know a very small amount about the Middle East conflict. The history was very thoroughly reported, but I probably need to read more on Nasser and Israel to appreciate it all. This is a conflict I'm more inclined to defer to others on.
Book I'm currently reading: The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind.
Now that I'm living in the States and have access to English-language libraries again, I'm trying to catch up on several of the big political books to have come out in the past couple years. I'm liking this one better than The Price of Loyalty for the broader scope, although the prose is maybe a little too Esquire-esque. I'm about four chapters in at the moment and most of it is familiar from other sources by now, but he's putting together a pretty good narrative so far.
Book(s) I recently bought: Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy by Ayesha Siddiqa and Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam by Zahid Hussain.
I got tired of recommending the first one on Pakistan threads while having to caveat that "I've heard it's good, but haven't read it myself yet", so I bought it. And then they hooked me with that free shipping deal for the second....
What are you reading?
November 09, 2007
Friday Flickr for this week is from my trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Formerly a high school, Tuol Sleng ("Hill of the Poisonous Trees") was renamed "Security Prison 21" by the Khmer Rouge and used to conduct interrogations and torture prior to detainee's ultimate elimination. One of the methods used there was water-boarding. Somewhere between 17,000 and 20,000 people were imprisoned at S-21 between 1975 and 1979. When S-21 administrators ran out of room to bury those detained and later executed at Tuol Sleng, they began removing them to Choueng Ek, outside the city center.
Today Tuol Sleng is a museum dedicated to the victims of the Khmer Rouge's genocide against the Cambodian people.
For photographs of victims taken by the prison administrators, please visit this site.
November 08, 2007
November 06, 2007
It has taken me a while to make my way through the commentary about Pakistan pulsing through the 'net in the wake of Musharraf's imposition of military rule, but after a few days I've managed to do so and put together some thoughts of my own.
My undergraduate studies took a rather roundabout course. After a semester-long independent study on the Cold War my final year of high school, the closest thing I had to a regional specialization was Soviet Russia; however, having taken Japanese as my language then, I ended up selecting East Asia as my "regional track" in Boston University's International Relations program. I then proceeded to largely ignore both those areas and ended up taking courses mostly on China, after having finished a fascinating course on Chinese culture and domestic politics my freshman year. Then my senior year, after first reading Charlie Wilson's War and Ghost Wars (thank you Blake for the recommendations!), I got hooked on South Asia and political Islam under the teachings of Prof. Hussain Haqqani. This does not make the job search process go easier, let me tell you (my cover letter: "Will generalize on various subjects in exchange for pittance and a health plan").
The advantage of this all though is of course the chance to make connections between the subjects. One lesson from my studies of Chinese politics that has stuck with me is how "civil society" groups — religious bodies, environmental advocacy organizations, women's groups, etc — represent real foundational blocks in a participatory democracy, and how in the absence of democracy they can potentially serve as channels for citizens to seriously challenge the priorities and policies of the authoritarian state government (Prof. Robert Weller's Alternative Civilities: Democracy and Culture in China and Taiwan was a formative introduction to this idea).
In societies where an autocratic government imposes limits on political participation — by banning, for example, the establishment of rival political parties — even ostensibly innocuous and apolitical gatherings of individuals can potentially offer an platform for organizing the aspirations of the unrepresented. Democratic transition in Taiwan was heavily dependent on these voluntary groups' participation, and the Chinese Communist Party, observing this, has sought to curtail the organization of independent groups and NGOs on the mainland out of the fear that a similar process would depose them from power (thus, for example, the officially-endorsed and -incorporated "Patriotic Religious Associations" all practicing religious leaders are required to join). It's my understanding that many Middle Eastern leaders have been suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood and other faith-based service organizations out of the fear that they too will end up serving as the framework for popular opposition to their continued autocratic rule.
So, in authoritarian societies where political participation is circumscribed, protesters may take the path of least resistance and channel their energies into groups that the state either doesn't have the power and / or the inclination to totally shut off.
