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Transition to Civilian-Led Operations in Iraq: This Time It’s for Real August 12, 2010

Posted by Laura A. Hall in Analysis.
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By Laura A. Hall

The continuing reports on the difficulties of the transition from military to civilian responsibilities in Iraq expose several key issues that remain unaddressed.  Others will write on the political situation, regional power struggles, the overall strategy, the risks of leaving (and of staying).  The management challenges, however, are less understood and appreciated.

While operations transitioned from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the U.S. Embassy in June 2004, the real transition will come when combat troops are brought home.  The transition to a “normal” Embassy presence and civilian leadership and responsibility presents challenges that bear not only on management, but can in turn affect our overall policy.  A few of these are particularly notable because they raise larger, more fundamental questions that apply beyond Iraq.

Less is More?

If the goal is to move towards a “normal” presence, it will be critical to shift from U.S.-funded reconstruction to political engagement, regional political management, and public diplomacy.  Iraq must own its development.  The planning effort should start with clear goals for a U.S.-Iraq relationship five years from now and work back.  As military and civilian planners work the “seams,” they should be very careful not to simply develop civilian plans for executing all the activities previously done by the military.

Given the size of the military presence in Iraq, it is worth asking whether the supply creates the demand.  How many of the activities are done because they can be?  The budget crunch could create a needed constraint on ambitions.  With our goals in Iraq primarily political, the comparative advantage of diplomats must be leveraged.

The planning process must be driven by goals developed by civilians and should be conducted in formats that make sense to civilians.  If the military planners drive the process by default due to their presence and competence, it will hamper the ability of smart, capable, knowledgeable civilians to do what they do best: constructing a narrative of U.S. engagement with a host country government and people.  The need for a civilian-led planning process and sufficient civilian planning capabilities remains unmet leaving military planning in the driver’s seat .

What if the Cavalry Isn’t Coming?

The transition to civilian responsibilities and the discussions of appropriate supporting military roles reveal that six years after the Bush Administration first began to tackle the challenges of civ-mil deployments there has been insufficient progress in defining roles and responsibilities and in developing civilian capabilities for stabilization and reconstruction.  The military’s overwhelming capabilities have created a sense that the military is driving the mission and will step in if civilian capabilities are insufficient, as they have particularly in police training and contract management. (more…)


Pentagon management turns “Development Fund for Iraq” into misnomer August 5, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Uncategorized.
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Eight former officials of the Defense Department or Coalition Provisional Authority currently are in federal prison for bribery, fraud, and money laundering in association with $96.6 million in Development Funds for Iraq that went missing in 2005.  Last week the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reported that the Pentagon cannot account for another $7.73 billion of these development funds, bringing the total to $8.7 billion.

Fully 96% of this total fund ($9.1B) was lost somewhere in Pentagon accounting.  And this wasn’t even the Pentagon’s money – the Development Fund for Iraq held export revenues from Iraq’s oil and gas fields, along with surpluses from the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food program, and was operated by the Pentagon under management delegated by the interim Iraqi government.

The Defense Department confesses that it is “one of a very few cabinet level agencies without a ‘clean’ financial audit opinion.” Abstract as that sounds, it is a critical obstacle to our success overseas.

There was no mysterious purpose for the Development Fund for Iraq – it was meant to fund development in Iraq.  There is no way to know if anything of the sort happened with this money, but it is clear that a number of other things did.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was delegated between $2.1 – $2.3 billion, for instance, and it kept the money.  According to last week’s report, USACE treated it as “advance payments for reconstruction work they were planning.”

This flies in the face of development practice – subsidizing USACE does nothing to build local capacity; locals have no authority over USACE decisions; and money was hemorrhaged on costly American salaries instead of maximized on the local economy.  Added on top, we broke the newborn government of Iraq’s trust.  It was their money, after all, and the best that we can tell them is that it disappeared through inefficiency, outright loss, and – occasionally – crime.


U.S. must reject impossibly broad defense missions August 3, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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This post originally appeared in The Hill’s Congress Blog, and is reprinted here.

“Your mission, should you decide to accept it” famously prefaced each of the mind-boggling tasks given to the Mission Impossible hero Jim Phelps. He, of course, always succeeded in his barely-possible work. Not to be outdone, a panel of defense experts will use a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday to assign the Pentagon a truly impossible mission set without even giving the American people a choice about accepting it.

This independent panel was chartered to critique the Pentagon’s February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review but instead compounded the document’s undisciplined ambition, its biggest shortcoming. That review retained classic missions like major theater war, deterrence, and patrolling the sea lanes, added on top new missions like countering unnamed insurgencies, aiding security force worldwide, and rebuilding failed states, and then said that the American people must fund them all with equal urgency. (Photo: HASC hearing with William Perry and Stephen Hadley, co-chairs of the QDR Independent Panel report).

