Whole-of-Government Support for Irregular Warfare: How a New Law Will Make a Map Hit the Road
Edward J. McDonnell III
Eight months ago, I put pen to paper on personal reflections I had previously submitted in a memorandum to my superiors at the Department of State (DOS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) when I departed Afghanistan for the Peace Corps in 2010. A colleague and friend suggested that I reconfigure those thoughts into an article for the Small Wars Journal. SWJ kindly published that essay as the article “Whole-of-Government Support for Irregular Warfare” on January 7th.
As I often write to others about that article, the crash-course in ‘Humility-101’ contained in the commentaries trailing the essay have proven over time to be as valuable as, if not more than, the article itself. While my article made many specific points, two big-picture considerations had motivated me to write the underlying memorandum and later to put that pen to paper. One was the lack of accountability inherent in an absence of a chain-of-command on the civilian side of the whole-of-government affairs. The second factor was a desire to map out a simple division of tasks between Village Stability Operations (VSO) by the Special Forces (SOF) and more traditional civilian development work.
These themes were not unique to me. In fact, two very fine men, commissioned by the Department of Defense (DOD) as Special Inspectors General for the Reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan (known as SIGIR and SIGAR, respectively), are working assiduously to learn from the bad to aim for the good in future conflict stabilization operations (CSOs). One has worked for many years in this pursuit, while the other has only recently whipped a demoralized agency into shape in just over a year. Anyone reading this article by now has to have heard about the fraud, waste and abuse allegedly rampant in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assurances that such dissipation of increasingly scarce resources will never occur again are wishful thinking because, even with the best efforts to safeguard the interests of other people’s money (in this case, that of U.S. taxpayers), mistakes will occur; mistakes make waste, often compounded by an unwillingness to face the inevitable resistance of colleagues when alerting others to problems. No matter how tight the controls and how selective the hiring of field-grade fiduciaries, some soldiers and civilians will succumb to the temptation of ‘What the buck? No one will notice.’ Nevertheless, the magnitude and consequences of collateral fraud, waste and abuse can be minimized.
That desire to optimize the performance of CSOs has taken shape in a bill recently proposed in the House of Representatives. That House Bill, H.R.-2606 The Stabilization and Reconstruction Act of 2013, aims to mobilize the hard lessons learned from profiteering and stupidity in Iraq and Afghanistan into a body of working knowledge to suffuse the planning and ethos of future stability operations. As always, I salute the service to my country of each of those good men: Mr Stewart Bowen for his nine years of perseverance in Iraq with SIGIR and SIGAR’s Mr John Sopko for his refreshing fourteen months in Afghanistan.
While Iraq and Afghanistan were invasions conducted and led by the United States, their long durations gradually transformed their eventual status and rationales into protracted, perhaps successful, stabilization operations. The final assessment of success or failure will not be clear for another generation or two in Iraq and at least two in Afghanistan. To those many who will disagree with such a notion, I would point to the history of Viet Nam in the last three decades as a guiding example. These small wars southwest Asia got too big for their budgets and dragged on too long for many unfortunate brothers and sisters in uniform. In short, as a nation, we are exhausted.
Indeed, this current crop of citizen-soldiers may truly be the ‘greatest generation’ since these men and women have fought 2-3x more than had their fathers or grandfathers before them. That burden upon our younger compatriots, and also on more experienced National Guardsmen, was neither fair nor necessary. The nationwide torpor in the wake of grueling conflict of questionable necessity explains a significant part of the stunning, if prudent, reticence to act by the current Administration in the face of a human catastrophe engulfing Syria with more than 100,000 people killed, a million children living in tents or on the streets and, increasingly likely, the use of chemical weapons.
H.R.-2606 seeks to turn lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan into practical legacies looking ahead instead of deterrents to action so that cross-border crises of the future can be addressed through a decisive application of limited force and resources for a limited time with clearly identified objectives. The article I composed eight months ago vaguely called for certain measures to be taken to prevent the degeneration into quagmires of well-meaning but poorly executed CSOs, which should functions as hybrids of VSOs and traditional development initiatives. The road, if not to Hell but to failure, is surely paved with too many good intentions implemented with too little discipline.
That perspective of mine was not at all original to me but rather reflected the wisdom and knowledge many others in the SOF, the U.S. government (USG) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who had the gentility and took the time to impart them to me. That January article, in its advocacy of civilian accountability and inter-agency specializations, was rightly criticized for its not addressing, either correctly or at all, certain perennial issues with any CSO:
- How to assure lock-step lateral coordination between the SOF (including Civil Affairs; CA) and the Public Diplomacy Office within the DOS (PDO);
- How to consolidate the unity of the civilian chain-of-command into the State Department (DOS);
- How to assure communications between the DOD and DOS, particularly at the Secretary level (SecDef and SecState); as well as,
- How to enforce oversight and accountability of whole-of-government CSOs.
This recently proposed Bill fleshes out the spirit of the ideas presented in my article – by coincidence, I assure you. To gain some perspective on the strength of H.R.-2606, permit me to repeat my reaction and response to those earlier critiques because the Bill addresses both the criticism and my flawed responses neatly. In most cases, I admitted that my thoughts were just those: propositions to be argued out in subsequent discussions. In the specific instance of an institutionalized civil-military collaboration (CivMil) among VSOs, the PDO and development agencies, I pondered a segregation the SOF into a separate military service.