Pakistan's General Musharraf is telling Western audiences that he's made his recent power play in order to shore up his ability to confront the terrorists, but the days following the coup have shown his biggest priorities to in fact be a crackdown on members of the judiciary, political opponents, and the independent media. Today the New York Times reports:
General Musharraf invited Islamabad’s diplomatic corps to his official residence on Monday to brief them on the situation and on his reasons for declaring emergency rule. But two Western diplomats said the encounter only reinforced concerns that General Musharraf was more focused on vanquishing his political rivals than on fighting terrorism.This is not Pakistan's first military clamp-down by any stretch, but Ahmed Rashid writes that "[n]ever before in Pakistan's sad history of military rule has a general so reviled invoked martial law to ensure his own survival".
At the meeting, the general primarily railed against his political opponents, with special venom reserved for the Supreme Court. When asked by a diplomat to describe specific plans to crack down on terrorists, General Musharraf gave only a vague answer.
“He effectively dodged the question and turned to the military presence in the room and asked them to organize a briefing for ambassadors,” said one of the Western diplomats. “It wasn’t very clear in terms of what was actually being done.”
The second Western diplomat said: “There was serious concern that terrorism and security was not front and center. What was really amazing was him going on and on and on about how bad the judiciary was.”
It's remarkable — particularly given the hand-wringing fears about Pakistan's imminent Islamization should Musharraf exit the stage, a notion which Musharraf himself has of course been happy to encourage —the degree to which Islamist parties in Pakistan are not actually all that popular at the polls. Hilzoy summarizes: "[I]f we are worried about what would happen if Pakistan held democratic elections, then it seems like a good idea to focus on the support enjoyed by actual political parties. Here the polls are unanimous: none that I'm aware of has Islamist parties enjoying more than the 11% support that they received in the 2002 elections." As the Taiwan example might suggest, this is not to say that such a political victory would be impossible: Joshua Hammer, in a much-noted piece in the Atlantic Monthly, explains that
[t]he nightmare scenario for U.S. policy makers—and one reason they remain heavily invested in Musharraf—is an Islamic revolution in Pakistan. A tide of anti-American sentiment, some analysts fear, could bring to power Islamists, who would give free rein to the Taliban, spread nuclear technology to rogue states and terrorist groups, and support the mujahideen in Kashmir.Hammer, continues, however, by reinforcing Hilzoy's statistics when he explains that
There’s no doubt that Islamists have grown in numbers and prominence in Pakistan since 9/11. In 2002, six fundamentalist parties formed an alliance called Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA, and rode a wave of anger at the American-led war in Afghanistan, taking 53 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly and forming the third-largest bloc in the parliament. The alliance won outright control of the provincial assembly in the North-West Frontier Province, and it now governs Balochistan in a coalition with Musharraf’s ruling party. During the weeks that I spent in Islamabad earlier this year, the MMA repeatedly flexed its muscles in noisy protests—weekly demonstrations against legislation offering further legal protections to women, rallies against the government’s razing of illegal makeshift mosques that have sprung up throughout the city. The demonstrations brought out hundreds of police officers and paralyzed traffic in the city for hours.
Moderate Muslims in Pakistan are worried about the Islamists’ rising profile: Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the Quaid-e-Azam University physics department, told me that the university has been “taken over” by Islamist fervor—more hijabs in the classrooms, more prayer, and “no bookstores, but three mosques with a fourth under construction” on campus. Hoodbhoy, a highly regarded nuclear physicist and a critic of military rule, told me that an Islamist takeover of the country, either by outright domination of the electoral process or in conjunction with a radical Islamist general, “is a real possibility.”
despite their clout in parliament and their seeming strength on the street, the Islamists are not widely popular: Their parties won only 11 percent of the vote in the 2002 elections (gerrymandering gave them a share of seats far greater than their numbers). Even in their stronghold, the North-West Frontier Province, they polled only 26 percent. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the MMA’s growth is its abysmal record of governance: In the North-West Frontier Province, which the alliance controls, social services are disintegrating. Unless anti-Western sentiment reaches sustained and unprecedented levels, the Islamists seem highly unlikely to muster enough votes to gain control of parliament in the next decade.Pakistan actually has a number of pretty well-established secular political parties, but because of their potential to challenge his power it is they, not the militants or the Islamists, who Musharraf is targeting in his crackdown. Joshua Kurlantzick writes at The New Republic:
[Y]ears of a political vacuum under Musharraf meant that young Pakistani democrats, exactly the type of people the country needs to escape its feudal past, could not organize or build grassroots movements. When Musharraf finally agreed to allow greater political freedoms this year, the only politicians who could move into the vacuum were two feudal dinosaurs, former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Neither are paragons of democracy: Under Bhutto, Pakistan suffered an endemic of extrajudicial executions and torture, while Sharif was dismissed as prime minister for alleged massive corruption.The only thing to add here is none of this began with Musharraf. Pakistan has never really had a chance to develop an effective governing class because whenever they've strayed from Army orthodoxy, coups have thrown them out of power. Having a weak and frequently corrupt political establishment serves Pakistani Army interests by offering easy pretexts for intervention and ready handles for less public manipulation when military rule is not overt. What to do if you're a Pakistani citizen who's fed up with this state of affairs? The Islamist program's appeal is not a special mystery, here.
