Stay in Your Lane: The US Military and the Interagency Community

Stay in Your Lane: The US Military and the Interagency Community by Brian Hayes - Georgetown Security Studies Review

… Of course, military capabilities are sometimes quite useful in addressing humanitarian crises and disrupting criminal networks. For example, US naval vessels quickly move relief supplies, search and rescue aircraft, and fully equipped operating rooms in response to disasters in or near coastal areas. This vital capability exists nowhere else in government. Other military capabilities, such as surveillance aircraft and intelligence collection platforms, augment law enforcement agencies’ efforts to interdict drugs en route to the United States. Such common-sense uses of military power to support non-military objectives should continue.

However, policymakers should ask hard questions about the degree to which the armed forces have taken leading roles in traditionally civilian-led missions, such as development and public diplomacy. Military personnel typically have little expertise in these areas. In Afghanistan, the US armed forces tried their hand at economic development, frequently failing to coordinate with the US Agency for International Development. “Unsurprisingly”—as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction observed—DOD didn’t have much expertise in economic development and many of its projects failed.” In Liberia, a US military task force ignored the advice of public health experts and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Ebola treatment centers that proved essentially useless. Proposed DOD “strategic communication” to counter violent extremism presents another questionable use of military power: why should Army psychological operations personnel conduct what is essentially public diplomacy? Although in some cases the US military has voluntarily stepped into these roles, it is also important to recognize policymakers’ partial responsibility for the military’s encroachment into traditionally civilian activities. When civilian agencies lose funding while defense budgets remain steady, the military may take on new roles in order to fill the gaps.

In similarly misguided efforts to those above, SOUTHCOM has proposed to work with foreign law enforcement. Most US military personnel know little about policing—a point illustrated by an officer’s recent admission that he watched television cop shows to prepare for an assignment training Afghan police. Civilian US federal law enforcement agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have long operated in key South American countries, and their agents have substantial training and experience in criminal investigation and prosecution. The Departments of Justice and State also operate training and assistance programs for foreign prosecutors and law enforcement officers. If the United States wants to support South American law enforcement more aggressively, it should assign the task to these civilian agencies, not the US military…

Read on.

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The following documents may prove useful in this discussion:

First, a 2013 Congressional Research Report entitled: "The Unified Command Plan and Combatant Commands: Background and Issues for Congress:

Herein, note that:

a. "Dr. Cynthia Watson, a professor at the National War College and author of “Combatant Commands: Origins, Structure, and Engagements” describes combatant commands as being: Commands in charge of utilizing and integrating air, land, sea, and amphibious forces under their commands to achieve U.S. national security objectives while protecting national interests. ..." (See Page 2.)

b. What is considered to be the "primary threat" to SOUTHCOM regional security (see "Counter-Trafficking" at the bottom of Page 56):

"The USSOUTHCOM Commander noted that illicit trafficking of drugs, weapons, and people and their associated TCOs constitute the primary threat to regional security. ... " And

c. What is considered to be the primary cause of these such difficulties (See "Natural Disasters, Poverty, and Violence" at the top of Page 57):

"The USSOUTHCOM Commander testified that natural disasters, poverty, and violence in the region have a negative impact on regional security and stability. ... "

Next, and now re: then-Vice Admiral Tidd's confirmation hearing, to consider what then-Vice Admiral Tidd saw as "progress" in this region: (See "Major Challenges" at Pages 5 and 6 of this document):

"Today, no nation in the region poses a direct, credible conventional military threat to the United States. Although there are many longstanding border disputes, there is minimal risk of inter-state armed conflict between neighboring countries. As I understand it, Latin America and the Caribbean has witnessed significant progress -- especially in terms of democratic consolidation; the growth of market-based economies; and the protection of human rights -- however the region still faces numerous persistent unresolved challenges. ... "


