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 19 Aug 2009 @ 1:07 PM 
 

Capacity Building As Foreign Policy; A New Strategy?

 

When George H. W. Bush declared a “New World Order, recipe ” many felt that his pronouncement was arrogant, healing domineering and a bit frightening in an Orwellian way. His words have been mocked, cheap twisted, and held up as an indicator to support conspiracy theories and in the rhetoric of those who oppose American foreign policy. The President may have been correct in his determination that there had been a change, but there was no change in behavior strategically that went along with such a sea change in global politics. The United States simply behaved as if it were the unchallenged superpower, declaring itself the world leader and chief proponent of “freedom.” America announced to the world that the world had changed, but America did not significantly change the way it dealt with this changed world. As globalization changed the world’s markets and political possibilities, the United States remained rooted in foreign policy practices that in many cases exacerbated the very problems that they were intended to ameliorate. Things got worse.

The more American foreign policy sought to “contain” extremism, the more extreme the threats that presented themselves. Numerous turning points were reached, and no turns were made. American success in supporting Afghanistan’s Mujaheddin against the Soviet invasion was widely heralded as a triumph of foreign policy. In the wake of the Soviet withdrawal the United States took no major steps to build capacity of any sort in Afghanistan. No leadership was exerted, and the little influence exerted was spent on warlords who were perceived to be pliable. Afghanistan slid first into civil war and finally into the grip of a group of backwards religious zealots who had no ability to govern and whose actions conflicted more and more with national mores and objectives. No progress was made, either, in persuading Iraq that compliance with any New World Order was unavoidable. Actions meant to bring Iraq to heel only hardened the resolve of Saddam Hussein and tightened his grip on his populace. The carrot and the stick were not working.

America was not leading in the development of human capacities. America was playing power games; games of manipulation that had unintended consequences in their second and third order effects that actually damaged American national interests and security. International terrorism, an outgrowth of Arab frustrations with their inability to defeat Israel on the conventional battlefield, and blamed also on the United States, came to the fore with the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Hijackings became relatively common. The pace of international terrorism waxed and waned, and the methodology evolved, but a widening gap opened between America and the Arab and Persian worlds.

The response of the United States to terrorism was often forceful retaliation. America sought to strengthen security agreements and arrangements with friendly, and not so friendly, countries. The political side brought pressure based on the threat of force, money and sanctions. These were considered the tools of foreign policy. Decades of foreign policy sought to erode Communism rather than trust that it would die a natural death of its own weight. It was a policy born of a lack of faith in our own system; a fear that the other could actually win somehow. While this is understandable in light of the unthinkable tragedy of WW-II, it helped spawn another, asymmetric threat. International extremism was growing, not in the least bit slowed by our old techniques. We had sponsored it in Asia in order to gall the Soviets. Now it became firmly entrenched in Middle Eastern societies.

After the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan, America determined that it had achieved a strategic victory in backing the Mujaheddin. Although there were cries for help in many areas from Afghans, funding for aid to Afghanistan was drastically cut. The Afghans were on their own. Factions fought to a near standstill over control of the country. Former allies fought viciously to control Afghanistan. Local warlords controlled areas of Afghanistan, and depredations were widespread. Kabul lay in ruins as the various factions fought for control of the symbol of power in Afghanistan. The Taliban began as a tiny group rebelling against a local warlord. The ISI began their long association with the Taliban. U.S. foreign policy, confused as ever, backed and then turned against the Taliban. Afghanistan failed as a state. Chaos reigned, concealment and incubation for exportable extremism.

Failed states affect other states. In the era of globalization, they can affect states halfway around the globe. After plenty of actions taken against American citizens and property overseas, we finally got an extreme display on our own soil on 9/11. The disaffected of Afghanistan had a hand in that. The disaffected of the Middle East participated directly. Failed or failing states threaten all.