The Chinese Communist Party currently has the power and the inclination to restrict independent religious organizations within the Chinese state (although even they have been forced to permit a burgeoning network of environmental NGOs). Musharraf, lacking in electoral legitimacy, presiding over a state whose economy and institutions are teetering on the edge of failure, and whose military predecessors have historically embraced Pakistan's Islamic identity as a strategy for overcoming ethnic and economic divisions in the face of a powerful and hostile Indian neighbor, does not have the means to do so. While I imagine it's fairly unlikely he would effect an about-face and embark on a program of Islamization to match a predecessor like Zia-ul-Haq, I find it even less likely that he will find the means to launch a more concerted effort against Afghan and Pakistani Taliban forces in the tribal areas, even assuming he retains the desire to do so.
Out of concerns for their own power Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani military establishment have retarded the development of the mainstream Pakistani political parties and weakened other institutions either through design or neglect; they simultaneously lack the means and will to confront separatist and terrorist movements which use the religion of Islam as a means of mobilization and organization. With other avenues of political participation restricted, Pakistan's gradual radicalization should not be unexpected. These groups' power will continue to wax, rather than wane, so long as Musharraf continues to cling to power, with serious strategic implications for America. While I don't want to overstate the degree to which the U.S. is able influence this process now — the military is deeply entrenched in Pakistani politics and will remain so for the forseeable future, as Hammer's article relates — I agree with Kurlantzick that it's time to recognize that our the perpetuation of Musharraf's rule is not serving our interests. Unless the political process is opened up through his removal, I think we can expect to see Islamist-based parties play an ever-growing role in Pakistan, and to the degree to which they cooperate and sympathize with groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban that is going to be that much more of a Bad Thing.
Ok, back to job applications now.
November 02, 2007
Two blog posts in as many days! I'm on fire here!
To celebrate I'm inaugurating a new feature — yes, that's right, I'm going to go ahead and call it a feature. It's going to be Friday Flickr™®©℠☃*, and it's going to mean one picture, selected from my photostream, posted right here on this very blog. In the event that I run out of interesting photos of my own maybe I'll link to other people's as well. We'll see.
* - Ok, possibly other people have discovered this serendipitous bit of alliteration before me, but I can't be bothered to Google it right now.
Anyhow — Friday Flickr for November the 2nd, 2007 is going to be a picture of my favorite float from Karatsu Kunchi, which I am missing right now. Besides being a massive three or four ton float, it was also featured on the Masterchef household Halloween pumpkin this year (there would be pictures of that instead, but I have a backlog of about 100 pictures from Cambodia and Zambia I still need to upload to Flickr first).
This is the helmet of Minamoto Yorimitsu, also known as Raikou, being partially devoured by the oni Shuten Doji, on the first night of Kunchi 2006.
Thanks to a recent bulletin at the Small Wars Journal I caught notice of an article in the latest issue of the Joint Force Quarterly, a publication of the National Defense University for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The primary topic of this issue is China. There are a lot of interesting pieces to check out there, but the one that first caught my eye was one by Martin Wayne titled "Five Lessons from China's War on Terror" (pdf).
While I think the simmering conflict in Xinjiang has gotten more press since I first started studying it in the fall of 2004 (probably thanks to the handful of Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo, not my term paper), it is still a fairly obscure region — one which I was lucky enough to travel through recently while taking the long way home from a two-year teaching stint in Japan. I don't speak a word of Uyghur and two and a half weeks was not nearly enough time to really get beneath the surface level so I can't claim any authority as a field researcher — if you want to see my pictures from that trip, though, they are available on Flickr here and here.