Given the apparent World War II and Old Cold War origins of the Unified Command Plan and the Combatant Commands (see Pages 3 through 5 of my first linked document above), I believe we can now draw a direct line -- yesterday as today -- between:

a. The -- enduring -- policy of the United States as outlined in NSC-68:

"Our overall policy at the present time may be described as one designed to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish. ... a policy which we would probably pursue even if there were no Soviet threat ... the policy of striving to develop a healthy international community is the long-term constructive effort which we are engaged in." And:

b. The use of our Unified Command Plan and the Combatant Commands/Commanders to achieve this exact such purpose (again: foster a world environment, a healthy international community, in which the American system can survive and flourish.) Herein,

c. "Progress," along these lines; this to be understood in terms of achieving -- in USSOUTHCOM and/or elsewhere -- ever-greater advancement toward "democratic consolidation, the growth of market-based economies and the protection of human rights?" (This, so as to overcome the significant difficulties remaining in this and other regions?)

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Q: Helping to "foster a world environment, a "healthy international community," one in which "the American system can survive and flourish" (the overall U.S. national security objective, still today, thus best described/defined?) -- this being in Admiral Tidd's, and indeed in all our combatant commanders' yesterday and today, "lane?"

A: You betcha. Indeed, that was, and still is, his/their raison d'etre.

(The above-provided thoughts and documentation seeming to confirm this such suggestion?)

I rate this article as crapola. Agenda based, and factually incorrect.

The author is both confused and biased, and misses the larger points of ADM Tidd's strategic approach.

The article starts with this lament, "Admiral Kurt Tidd wants to be South America’s top cop. Tidd, the commander of US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), is not content to focus on military activities. Instead, Tidd wants SOUTHCOM to target criminal networks throughout the theater in order to “detect, illuminate, [and] disrupt” criminal activities. Tidd—a US Navy officer—also wants to support South America’s police officers, lawyers, and judges.[i] He recently stressed the need for “engagement” in areas such as city neighborhoods and prisons.[ii]"

The author then points out that ADM Tidd doesn't have law enforcement experience; therefore, he is unqualified. First off, I doubt ADM Tidd said he wanted to be top cop, but he did point out during a Congressional Posture brief that the U.S. law enforcement model where success is measured on the amount of drugs seized is failing badly in the region, and that a new approach is required. Even if the police are seizing more drugs, more drugs are moving into the U.S., the character of human trafficking is changing for the worse (more aliens of concern versus laborers), and the level of violence has gone through the roof resulting in large parts of SOUTHCOM becoming unstable and a base for a range of bad actors to threaten the U.S. directly.

In this case I'll take an Admiral with a strategic vision over another DEA agent attempting to build a case on a specific individual and seize another shipment of drugs. The policing the author refers to will be conducted by local security forces, most likely a combination of military and police. Since these challenges are transnational, ADM Tidd can assist partners develop information sharing mechanisms and improve their relevant tactical skills with military assistance. The key isn't chasing the product (drugs, weapons, or illegals), but neutralizing the network(s). The military is uniquely suited to provide assistance in this endeavor, despite the ADM not having a law degree or police experience.

The author represents those who are eager to protect their lane out of self-interest. The ADM is focused on changing the approach to make meaningful progress. We can all stay in our lanes and wait for catastrophic failure, or leaders can step forward and offer some alternative approaches, even approaches outside of their supposed lanes.

Let us look at these things -- possibly in a differently way that we have in the past.

New starting point:

a. The U.S./the West wins the Old Cold War and -- thus and thereby --

b. Becomes responsible for "civil order and governance" throughout the entire Rest of the World.

In this regard, to consider the insight provided by LTC David A. Mueller here -- but on a much larger/worldwide scale:

"We have seen from the above examples that civil order and governance historically are the responsibility of the military that conquers a territory."

Thus, while we might argue whether it was the "militaries" of the U.S./the West that won the Old Cold War, and/or whether the U.S./the West "conquered the territories" of the Rest of the World in order to achieve this objective, might we agree that, indeed, (a) the Old Cold War was won by the U.S./the West and, thus, (b) "civil order and governance" -- of the entire Rest of the World thereby -- became the responsibility of the U.S./the West?

