The Role of the SME: Making Military Exercises Relevant and Realistic

After 20 years in the U.S. Army and 30 in the U.S. Foreign Service – including two tours of duty as a U.S. ambassador – I’ve been involved in numerous civil-military exercises since I retired in 2012. In particular, I was asked to help prepare the military to work effectively in a post-Afghanistan environment.

Organizations operate like they train. So, it’s important that training is relevant and realistic to make sure our young men and women, in and out of uniform, are prepared for future challenges. This is especially important for the military after the final withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan – now scheduled for the end of 2016.

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ISIS: Our intelligence and security services have failed, so let’s give them more money

Intelligence has failed us again. 9/11, Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, London, Iraq and its missing weapons of mass destruction, Afghanistan and now ISIS – can all be seen as intelligence failures. ISIS did not come out of nowhere. For 18 months, they have been gathering money and recruits, exploiting social media and developing a clear strategy. All these activities are the daily grind for our intelligence and security agencies, so why did we not know what they were going to do, how quickly they could move or how appealing they would be to young people?

Yes, sometimes failure is complicated. Take 9/11 for example. It was easy in retrospect to identify all the relevant dots of information and draw a line from the Twin Towers to Afghanistan. Not a straight line, but from New York, Washington, New Jersey, Boston, Florida, Germany, Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan. Those responsible were taking flying lessons, renting houses with cash, moving money around from Europe to the U.S. via the Middle East. We also had prior doubts about some of the individuals involved. The clues were there, so where was the intelligence?

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Cyberspace: The New Domain in the Contemporary Operating Environment

cyberwar imageCyberspace – a vast, complex and dynamic environment that has significantly altered the battlespace of the 21st Century.

It is empowering non-state actors, creating new vulnerabilities and combining with other technologies and trends in unpredictable and dangerous ways. The cyber domain offers adversaries the opportunity to gather and share intelligence and data, shape perceptions and affect physical operations.

Cyber is not just a war between computer networks, it is a virtual human world (social media) and a potential weapon or vulnerability that affects every other aspect of warfare and security.

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What the Hell is the “Moderate Syrian Opposition?”

Anthony Russo

Photo courtesy of Anthony Russo in NYT

“The moderate Syrian opposition” is ruining the debate over U.S. policy on Syria. It is an essentially meaningless phrase that has taken the place of any thoughtful consideration. It is useful, though, insofar as it informs the listener that the speaker: a) has no idea what he is talking about, or b) does not want the listener to know what he is talking about.

There is nothing moderate about civilian populations taking up arms against their state. That is an act of total, zealous commitment. So when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an August 29 New York Times editorial, “We need to support Iraqi forces and the moderate Syrian opposition” against ISIS, what did he mean?

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The Peril of Ignoring the Human Domain

No military strategy will promise success unless it gives full discount to the non-military factors of politics, economics and sociology.

While cleaning up the files on my desk recently, I came across a copy of a declassified top secret document from the Vietnam War era, part of which is a strategic appraisal provided by the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (CG-FMFPAC). Written 49 years ago, the CG’s appraisal makes two concise points. Paraphrased, they are: (1) the enemy’s greatest strength is manpower, and we are foolish to attempt to fight that fight and expect to win and (2) we ignore civil considerations our peril.

The writing is intense and potent: “Scrupulous attention to these two facts is a design for victory. Evasion of their implications is the route to defeat.”

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A Better Approach to Interagency Coordination for Failed States?

Yesterday’s article in The National Interest is particularly interesting in the discussion of covert vs. clandestine operations and the authorities for each. It also makes a suggestion that Ambassador-led interagency teams in the field be given primary responsibility for planning and execution of strategies where national interests collide with failing states.

Two themes of the article are flawed in my opinion. The first is their framework is too dependent on the nation-state centric organization of the State Department. Problems are increasingly not organized by nation state but are cross border or even non-geographical. Is ISIS an Iraq problem or a Syria problem? Is the Taliban an Afghanistan problem or a Pakistan problem?

The second is that their solution ignores – and perhaps even misassumes – that the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan were organizational and not strategic. The nation-building centric model for stabilization of fragile states is a bad model even if the interagency organization is better. Good political strategy is the core foundation of stability, not nation-building.

A Bleak Outlook for Afghanistan

NPR Image of Afghanistan

Image by David Gilkey, NPR

Almost all Western writers who address the future of Afghanistan (post withdrawal) adopt the perspective of the West and discuss what developments could threaten their countries and how to limit or diminish this impact. To me, the threshold question should be: What do Afghans want?

What matters most in this situation are the opinions of the 35 million Afghans – particularly the 24 million who live in small rural communities.

As we’ve learned, it’s impossible to force unfamiliar, fundamental change on people who resist.

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