Anyhow, the thesis of my old paper was that the Chinese central government has, historically, enacted a number of discriminatory or inflammatory policies which have alienated the Uyghur population in Xinjiang and which, if continued, have the counterproductive potential to actually increase the appeal of militant Islam for some members of the dispossessed minority. Dr. Wayne's article, and to some extent my own travels in Xinjiang, seem to challenge some of those ideas. Xinjiang today appears — and I should stress the "appears", because again I have not spent enough time there nor do I have the fluency to accurately judge for myself —stable. It seemed to me that much of this stability has actually come from a growing Han Chinese population with a vested interest in reaffirming Xinjiang's status as part of China, and in conjunction with this in-migration the co-opting or commodification of several centers of Uyghur life. (Witness for example this classic sign at the Id Khah mosque in Kashgar — China's largest, and a major tourist destination for Han Chinese and Westerners now, like many other places in Kashgar, although there are still large local crowds at Friday prayers — or read the caption I excerpted from the Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi's exhibit on minority cultures.) Since the 1990s, Beijing has devoted a tremendous amount of effort to keeping Xinjiang in its place as a part of China, and thus far it seems they have succeeded. Violence has diminished and development continues apace.
Wayne identifies five aspects of the Chinese government's actions in Xinjiang, which he says hold lessons for understanding "the nature of China today and ... crafting more effective counterinsurgency policies". They are, in brief:
- The "targeting of indigenous support" for insurgency and cutting local links to broader jihadist movements
- Acting "early, forcefully, and comprehensively", using a graduated mix of security forces
- "Crafting meaningful security" through a comprehensive campaign in the areas of education, religion, economics, and governance
- "Countering the insurgency from the bottom up", by using "society-centric" warfare — holding groups accountable for the actions of their members
- Enabling counterinsurgency for the purpose of stability through "seemingly infinite political will" on the part of the regime
The "early, forceful, comprehensive" action in the first point describes, according to Wayne, the PRC's quick build-up of "forces capable of moving down the spectrum of violence — away from military actions in favor of paramilitary and then police forces more capable of moving in society". The "Four-in-One Defense" draws upon the People's Liberation Army; the paramilitary People's Armed Police; the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (a chain of farms, prison camps, and Han immigrant work groups established under Mao to ensure a loyal population); and the Han Chinese residents of Xinjiang, which today compromise a full 50% of Xinjiang's population, making them the largest ethnic group in what is officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The entire third point of Wayne's article, "crafting meaningful security", is the vaguest, but the examples he gives seem to me more like a recipe for rebellion than stability: purging the local military of "not only of those suspected of separatism but also of ideas considered separatist"; pairing throughout government Han Chinese and minority officials where "[t]he key to knowing who holds the power at each level ... is looking at which post is controlled by the Han"; "education primarily in [Mandarin]", the content of which is "controlled by the party-state, and [with] spies and informants ... believed to police classroom compliance"; "mosques and other religious settings [likewise] infiltrated and monitored for political dissent by security forces"; and "pervasive ethnic discrimination" where "the most materially developed towns have the largest percentages of Han". I have to acknowledge that it is possible that overpowering tactics like this might be effective, but Wayne in his very first point says that "[e]ven the most brutal force can achieve ephemeral tactical victories, yet strategic effectiveness is ultimately achieved through political measures that deeply reshape society". Unless he's suggesting that Beijing is reshaping society so totally that the Uyghurs will become permanently marginalized and as a result quiescent, I'm at a loss as to how these tactics are going to bring about long-term political reconciliation and stability. I'm hesitant to make future predictions about where China or the Uyghurs is headed, but should violent instability return to Xinjiang these would seem to me like number one candidates for protest.