This suggesting that:

a. Indeed post-the Old Cold War,

b. Such things as "foreign law enforcement" fell more directly into our militaries -- and thus more into Admiral Tidd and SOUTHCOM'S -- "lane?" (By way of default, "the only one with any capability," and/or limited historical precedence -- see LTC Mueller above, if nothing else?)

Same-same for all our combatant commanders post-the Old Cold War?

(Properly add to this an acknowledgement of the U.S./the West's determination, post-the Old Cold War, to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines, then one comes to understand how these such, often contentious and contested, post-Old Cold War activities came to fall significantly into our militaries' -- rather than into some other agencies' -- "lane?")

I'll never understand this mania for trying to create a political Unified Field Theory around the Cold War. Equating military administration of territory conquered by force of arms with attempts to gain influence through international political, economic, and social interaction stretches analogies well past the breaking point.

Try the simple explanation: ADM Tidd, being charged with executing U.S. National Security Strategy in the SOUTHCOM AOR, actually read the document, and recognizes that combatting terrorism and transnational organized crime (both specifically called out as part of "reinforcing homeland security" in the current NSS) requires effective law enforcement as well as military action. Being a good whole-of-government player (as the NSS demands), he's attempting to encourage and assist law enforcement efforts in his AOR. No Byzantine conspiracies to take over other agencies' missions or to force transformation of Central and South America and the Caribbean into miniature copies of the U.S.

Warlock: Consider the following:

"In 1991 a top adviser to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari described at length to me all the changes the Salinas government was making. When he finished, I remarked: 'That's most impressive. It seems to me that basically you want to change Mexico from a Latin American country into a North American country.' He looked at me with surprise and exclaimed: 'Exactly! That's precisely what we are trying to do, but of course we could never say so publicly.' As his remark indicates, in Mexico as in Turkey, significant elements in society resist the redefinition of their country's identity."

(From S.P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations." See the major section entitled: "The Torn Countries.")

Next, to ask yourself:

a. Do you believe that the U.S./the West -- via its whole-of-government assets yesterday and today -- is likely to have been the "originator" of these such transformational ideas and, thus, significantly "encouraged" Mexico (etc., etc., etc.) to follow them? If not then:

b. Do you believe that the U.S./the West was/is exceptionally encouraging and/or supportive of these -- formulated completely independent of U.S./Western desires -- initiatives?

(After all, "changing Mexico" [etc., etc., etc.] -- from whatever type of country they currently and traditionally are into a "North American country" -- this is the exact manner in which the U.S./the West believes that combating terrorism and transnational organized crime [etc., etc., etc.] is actually to be achieved. And, thus, is the actual basis upon which our whole-of-government assets have been, and indeed currently are, being directed; this, whether we are talking about Afghanistan and Iraq and/or Latin America and elsewhere. Yes?)

As to the idea of a "unified field theory," is this not exactly what such things as a "whole-of-government" approach -- applied to achieving our goals both during and after the Old Cold War -- implies?

In this regard, note (a) the following connection to the Old Cold War and (b) the consistency of U.S./Western purpose then and now:

"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other ... as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other."

(From Hans Morgenthau's 1967 "To Intervene or Not to Intervene.")

Thus, both during the Old Cold War (as noted by my last quoted item from Morgenthau) and consistently thereafter (as noted in my first quoted item from Huntington):

a. The goals of the U.S./the West would not seem to have changed (from Morgenthau above: "to expand the reach of our respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other" -- whoever that may be); this, given that:

b. We believe (or, with Trump, "believed") that enduring national security -- for the U.S./the West -- this can only be achieved by transforming the outlying states and societies of the world more "into copies of the U.S./the West."