The root causes of insurgency lie in a combination of factors. We break them into three general areas; a vulnerable population, leadership who are available to direct disaffection and weak government. U.S. foreign policy from WW-II forward often served to exacerbate insurgencies, because very often the actions taken by the American foreign policy organs were to utilize the three main tools of policy (money, sanctions and military power) to either benefit a relatively small slice of society or to punish all. The American carrot and stick were actually making things worse, just as surely as doing nothing but hunt the enemy is not weakening him in modern day Afghanistan. With a very large percentage of people under the age of 25 in Afghanistan, the recruiting pool for disaffected and angry youth is nearly endless. This is the basis for the statement that you cannot kill your way out of an insurgency.

You have to address the root causes. The military can help to secure the physical vulnerability of the population, but the population is not just physically vulnerable. They are also economically, educationally, socially and governmentally vulnerable. The military can help address the leadership issue… but then what? If we kinetically solve the problem of one leader, another will grow in his place. Government may be physically weak, unable to deliver on its mandate… or it can be morally weak in the eyes of the people, rendering it susceptible to attack both physically and rhetorically. The military cannot protect a government from rhetorical attack or the disregard that citizens will show for a morally weak government.

We Americans view ourselves as “good guys.” We are the characters who ride into town wearing white hats, sure of the effectiveness and fairness of the “American way.” We see ourselves as the champion of justice. To significant portions of the populations of poorer nations, that is not the way that we are seen. A conventionally-minded military is not the most effective counterinsurgent force. The military is not the answer to insurgency by itself, only a part of the national ability to project real power. We need to change the way that we conduct policy. This begins here in Afghanistan. If the civilian organs of American foreign policy become strong in the ways that they need to in order to assist the Afghan people forward, we stand a chance of developing significant capabilities to transform our foreign policy behavior in ways that will provide greater security than we have known in over 30 years. This is not to say that we should become wimpy. It is to say that we will become a more secure nation by assisting people who are not Americans to be more secure.

It is hard to argue with some assertions made by those in the United States who claim that we are in this position due to our own faults. These folks tend to be in opposition to American foreign policy in general, and their greatest weakness is that they offer no real alternative, only cries of exasperation or excessively isolationist recommendations that no one views as realistic. They are able to diagnose the disconnect between what we say we want and our effects on the other people on this planet. We have indeed contributed greatly to our own problems by propping up strongmen who opposed regimes that we opposed, manipulating the internal politics of nations via intrigue, arming groups and sponsoring regime change.

We helped create failed and failing states. We did nothing to help developing nations to develop the capacity to govern properly and provide essential services that a government needs to provide in order to be legitimate. We failed to assist with mentoring and guidance and examples for developing nations to develop the capacity to begin to serve their populations.

We failed in the good will and good faith departments.

The backward slide ends somewhere. Either that or the relevance of the United States in the world will continually erode. The change in our behavior needs to start in Afghanistan. If the new initiatives are successful, those who participate here are the “seed corn” for a whole new breed in foreign relations, particularly in second and third-world countries. Several Presidents have talked about American “leadership.” The best leaders are also great mentors. They assist others in their development.

By providing the mentoring and leadership to assist developing countries in their capacity building, not just governmental, but also in basic economic development (encouraging investment and partnering,) the United States can help prevent state failure. The true power of the United States is not self-contained in the military. It is also in the economic power, the technical expertise, the ease with which our services are delivered and the competence of our public employees. In return we will assist in preventing state failure and insurgencies from ever really developing by addressing their root causes before they have a chance to develop. We will create markets and opportunity. Security will be secured and enhanced.

In order to be successful in Afghanistan, we will need to develop these competencies in our foreign policy organs. A new breed can be birthed in Afghanistan that will change the way that we deal with the world around us and by being more beneficial reap rewards for our own people at home.

Tags Tags: , , , ,
Categories: Afghanistan, AfPak, analysis, COIN, development
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 19 Aug 2009 @ 01 07 PM

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Responses to this post » (12 Total)

 
  1. coffeypot says:

    Sorry for sounding so stupid, but in my pretty screwed up mind I think I hear you saying, Don’t try to make them into a little America, but give them the support, training, and leadership to make themselves into a new and better Afghanistan. But their culture will mostly prevent it, won’t it? With all the good intentions in the world, there has been too many years of corruption, greed, terror and craving for power to make it happen in our life time. It can happen, but it will need help from stronger countries like the US, GB and others. How can the be done without intervention? Or did I miss the point all together?