Rather than resisting the Pentagon’s attempt to be all things to all people, the independent review panel will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that the military should aim to do that and more. New equipment and training is needed all around, it determined, and the overall size of the force should grow substantially. Most of that growth comes in the panel’s recommendation for a naval fleet ten percent bigger than the Navy thinks it needs.

The Pentagon is a bureaucracy just like any other federal department, so it should come at no surprise that it competes aggressively with other departments for authority and resources. More objectivity should be expected from an outside panel, though. It should have a clear vision of the possible and, at minimum, avoid suggesting impossible missions to the Pentagon or imposing them on the country.

Two ideas drive the panel’s adventurism. It correctly identifies a gap between expansively-defined U.S. interest overseas and the military resources that support those interests. Incorrect, however, is its conclusion that America has no choice but to stridently press ahead. Not only do we have a choice, Congress and the administration have a sacred responsibility to use that discretion to spare our troops and our taxpayers from real-life missions impossible. (more…)

Another missed opportunity: QDR Independent Review Panel Report (download here) July 28, 2010

Posted by bfadtest in Analysis.
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Tomorrow the QDR Independent Review Panel releases its final report, a critique of the QDR’s recommendations, assumptions, and vulnerabilities.  Like the QDR itself, this report is another missed opportunity for disciplining defense missions and budgets.

Much has changed since this panel first convened in February.  Federal debt was already at historic highs and political support for counterinsurgency in Afghanistan was already falling, but awareness of and interest in these issues has boomed in the recent months.  Most prominently, the appropriations committees in both chambers have reduced the President’s defense request in just the past few days (House; Senate).

The panel, however, doesn’t seem to have received this message.  Instead, it doubled down on the basic weakness of the QDR itself by failing to prioritize missions, examine risk, or set any limits.  Then, rather than justifying the claim that we need to be all things to all people, the panel simply asserts that outside forces strip us of our discretion and require this mission expansion.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  This lack of planning and budgetary discipline ignores the country’s economic problems and flagging political support for high defense budgets.  Now is the time to take a closer look at the military’s missions, make a realistic risk calculation and reshape a smaller and better tailored force.  Not only can we do it, we must.

(For additional analysis, Dr. Christopher Preble from the Cato Institute and Sustainable Defense Task Force has a commendable post available here.)

Time to discipline defense spending July 19, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Three weeks remain before Congress’ month-long recess, and that short time will be filled heavily by the FY2011 defense appropriations markups and the pending war supplemental request.  This focus offers an important opportunity for Congress to begin the process of disciplining defense missions and budgets, an inevitable outcome of historically high costs and waning political support.  In an op-ed published in today’s edition of Politico, Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman explain this inevitability and how best to adjust to it.

by Dr. Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman

An absence of restraint and a failure to set priorities, as revealed in the Quadrennial Defense Review, has put the Pentagon on a collision course with fiscal realities and a changing political environment.

Now is the time for Congress and the Pentagon to take a closer look at the military’s missions, make a realistic risk calculation and reshape a smaller and better tailored force.

House defense appropriators are poised to take an important step in this direction with their coming markup of the Pentagon’s budget request. Indications are that Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, may cut the defense budget — though President Barack Obama and the Senate Budget Committee had exempted it from the larger freeze on discretionary accounts.

However, this would be only the first step in dealing with the two tidal waves bearing down on the defense budget. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review ignored both. It did nothing to acknowledge the nation’s grave budget woes or the timeline for U.S. withdrawal in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Independent Review Panel, charged with assessing the QDR, is expected to put the Pentagon’s failure to prioritize missions atop the list of critiques in its report, which is expected to be released in two weeks. Indeed, it must.

The Pentagon, rather than properly constraining missions, simply layered new missions on top of old and gave everything equal priority.

The mission, as laid out in the QDR, seems boundless. On one end, it includes deterrence, conventional wars, patrolling the world’s oceans and defending the United States. On the other end are counterinsurgency, stabilization (nation-building), fighting a terrorist organization and aiding security forces worldwide.

Complicating all this is an assertion that the military should accept no risk in executing any of these missions. This means an enormous demand for standing, active-duty forces stationed worldwide — and soaring defense budgets follow.

The lack of planning and budgetary discipline ignores the country’s economic problems and flagging political support for high defense budgets. Congressional appropriators must face down these fiscal and political tidal waves and impose constraints now.

The first wave is the growing concern with deficits and debt. Debt as a share of gross domestic product, estimated at 64 percent by the Office of Management and Budget, is higher than any since 1951. Left unaddressed, it could equal GDP by the end of the decade.

Our gradual withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan is creating the other wave. Unrestricted war spending drives the defense budget indiscipline that we see today.

A disappointing outcome, combined with our withdrawal, could further reduce support for these unprecedented budgets.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is confronting this situation with talk of restraint. But he actually plans for real budget growth. It falls to Congress, therefore, to manage these tidal waves.