(Want further proof that this such transformational initiative has driven both our Old Cold War and post-Cold War national security approaches? Then consider that President Trump has determined -- much as Huntington did before him -- that [a] these such "transformational" efforts, post-the Old Cold War, are the "root cause" of instability in the world today and, thus, his [Trump's] determination [b] to now halt certain of these such transformational efforts/practices.

Returning now to Admiral Tidd's "lane," thus can this not best be seen -- from the Old Cold War onward -- exactly through the lens of:

a. The manner in which our national security would be achieved (to include "reinforcing homeland security"); this would be by:

b. "Forced transformation of Central and South America and the Caribbean (etc., etc., etc.) into copies of the U.S.?" (Our "whole of government" effort now being applied exactly to this purpose -- as Huntington seems to indicate -- and as President Trump seems to confirm?)

(Note: If transformation of outlying states and societies -- more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines -- is no longer to be our overarching goal, then a "whole of government" effort would no longer seem to be necessary. Is it in this light that we should see such things as President Trump's thoughts/moves re: dismantling our State Department and related agencies?)

"Do you believe that the U.S./the West -- via its whole-of-government assets yesterday and today -- is likely to have been the "originator" of these such transformational ideas and, thus, significantly "encouraged" Mexico (etc., etc., etc.) to follow them?"
Certainly. There's no argument that the U.S. has sought to propagate its ideas and philosophy, and encourage their adoption. That goes back even before the birth of the republic. That's different than a strategy to deliberately subvert other societies and make them copies of our own.

Now you're going to argue, "But look at Afghanistan and Iraq...or Japan and Germany...or any other place we've taken charge of." And that's true...when we've ended up picking up the post-war wreckage, we tend to go with what we know, and set up institutions like our own. And because we're naturally impatient (or driven by our election cycles), we want immediate results, so we glue things back together in a form that looks about right, without spending much time figuring out it fits the needs and temperament of the population. Put that down to lack of imagination, or less charitably, sheer ignorance, rather than deliberate strategy.


Re: your thoughts on there not being a "deliberate strategy" -- to "subvert other societies and make them copies of our own" -- what do you think of the following analysis and, specifically therein, this exact observation:


Consistent with previous NSS documents, the 2015 version starts with separate chapters explaining how the United States will advance its “security” goals, its “economic” objectives, and its “values” (particularly by promoting democracy and human rights).


Herein, one of the key distinctions noted -- between the 2015 NSS and earlier versions -- being that the U.S. will now adopt a concept of "strategic patience" -- to wit: a more long-term view -- as to exactly when these such outlying states and societal transformations -- clearly more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines -- are to be achieved?

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Thus, if Admiral Tidd and/or the other Combatant Commanders are working within the spirit, the guidance and/or the requirements of the current post-Old Cold War National Security Strategy, then clearly it would seem:

a. Movement towards transformation of outlying states and societies -- more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines -- this is not only dead-center in these Combatant Commanders' "lane" but, indeed,

b. One of -- if not "the" -- overarching focus of their jobs? (And, indeed, the very basis/the "raison d'etre" for a "whole of government" effort?)

(Herein, such things as international criminal and terrorists organizations, etc.; these being seen as characteristics common to states and societies [and/or individuals and groups] that have not yet made adequate transition to a modern western [or, indeed, "North American" per Huntington] way of life, to a modern western way of governance and to modern western values. To wit: the very attributes that we feel that we must, for our own long-term safety, security, prosperity and posterity, impart to the entire Rest of the World? These such "better peace" civil order and governance duties also being seen as the common responsibility of the "victor" -- in both hot and cold wars -- and, thus, something that we, as the winners of the Old Cold War, simply cannot walk away from?)

That's your interpretation of CFR's interpretation of the NSS...and the only place I see a linkage to "societal transformation" is in your interpretation.

"Current post-Old Cold War National Security Strategy"? Why the extra baggage? It's the National Security Strategy...ditch the rest.