As for the notion of "society-centric warfare", this appears to me to be essentially a combination of 1) collective punishment; and 2) state corporatism. Functioning as the former, Wayne explains how
In Xinjiang ... every grouping of society is held accountable for its rank and file. The region's government, as well as prefectures, villages, neighborhoods, and families, are responsible for their members. Employers, especially those directly controlled by the government, must account for their employees. The limited opportunities for moving or for obtaining new employment in Xinjiang throughout the 1990s greatly facilitated this strategy. Consequences for failing to prevent problems or respond appropriately range from stigma and stern warnings from the seemingly ever-present security forces ... to loss of employment (to which the entire family's housing, health care, and income may be tied) and perhaps worse. Some families reportedly have been threatened by security forces if a husband, father, or son failed to turn himself in after an incident of unrest.China practices the state corporatism function regularly through controls on the establishment and activities of non-governmental organizations, most notably through the "Patriotic Religious Associations" practicing Chinese priests and imams are required to join in order to gain the privilege of preaching to and representing their respective faiths. This divide, coopt, and rule is strategy is potentially effective (the British certainly were fond of it, weren't they?) but also has the consequence of legitimating and entrenching community divisions. I've written previously in my other huge-senior-year-term-paper that this has produced some challenges to integrating Europe's Muslim communities, and more directly related to Xinjiang Dru Gladney has written a lot on how Uyghur identities are being constructed in opposition to mainstream Han Chinese society, the most recent bit of which I've read being Chapter 10 in his book Dislocating China. So again, this "society-centric" policy is something which seems to be working ok now, but I think has the potential to come back and bite Beijing badly in the future — just as it may in Iraq today.
Wayne's final fifth point is a good one, which is that "the prospect of unrest in Xinjiang shook the regime's veneer of stability and catalyzed government action with the full if uninformed backing of the Chinese people ... While the Communist Party's concern is for self-preservation atop the state, the state must produce the perception, and perhaps the reality, of internal stability". But while economic successes and very gradual political reform may buy continued acquiescence to CCP rule in the east for the time being, I don't know the extent to which that will work in Xinjiang (or in the east, for that matter). Wayne says that "like peoples elsewhere in China, the population of Xinjiang increasingly if grudgingly bought into the idea that stability across China leads to a better future. Acceptance of this vision of Xinjiang benefitting from increasing incorporation into China undercut passive support for insurgency and drew Uyghurs and Uyghur society into active stabilizing roles in governance, business, religion, and education." I can't argue with this — it certainly seemed that way when I travelled through Xinjiang over this summer — but I do wonder whether the Uyghurs will continue to buy in for the long term, given the number of intrusive policies they are subject to and the highly uneven distribution of this "better future" in Xinjiang. It also raises the question — which Wayne does raise in his final paragraph — as to what will happen in Xinjiang and throughout China if the country's growth slackens and the promised future benefits remain out of the grasp of the majority.
I really am interested in reading Dr. Wayne's full book, if I can ever manage to get a copy to do so, and would be very curious to see more analysis of Chinese policies from scholars better-versed than I in the intricacies of counterinsurgency strategy. Right now though, I'm not finding myself convinced by Dr. Wayne's article that China's actions in Xinjiang are in fact keys to "crafting more effective counterinsurgency policies", at least not through their emulation. After a period of spiking political violence in the mid-1990s Xinjiang has entered a fairly quiet stage, but I think it is still too early to say whether this will last or whether Chinese policies will actually provoke a more serious challenge to Beijing's authority in the future. We'll see.
November 01, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates agreed to the measure at a lunch on Tuesday after weeks of tension between their departments over coordination of thousands of gun-carrying contractors operating in the chaos of Iraq.What the article doesn't say is how control is being transferred and what, exactly, "military coordination" is going to actually mean. Prior to this announcement the (currently leader-less) State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security — which manages embassy security details all over the world, and which oversaw the Blackwater contract since control over the non-military aspects of the Iraq mission was transferred to State from Rumsfeld's CPA in 2004 — had already, in response to the Blackwater incident, proposed some fixes. They include the "establishment of a 'go team' of embassy security officials to 'proceed as soon as possible to the scene of any weapons discharge to gather information and material and provide an analysis of what happened and why, and prepare a report'", as well as "[a board to] review all incidents involving contractor use of deadly force, injury, death or serious property damage and recommend to the ambassador whether force was justified", among other ideas like cultural training and increased compensation for Iraqi families who suffer from contractors' mishaps. To what extent any of these measures will be implemented under the DOD's watch is not at all clear from the Times article. But R.J. Hillhouse at The Spy Who Billed Me reminds us that the Pentagon actually already has its own system for overseeing the activities of most of its contractors — which is, hire another contractor to do it for them:
Mr. Gates appears to have won the bureaucratic tug-of-war, which accelerated after a Sept. 16 shooting in central Baghdad involving guards in a Blackwater convoy who Iraqi investigators say killed 17 Iraqis. Military coordination of contractor convoys will include operations of not only Blackwater, formerly known as Blackwater USA, but also those of dozens of other private firms that guard American diplomats, aid workers and reconstruction crews.