  2. Old Blue says:

    Afghanistan is not America. They need to develop their own solutions to their problems, but to do that, they need mentoring, guidance and assistance. I do not believe that Afghanistan is hopeless. The ANA is not perfect, but they are the biggest success story in Afghanistan; and that was done with mentoring. What we have not done to nearly the same extent is mentor the civilian government.

    America should never just throw money at problems in developing countries without oversight and mentoring. If they want the money, they have to take the mentoring, or no money. That’s not a carrot and stick, it’s carrot and medicine. Afghanistan was on the path to development when their future was hijacked by coup, revolution, brutal invasion and then civil war. Don’t confuse where they have wound up as their national character. But also don’t expect that effective government grows out of the residue of war. None of these people inherited a functional system, nor did they suddenly have years of administrative and governmental experience. We came to assist, and then built little more than an Army. The ANA are now the single most respected (by Afghans) institution in the country. That success, gained largely through influence, mentoring and the willingness to work daily with them, can be replicated in other areas. In simply throwing money at the problems with insufficient oversight and little in the way of mentoring, we allowed our money to be used as graft and corruption. We should never do that.

    What I am saying is that by developing the ability to build capacity as an element of foreign policy, on the civilian side, perhaps we can avoid armed counterinsurgency in the future. Counterinsurgency in its own right is a very difficult, dangerous, risky and expensive thing. The big lesson is that failed states are dangerous to other states, like the children of broken and violent homes are often dangerous to others in society. If we focus not so much on changing forms of government as we focus on civilian capacity building in a holistic way as part of our foreign policy, then we stand a chance of avoiding contributing to more situations as have occurred here.

  3. Marian White says:

    “their future was hijacked” what a powerful statement and one of great truth and sadness. The Afghanistan that exists today is not the country that at one time had Universities, women participating in government, women teachers and doctors. It is shocking how fast a country can be turned upside down and backwards. It is sinful that the USA did not do more to prevent what Afghanistan has become. Hopefully as a country we have learned something and will provide the mentoring, security, that is needed and will provide a more positive future for Afghanistan and America…..Blue, Thank you for the education. Knowledge is power!

  4. elf says:

    @Marian,

    Their future was hijacked by them, when they literally skinned their Soviet Advisors then tried to pursue a foreign policy that cut out the USSR, they kind of sealed their own fate.

    It’s sinful – to do what they are doing even now-trafficking in narcotics, hurting women, legalizing “family rape” (!?!).

    I will give the Pope, AM, Old Blue and my brothers and sisters in Arms the year they asked for- Aug 2010 to show progress.

    But if it were my call – I’d stabilize the area with 200 Rads. Really, no kidding.

    Blue – “F” this narrative where it’s always our fault.

    Someday when they write the history books, I wonder if any historian might take note that America fell ass backwards into the role of “world policeman” from WWI on because all the Empires — Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Russian Tsar, China (internally it’s always been an Empire), German, then later the Fascist, Nazi, and later the French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and finally British Empire all collapsed in an astonishingly short period of history. Leaving us with the babies, and the neurotic guilt trip.

    Peace

  5. David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/20/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  6. Old Blue says:

    Elf, thanks for stopping in. No guilt trip, really. It’s a recognition that the old ways of foreign policy perhaps aren’t so effective any more. Were they ever, really? How many former colonial nations are solid, stable countries now? I think I’ve made myself clear, and I never forget, that I am here for my children. Also do not forget, as I do not, that I am a Soldier and more than willing to defend myself or anyone who I feel may need it with lethal, focused force. This is not my first time at the dance. I am not guilty about being here, I am not guilty about what I have done before. This is a learning process. First, I work to carry the message of how to secure this country from a bunch of insurgent yahoos who harbored the people who threatened my country on its own soil, bringing more death by a foreign actor to a state of the Union since, I think, the War of 1812. I carry lessons learned on that account.