That idea proved quickly to be not only inimical to our democracy but inadequate for the future SOF soldiers involved in CSOs. (‘Make no mistake’, as you-know-who might say, the SOF will most likely be the fellows tasked from the DOD to carry out the kinetic side of these short-term interventions.) The Bill creates a U.S. Office of Contingency Operations (USOCO). Its Director enjoys a status of a ‘principal officer’ of the USG (i.e., at or near cabinet level), the appointment of whom is subject to the “advice and consent” of the U.S. Senate. The Director, while enjoying senior-level authority, acts under the advice, direction and consent of the SecDef, SecState and National Security Advisor.
This status grants the Director the authority to facilitate the DOS and DOD working together at the behest of the President upon his declaration of a “stabilization and reconstruction emergency” (Declaration). There are many ways in which H.R.-2606 facilitates cross-agency unity of command without interfering with the cohesion on the field that the military services require for their troops to survive. Since a CSO requires immediate recognition of crisis, prompt decision-making among several options and timely implementation of whatever intervention is chosen, the Director has to balance many roles, several of which require a diplomatic touch from a strong USG position.
First, and foremost, the Bill places the CivMil function firmly into USOCO, so the Director and his staff would direct the planning (not the deployment in the field) of military and civilian resources. A bifurcated status relative to the SecState (i.e., of the Director being a peer nevertheless subject to SecState’s guidance) allows the Director to enforce a civilian chain of command into USOCO among various non-DOD actors answering to distinct Departments of agencies. This mechanism cleverly avoids my previous idea of ripping USG civilian entities asunder by integrating their traditional off-shore activities into an institutional DOS chain-of-command, at the expense of long-standing peacetime practices like trade promotion.
Furthermore, the Director would coordinate between non-governmental stakeholders and the uniformed military to avoid duplication of efforts and to preserve the necessary institutional firewall between kinetic and humanitarian operations down-range. Additionally, the Bill establishes a separate AND equal Inspector General (I.G.), with an implied mandate to conduct performance audits. This new I.G. is not just another layer of bureaucracy but an intelligent way to minimize finger-pointing among agencies (e.g., between the I.G.s and others within the DOS and DOD or between the field commanders and civilian counterparts) since the USOCO I.G. answers to none of them.
In essence, the Bill establishes a USG ‘point-man’ (i.e., the Director) to deal with coalition governments in complicated peace-keeping or ‘nation-building’ deployments; likely to be the most common form of CSO going-forward. As one can see, this Bill presents possible and plausible solutions to nagging problems in the field that tend to undermine multi-lateral contingency operations. In short, H.R.-2606 applies the “Hard Lessons” learned in Iraq and still being experienced in Afghanistan to address the issues that originally informed my ‘first-cut’ essay in January.
Nevertheless, I would like to share initial thoughts about the implementation of the marching orders spelled out by H.R.-2606, at times by proposing enhancements to the Bill. First, the presidential Declaration stipulated under the Bill ought to be subject to the requirements imposed by the forty year old War Powers Resolution of 1973 to avoid ill-advised interventions that meander into the quicksand of mission-creep. Additionally, as the Legislative Branch re-appropriates powers previously ceded to the Executive, such an open-ended Declaration could become a way for a wayward President to take the country to war without the support of Congress.
Furthermore, the Bill would break two key institutional log-jams that have tripped up previous interventions. First, when the DOD and DOS reach an impasse on a specific issue, the National Security Assistant could cast a tie-breaking vote. Additionally, the USOCO Director could also represent the interests of Legislative Branch within the Executive, when Presidential inaction prompts Congress to act or call vociferously for a CSO intervention. Accordingly, such additional status conferred upon the National Security Assistant should require his or her being subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, going-forward.
These additional responsibilities assumed by senior USG officials would have to make explicit certain practices to facilitate the mechanics of future CSOs and USOCO’s leadership role within them. Before larger-scale investigations would occur, the Director, upon the recommendation of the I.G., would be permitted to terminate contracts without explicit cause and to impound otherwise obligated funds without definitive legal proof of malfeasance. This seeming sweep of power would be aimed at deterring waste. Fraud is harder to prove while waste is easy to see (once an I.G. or interested USG contracting official actually shows up to a project site).
In the instance of Presidential inaction defying the sense of Congress or the concern of the larger electorate, this Bill presents an opportunity to devise a method for interested Senators and Representatives to initiate the debate of, or action toward, a CSO intervention on humanitarian grounds. As an illustrative example, two or more Chairmen (with at least one from each Chamber) of the House and Senate foreign affairs and armed services committees could be permitted to instruct the USOCO to assess possible emergency conflict zones to inform subsequent “pre-intervention planning”.
Second, in the continued absence of action by the President and upon completion of the preliminary study commissioned by Congressional leaders, the House of Representatives would have the grounds to issue a Declaration of the existence of a stabilization and reconstruction emergency in lieu of the President. Finally, after ninety days of further inaction from the White House, both Chambers of Congress, through a joint resolution and with appropriations provided by the House, would initiate a CSO with the Director acting on behalf of the Executive Branch to implement said resolution
The key objectives and opportunities discussed in this Bill, H.R.-2606, seek to accomplish four basic objectives:
- To carry out short-term interventions, tightly circumscribed in scope and timing by Congress;
- To assure that timely decisions occur that at least try to integrate diverse and divergent views within the USG;
- To try to cement a civilian unity of command to complement that of the military; and,
- To look to minimize waste quickly and realize efficiencies.