Department of Defense security contractors are already coordinated through a single, DoD entity, the Regional Operations Centers which track movement of security convoys to make sure they and the military don't trip over one another. Most likely this existing mechanism will be expanded to monitor Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp convoys for the Department of State and this would raise some interesting questions since its known that BW and TC also provide security services to the CIA under this contract.I recommend reading the full Washington Post story linked in Hillhouse's post above, but essentially one of the responsibilities included in the Aegis contract is conducting regular threat briefings for and tracking the movement of DOD contractors. Why is the US military outsourcing the oversight of its outsourcing? Probably because the military's procurement and contracting officer corps is overstretched and under-prepared for the task at hand as it is:
The US Regional Cooperation Offices are outsourced through a recently renewed $475 million contract to the British firm Aegis. Aegis is run by the infamous old-school mercenary, Tim Spicer.
I do think unity of effort is a key aspect of a counterinsurgency campaign (John Nagl makes points along these lines in Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, as I recall), so to that extent having all the guns rolling under one command makes sense; and it's one of the realities of our day that the United States seems to increasingly hand these kinds of responsibilities to its military rather than its diplomatic services (on this subject see, among others, a recent WhirledView post, Andrew Bacevich's New American Militarism, and Dana Priest's The Mission). I agree with the Mountainrunner article I linked above that problems with Blackwater in Iraq really reflect more the failings of its contracting customer, which is to say the US State Department and more broadly the US government as a whole. If State doesn't recognize the damage being done to US-Iraqi relations by hard-rolling contractor convoys, it's really not Blackwater's business to hold back just for the sake of the broader national mission, which is not what they are being paid for, unless its client demand that of it. State and other US government agencies are presumably being paid to execute a coherent campaign to fight off the Iraqi insurgency and rebuild the country, and their failure to rein in contractors (potentially even when that means greater risk to US diplomats and others serving there) has been detrimental to our mission in Iraq. But it's pretty evident that the Pentagon has not exactly covered itself in glory in the area of contractor oversight either.
An independent panel has sharply criticized the Army for failing to train enough experienced contracting officers, deploy them quickly to war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan and ensure that they properly manage billions of dollars in contracts to supply American troops in the field, according to officials briefed on its findings.
In a wide-ranging report to be made public on Thursday, the panel said these and other shortcomings had contributed to an environment in Iraq and Kuwait that allowed waste, fraud and other corruption to take hold and flourish. ...
[T]he six-member panel, appointed in August by Army Secretary Pete Geren, levels a stinging indictment of how the Army oversees $4 billion a year in contracts for food, water, shelter and other supplies to sustain United States forces in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. The panel also blames senior Army leaders for not responding more swiftly to the problems, despite warning signs like severe shortages of contracting officers in the field. “The Iraq-Kuwait-Afghanistan contracting problems have created a crisis,” the report states.
Congress and investigating agencies like the Government Accountability Office have in recent months assailed the Army for what they have described as a war-zone procurement system in disarray. ...
The panel’s report, which runs about 100 pages including supporting documents, recommends increasing the number of Army contracting officers by about 25 percent, or 1,400, in coming years. It urges the department to improve training and to start young officers in the procurement corps soon after they join the Army, not after seven or eight years of other duties, as is common now.
The panel argues that the procurement corps, now dominated by civilians who balk at being sent to a war zone, must be trained to be an expeditionary force, just as Army combat forces train to deploy quickly for yearlong tours to Iraq,
If Secretary Gates and General Petraeus are going to take their new power over State's security details and the recommendations of this contracting panel and try to forge some kind of coherent program of oversight for the many private firms to whom the US government has devolved portions of its responsibilities in Iraq, then maybe we will see a more coherent strategic effort. But switching one Department for another on Blackwater's billing invoices is not going to be enough.*
* Ok, possibly Blackwater still sends its bills to State under this new arrangement, I don't really know. Maybe they have direct deposit. It's mostly beside the point.