A good model would be the last big cut in defense spending from 1989 to 1998. Then, as now, the United States confronted serious political change and a need for debt reduction. (more…)

What Is a “Strong” Defense? July 13, 2010

Posted by Guest Blogger in Analysis.
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Dr. Christopher A. Preble is the Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and a member of the Sustainable Defense Task Force.  He and Benjamin Friedman authored the “Strategy of Restraint” chapter of SDTF’s report.

by Christopher A. Preble

It has been one month since the Sustainable Defense Task Force released its report, Debt, Deficits, & Defense: A Way Forward. My fellow task force member Laura Peterson posted an excellent discussion of the substance of the report here last month, so there is no need to repeat that here.

Of more interest is the reaction that the report has elicited. There have been a number of interesting analyses in the media and the blogosphere, including Foreign Policy’s “Reality Check” and on the op-ed pages of the Boston Globe and the Washington Post. There have also been some ridiculous commentaries that have mischaracterized the report or otherwise misread its core arguments.

The most common response has been some sympathy for our argument that military spending should be subjected to the same scrutiny that should be applied to other government spending. There are still a fair number of people, however, who share our concern about the deficit, but who counter “But I want a strong defense.”

Who doesn’t?

The task force report was written with a single consideration in mind: in what ways, and where, could we make cuts in military spending that would not undermine U.S. security? It is our contention that much of what we call “defense” spending isn’t really essential to U.S. defense, and that unnecessary or wasteful spending is also harmful to U.S. security.

This is hardly a new concept. Dwight David Eisenhower warned about the burdens of excessive military spending on the wider economy. Robert Gates, channeling Ike, has said “The United States should spend as much as necessary on national defense, but not one penny more.”

A leading conservative in the Senate, Tom Coburn (R-OK) wrote that deficit reduction commission “affords us an opportunity to start some very late due diligence on national defense spending… [as well as] reduce wasteful, unnecessary, and duplicative defense spending that does nothing to make our nation safe.”

The subjective matter is what constitutes “excessive.” “Unnecessary” is a similarly elusive concept. Entire books are written on such questions (shameless plug). I’m not going to resolve them in a blog post.


McChrystal-izing a Problem: The Militarization of American Statecraft June 23, 2010

Posted by Gordon Adams in Analysis.
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by Gordon Adams

General Stanley McChrystal’s candid disrespect for civilian leadership is being treated as an issue of bad judgment and personality.  But this episode reveals a much deeper dilemma for American statecraft, one that has long roots but has reached near crisis proportions over the past ten years: the gradual erosion of civilian leadership and the militarization of our foreign and security policy.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen warned  about this trend in remarks to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University last year, but it has been under way for years.  Its manifestations include:

  • DOD and the military now define what America’s national security strategy will be.  The DOD strategic document – the Quadrennial Defense Review – was for many months the only definitive description of our strategy; the National Security Strategy followed, and is significantly less informative or clear.  DOD has for years done our only real national strategy planning, well ahead of any White House guidance.
  • DOD and the military have determined that our most important engagement abroad will be to fight terrorist and insurgents, despite the fact that terrorist tactics hardly threaten our existence and, outside of insurgents in Afghanistan (and in decline in Iraq) it is not clear either that there are a lot of insurgencies for us to fight or that other countries will welcome a major US military presence to deal with those that do exist.
  • The regional combatant commanders are a more prominent US forward presence in most regions of the world than our ambassadors or regional Assistant Secretaries of State.
  • These same regional combatant commanders seek to become the “hub” around which all US government agencies engage the world.  Adm. James Stavrides, as COCOM for Latin America described that command as a “velcro cube” to which other civilian agencies could attach.  AFRICOM was deliberately created to be such a command, despite the absence of any formal civilian role or authority in the operations of such a command.
  • The Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) was designed and implemented as a development assistance program entirely under the authority of the local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In funding, it is as large as thecivilian Millennium Challenge Corporation and nearly as large as USAID’s development assistance (DA) funds.  During the Bush administration, DOD sought to make CERP a global development assistance program and Carl Schramm’s article in the latest Foreign Affairs proposes that the military be given responsibility for all US bilateral development assistance.

Skelton offers DOD modest nudge away from budget discipline tsunami June 21, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Two movements of tsunami-like size are bearing down on the Defense Department and the all-inclusive, un-prioritized mission set that it laid out in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  As the drawdown dates for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan approach, those missions will be seen more and more as outlier cases rather than models of the new normal.  Budget discipline is the second movement, and that tsunami is peaking.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-MO), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), recently took a tentative step in recognition of the oncoming budget discipline tsunami.  Specifically, Rep. Skelton publicized his intent to create a special body or process charged with identifying opportune cuts in the defense budget.  Like the Defense Department’s own plan, however, Rep. Skelton intends for this money to be reallocated within the Defense Department rather than to generate true savings for the country.  It also seems that Rep. Skelton presently plans to consider only efficiency increases rather than accepting the far more difficult, but important, task of disciplining missions.