    There are a whole ‘nother level of lessons learned, as well. I happen to recognize that leaving a big mess behind, a failed or failing state, leaves my children less secure. Some of the peaceniks like to say that there is no peace without justice. Everybody has their little piece of the truth. We will apply some form of foreign policy. We have spent billions on methods and strategies that have left us and our friends less secure by spending our time frivolously manipulating useless levers and turning ineffective cranks. This is not about guilt. It’s about wising up. It’s about doing things that leave my children safer, and the paradox is that in order to do that I have to leave others safer, more secure, and functional. That I decry dated concepts that have wasted time and money that do not serve our purposes is no howl of shame. It is a call to learn, to adapt, to be smarter and more effective.

  7. anand says:

    Well said Old Blue. Many think as you do, in the US and in other large countries. One person who propagated your ideas at the pentagon in the 1990s was:
    http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/

    To phrase your ideas differently, there are many public goods that benefit the world in general and not just the group that provides it. One of these is global security (safe global sea lanes, organized crime, Takfiri extremist networks), another is fighting evolving dangerous contagious disease, another is global warming, and especially important is facilitating a growing and stable global economy.

    Traditionally we Americans haven’t been good at encouraging other countries to contribute to global solutions rather than merely free ride on American sacrifice, blood and treasure. We need to improve our way to involve others in solving global challenges.

    Specifically with respect to Afghanistan this means encouraging other countries to contribute in a collaborative fashion with the Afghans and with the international community.

    There are three main missions for the international community in Afghanistan:
    -improving short term security in collaboration with the GIRoA, ANA and ANP. ISAF, OEF perform this function.
    -improving Afghan capacity (ANA, ANP, civilian GIRoA agencies, other Afghan institutions) over the medium term. CSTC-A, OMLTs, PRTs, the civilian surge, and many countries are contributing to this effort.
    -long term economic development so that the Afghan state can afford to pay for improved Afghan capacity over the long run. Currently the Afghan state collects $600 million in annual tax revenue, or about one tenth of steady state GIRoA expenditure of $6 billion per year. This is like the US government collecting $3 trillion a year in taxes and spending $30 trillion a year. The only way to increase GIRoA revenue and close this gap over the long run is to facilitate rapid private sector growth in Afghanistan. Many countries are contributing to this effort.

    One important priority for all of us has to continue to be; are we encouraging other countries to contribute to the challenges in Afghanistan enough. Are we coordinating the international help that is coming well enough? Other countries can determine how they contribute: short run or improving security, medium run or increasing Afghan capacity, long run or facilitating rapid Afghan economic growth. The important point is that they contribute.

  8. brat says:

    As I read this, a cliche comes to mind: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him and his family for a lifetime. Your statements in here reinforce that view, in my opinion.

    I am reminded of a kindergarten playground, an area I am well familiar with ( I used to tell the kids it took me 6 years to graduate kindergarten – how long I worked there…lol….but I digress)

    One bully in a crowd of hundreds of little kids is a very disruptive force. One little thug (and yes, there ARE 5 year old thugs out there.lol) can intimidate and disrupt the larger community. In order to maintain order and keep all safe, it is not enough to just impose the “grown up” view coupled with the grown up power.

    Both sides have to be nurtured, mentored, into a win-win for all participants.

    Thank YOU for doing all you do. Prayers continue for your safety and success.

    Bless you.

  9. Hagenmary says:

    I have to agree that we messed up, and messed up BIG time. The American people had almost nothing to do with the present situation, other than voting for the political jokers who caused this mess. The blindness, arrogence and greed of our “leaders” has driven us all down this road. And we, the great unwashed masses, are paying for their actions. Makes me want to hurl.
    The horror of this war is that it was so avoidable. In retrospect, we can see where we went off the rails (abandoning Afghanistan, and not fighting hard enough against the WMD mindset) and now we need to fix the mistake.
    I hope that the rest of the world realizes that we aren’t monsters. I pray that we’ll have the time to correct our course. The lives of our soldiers are now in the hands of leaders who SEEM to recognize that sheer might will not win this war. It will take education and humanity to wipe out the Taliban. Every dollar that’s spent on weapons should be matched with a dollar for clean water.
    The election yesterday in Afghanistan showed that those people are sick of being jerked around (much like the American people during our last election). They are fed-up with being scared. They are tired of being run around and run over by bullies. They defied the Taliban and voted!! They’re starting to stand up for themselves and fight back. Good for them!
    So, let’s do now what we should have done then… help the people of Afghanistan destroy the Taliban and then help them to rebuild their country. We’ll all be safe in the long run if we resist being “conquering heroes” and simply be… friends from America.