A country doesn't have to be modern or Western for international criminal and terrorist organizations to be a threat to their stability and ability to govern, for good or ill, in whatever form. One doesn't see terrorist or criminal activities being welcomed in Pyongyang, or Tehran, even if they're promoting them elsewhere. And those places where such activities flourish aren't necessarily non-Western or backwards.

So, defending the homeland against terrorists and TCOs is certainly within every combatant commander's lane -- along with agencies in other cabinet departments -- as is demonstrating American values and philosophies...but that doesn't imply a mandate to "impart those to the rest of the world" by any means other than example.


Item No. One: Above you said:


That's your interpretation of CFR's interpretation of the NSS...and the only place I see a linkage to "societal transformation" is in your interpretation.


Yet note the following from the CFR's analysis of the NSS:

" ... the United States will advance its 'security' goals, its 'economic' objectives, and its 'values' (particularly by promoting democracy and human rights)."

This such decision of "advancing" generally -- and specifically the part about "advancing our values" (by "promoting" democracy and human rights) -- this would seem to indicate, I believe you will agree, that a "societal status quo" -- for the outlying states and societies of the world -- this would not seem to be in the cards/this was not what we were working towards. Yes?

Thus, might we agree, then and accordingly, that:

a. The matter of "societal transformation;" this, indeed,

b. Is addressed in the CFR's analysis of the current NSS? (How else are we to see such terms as "advance" and "promoting" -- certainly not through the lens of maintaining the status quo?)

Item No. Two: Above you said:


"Current post-Old Cold War National Security Strategy"? Why the extra baggage? It's the National Security Strategy...ditch the rest.


Given my suggestion that we consider, post-the Old Cold War, that the U.S./the West -- as the "victor" of the Old Cold War -- now had certain important and additional responsibilities, to wit and for example: those relating to establishing and maintaining "civil order and governance" throughout the entire Rest of the World. (This such responsibility being something that the U.S./the West, as the victor in the Old Cold War, simply could not ignore or walk away from?);

Given this such suggestion, I thought it was important to emphasize -- when addressing our recent national security strategies -- this "post-Old Cold War" aspect.

To wit: the exact aspect which -- as I have outlined immediately above -- seems to imply significant post-war responsibilities -- such as: (a) those noted by LTC David A. Mueller in his linked article I provide at my Bill C. | November 12, 2017 - 3:53 pm comment above -- and/or -- (b) those associated with Liddell-Hart's "better peace" thesis. So, emphasizing the post-Old Cold War aspect of our discussion; this just made sense to me/seemed necessary.

Item No. Three: Above you said:


So, defending the homeland against terrorists and TCOs is certainly within every combatant commander's lane -- along with agencies in other cabinet departments -- as is demonstrating American values and philosophies...but that doesn't imply a mandate to "impart those to the rest of the world" by any means other than example.


In this regard, consider the following from a May 2017 Congressional Research Service Report:

"Funding for democracy promotion assistance is deeply integrated into U.S. foreign policy institutions. More than $2 billion annually has been allocated from foreign assistance funds over the past decade for democracy promotion activities managed by the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy, and other entities. Programs promoting good governance (characterized by participation, transparency, accountability, effectiveness, and equity), rule of law, and promotion of human rights have typically received the largest share of this funding in contrast to lower funding to promote electoral processes and political competition. In recent years, increasing restrictions imposed by some foreign governments on civil society organizations have resulted in an increased emphasis in democracy promotion assistance for strengthening civil society."

(One might argue here that these such recent restrictions -- imposed by some foreign governments on "civil society" organizations [and our countering moves to strengthen these civil society organizations] -- these confirm that these foreign governments, at least, believe that the U.S./the West is, indeed, attempting to "subvert their societies." Yes?)

These such efforts, and these such funding allocations to various agencies would you not agree, certainly seem to imply (or indeed confirm beyond any reasonable question or doubt?) that:

a. A "means other than setting the example" has indeed been applied; this,

b. To our effort to "impart to the rest of the world" our way of life, our way of governance, our values, etc.?