This tentative step is insufficient for the problems we face.  Defense spending is at heights unreached since World War II while our economy is at depths unseen since the Great Depression.  The Defense Department’s mission set needs discipline, and that discipline needs to generate real and meaningful savings for the country.

Though insufficient, Rep. Skelton’s plan still is very useful.  His voice is authoritative, and adding it to Secretary Gates’ statements on spending constraints lends unique legitimacy to the issue.  Likewise, a number of steps are available within his parameters that would advance the issue significantly.  The Stimson Center’s Dr. Gordon Adams addressed many of these in recent testimony before HASC’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.  They include: (more…)

Transition for Two: US-Iraq Relations June 1, 2010

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Ellen Laipson is the President and CEO of the Stimson Center.  She recently completed a report The Future of US-Iraq Relations and spent 10 days in Iraq in May.

by Ellen Laipson

President Obama is sticking to his guns on the timing of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.  He has not been persuaded by the nervous concerns of some in the US military and Iraqi politicians and defense officials who fear that the 2011 deadline could lead to a sharp erosion of security in Iraq and could undermine the objective of leaving Iraq in conditions of stability and peace.  Things would have to change dramatically on the ground to override the budgetary and political imperatives that drive his policy.

I’m on Obama’s side on this one.  First, the withdrawal timetable was developed carefully by Bush Administration and Iraqi officials, based on planning metrics for the steadily increasing capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and police.  Generals Petreus and Odierno, who know the conditions on the ground better than anyone, would need to make a compelling argument to slow down the process, and they’re not doing so.

Secondly, the Iraqis seem to be undervaluing how far they’ve come, and should embrace the degree of sovereignty they’ve achieved.  Sure, they still don’t trust each other across historic and ethnic or sectarian divides, but they should be proud of the progress made.  They are now in control of the cities, and US forces are largely contained on one consolidated base in Baghdad.  The occasional acts of violence by al-Qaeda or others do not erode entirely the fact that Iraq has a reconfigured security sector that is doing its job.  To stop the clock on the US withdrawal would deepen a psychological dependency on the US as big brother that would not suit US-Iraq relations for the long term. (Photo: US Air Force).

Having said that, the 2008 agreements that govern withdrawal and provide a “strategic framework” for the future of US-Iraq relations would certainly permit both parties to revisit the timetable or make other mutually agreed adjustments.  The US has its hands tied until the Iraqis form a new government, and that new government would have to initiate the process to negotiate a follow-on agreement.  Should such negotiations take place, they would need to be built on a shared commitment to Iraq’s success, not a sign of failure or setback in our declared goals. (more…)

Secretary Gates and Discipline at DOD May 11, 2010

Posted by Gordon Adams in Analysis.
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a major speech last week about the future of US defense capabilities and the military budget.  It was generally greeted as a voice of realism, bringing the military services up short to realize that the fiscal “gusher,” that has doubled US defense spending over the past decade, “has been turned off and will stay off for a good period of time.”

It was nothing of the sort.  While he talked about saving more than $300 billion in hardware cuts over the past two budgets, he said nothing about the billions his budget decisions added to replace the systems he ostensibly cut – more current generation destroyers replacing the ‘cancelled’ new ones, and the extension of the vehicle program in the ostensibly cut Future Combat System, just to name two.

The key to understanding what Gates was really saying lies in the Secretary’s statement that the current state of the world justifies “sustaining the current military force structure.”   And in his assertion that the defense budget must grow roughly two-to-three percent above inflation to sustain that force structure.  And in his argument that any savings that result from his plan should be retained at DOD to provide that rich budget the current force requires.

Rather than playing on the margins of fiscal restraint, the Secretary and the Department would do well to prepare for two tsunamis that are bearing down on them, not just the one that the Secretary noted.  Gates acknowledged that historic levels of deficits and US debt were putting the nation at fiscal risk, which would lead to slower federal spending in the coming years.  The European fiscal crisis of the past month is a warning of the risks we face in not dealing with this looming crisis.  US debt is projected to reach 80-100% of US Gross Domestic Product in the coming decade; continued borrowing to fund that debt will raise interest costs and put in jeopardy the stellar rating US Treasury notes have had historically.

Secretary Gates is less prepared for the second tsunami, however:  the departure of the US military from Iraq and Afghanistan.  The US is certain to be largely withdrawn from Iraq over the next year, and equally likely to be largely withdrawn from Afghanistan in the next three years.  Coupled with concerns about deficits and debt, a shrinking presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will pull the rug out from under public support for what has been an undisciplined military budget.