Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why civilian agencies can't help counterinsurgency succeed in Iraq

This isn't probably all that widely known, but a key aspect of the counterinsurgency doctrine Gen. David Petraeus helped develop back in his Fort Leavenworth days -- before he became a celebrity superhero in Iraq, and now Afghanistan -- is this little point: The military can't do it alone.  The American government's civilian agencies -- ranging from Treasury to (seriously) the Department of Agriculture -- all have a vital role to play in helping win over a secure the population where the insurgency is taking place.

This doesn't happen as well as it should -- at least, that's what military types say with a fair amount of frequency. But part of the reason that may be the case is this: where political types back home in Washington are frequently willing to write blank -- or, at least, very big -- checks to fund military efforts abroad, they're stingier when it comes to those civilian agencies. Here's a story in today's Washington Post:

Beginning in September, the State Department will take over all police training in Iraq from coalition military forces, and it has proposed replacing its current 16 provincial reconstruction teams spread across the country with five consular offices outside Baghdad.

But since planning for the transition began more than two years ago, costs have skyrocketed and the money to pay for them has become increasingly tight. Congress cut the State Department's Iraq request in the 2010 supplemental appropriation that President Obama signed late last month; the Senate Appropriations Committee and a House subcommittee have already slashed the administration's $1.8 billion request for fiscal 2011 operations in Iraq.

The State Department has signaled in recent weeks that it will need up to $400 million more than initially requested to cover mushrooming security costs, but lawmakers seem in no mood to acquiesce.

"They need a dose of fiscal reality," a senior Senate aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity amid ongoing negotiations over the State Department funding.

I'm all for fiscal reality -- and I'm a fan of efforts to impose that reality upon America's efforts abroad. Still: Does anyone think that Congress would be so stingy if Petraeus was asking for this exact money, for the exact same reasons, and in the exact same "oops we miscalculated" context? It's extremely doubtful.

The defense establishment has long been extremely talented at attracting funding and resisting even modest cuts to the growth of its budgets. But there's a double-edged sword to that success: The military on its own cannot -- and should not -- bear the only burden of achieving America's aims abroad. But it may be the only institution that's given the fiscal latitude to do so.

1 comment:

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