I would argue that "promote" means exposing people to ideas and letting them decide whether to grasp them, and that restrictions imposed by some foreign governments on "promotion" activities is simply a reaction to their fear of such concepts taking hold in the population and threatening their political power. That may be characterized as "subverting societies", but naked self-interest is the more obvious issue.

Re: "naked self-interest," consider the following from Dr. Nadia Schadlow, now a Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Strategy on the National Security Council:


There are serious political competitions underway for regional and strategic dominance. These extend beyond military battlefields and are fought across a variety of domains – political, economic, informational, and cultural. Is the United States finally ready to compete? ...

... Yet in virtually every theater of the world, local and regional competitions over ideas, economic systems, and societies affect America’s ability to protect and advance its interests.


Thus, might we say that, re:

a. The "regional and strategic dominance" competition which Dr. Schadlow refers to (a "naked" self-interest" -- not only for the United States but for our competitors also?) -- as to this exact such self-interest:

b. Dr. Schadlow seems to advise that advancing/promoting our political, economic, social, cultural, value, etc., attributes; this is critical to our winning this such competition and, indeed, the proper means to this end?

I agree that Nadia Schadlow said that, and that she thinks it's the proper strategy...her writing places her pretty firmly in the "soft power" school. A large part of that is reaction to the decades-long trend of centralizing control and resulting lack of meaningful actions within the State Department, and the corresponding (and IMO, somewhat unintentional) shift of responsibility and action to the DoD combatant commands. But I've seen nothing in her writing that promotes the idea of a "New Cold War" or a mass cultural/societal "us vs them" conflict.

Competition between states is nothing new, nor is it necessarily a winner-take-all environment.

Perhaps you are right here, that Dr. Schadlow does not address these matters as, specifically, either a New Cold War and/or a Clash of Civilizations.

Rather, Dr. Schadlow seems to emphasize the fact that we cannot "delink the political motivations that drive conflict from the use of military force."


As to our (the U.S./the West's) such political motivations, she seems to see these (as I have noted above) as (a) the need to win the "serious political competitions (which are) underway for regional and strategic dominance" and this by -- in one way or another -- (b) advancing our (the U.S./the West's) political, economic, social, cultural and value ideas and institutions.

Thus, you will note that she does not, as far as I can tell, frame these "political competitions" -- for regional and strategic dominance -- in (as you suggest) only "competition between states" terms.

Rather, she appears to see these conflicts and competitions in a broader and more all encompassing light, to wit: in "political, economic, informational, and cultural" terms and, thus, more in terms of "ideas, economic systems, and societies," etc. -- i.e., attributes more attributable to (a) "civilizations" and/or (b) ideological groups?

Given this such -- shall we say, "non-state" framing of the issue -- then might we suggest that the New Cold War, and/or the Clash of Civilizations; these may, indeed, be exactly what she is talking about?

No, we may not.

Certainly we cannot "delink the political motivations that drive conflict from the use of military force." Whether perusing Sun Tzu's cryptic paragraphs, Thucydides' poetry, or Clauswitz's dry lectures, there's general agreement that war is fought to implement actions or achieve goals -- policy -- adopted by some group...traditionally a state. Otherwise, it's just highly-organized gang violence. But the fact that non-state entities are playing a larger role than in the past is more reflective of weapons technology making greater destructive power cheaper and easier to obtain, and communications technology making it cheaper and easier to disseminate ideas and organize people, than it is the societal fault shift Huntington fantasizes about, or the major ideological showdown of the Cold War. In fact, there's a good argument that those two technological factors make your two scenarios *less* possible, because it's easier for individuals with variations in opinion to find each other, communicate, organize, and act, rather than being beholden to a centralized entity for resources and communications.

Whether competition between states -- which still drive the international system simply due to economic throw weight -- or non-state groups, or a combination, the trend is towards multi-polar competition, which shifting combinations of groups competing with others in various spheres, not an us versus them Gotterdammerung.

So, at risk of poking the bear, no.