  10. Rob says:

    Blue: Everything you argue makes perfect sense to me. I am a novice civilian observer (which you know but other readers may not) but the more I learn about the principles of COIN you and others are espousing for Afghanistan, the more I see a connection between those approaches and the foreign policy approaches that are lumped under “neoconservativism”.

    Yikes: I just used a scary word, I know. Given that “neocon” has become almost a slur, let me define at least what *I* am talking about: the neocon approach to foreign policy as I see it believes that spreading stable, liberal democracy and otherwise improving the lot of people worldwide is not simply altruism, but is actually necessary to the security of the United States even for our own selfish interests. Further, neocons believe that US military force is an acceptable and sometimes necessary means towards that end: some bad guys, as they say, just need killin’. But the killin’ part is not sufficient in and of itself: it has to be combined with and followed by actual improvement the the quality of life of the people the bad guys’ were ruling/oppressing/exploiting.

    In my simplistic mind, COIN seems like the neocon foreign policy approach taken to the micro level for an individual conflict/nation, and conversely, if you take the principles of COIN and expand them into a global foreign policy for the United States, it seems like you’d end up with something very much like the neocon approach.

    Where am I going off track here, or is this actually a valid analogy? (And if so, I’m sure I’m not the first one to have drawn it).

    My view of Iraq and Afghanistan as conflicts is that they were indeed undertaken in part for “neocon” ideals, and I supported (and continue to support) their goals as they made sense to me: Saddam/the Taliban were/are nasty, evil types, and using our military to get rid of them and then help their two respective societies towards prosperity and freedom is both morally just and in the interests of the United States. The goals were good: unfortnately, despite heroic (in the literal sense, not the hyperbolic) efforts by the men and women wearing our uniform, the execution and strategy from the top has in many ways — what’s the military term? — sucked.

    One problem in convincing folks of the wisdom of your argument here is the perception that we’ve been trying to do “capacity building” for the past eight years in these two countries, and we seem to be pretty damned lousy at it. I realize that “we” has changed over time, and the “we” in charge now (Petraeus, Odierno, McChrystal, your boss, etc.) seem a whole heck of a lot more competent than the bunch that came before them. But still: how do we convince the American public that no, really, we’ve got this figured out now, and x,y, and z are what we need to be doing?

    As always: thanks to you and all your colleagues there for everything you are doing. Stay safe and get it done — I leave the balance of those two goals to you…

  11. Blue,

    Thanks for response. I don’t see my post though…so with your kind permission I’ll restate below (so it makes sense).

    “Someday when they write the history books, I wonder if any historian might take note that America fell ass backwards into the role of “world policeman” from WWI on because all the Empires — Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Russian Tsar, China (internally it’s always been an Empire), German, then later the Fascist, Nazi, and later the French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and finally British Empire all collapsed in an astonishingly short period of history. Leaving us with the babies, and the neurotic guilt trip.”

    We’re more like a fireman running around a world of forest fires without enough shovels. A world full of arsonists.

    Those are good points about the 90’s arrogance though…it was real.

    However the locals have to bear responsibility as well. Which a lot of people seem to want to place on us.

    BTW Blue don’t know if you saw CNN special on “Children of Islam” – I wonder if you were in it in fact (don’t know your supersecret ID). The school building and Greg Mortensens 3 cups of Tea program were heartening. I think.

    Good luck with your work Blue, and may Triage do it’s job.

  12. fnord says:

    I am tempted to say “Welcome to the Scandinavian approach to the use of military force”, but that would sound arrogant. It is, however a wee bit true, since one of our first priorities in any operation has been to build economic and relational ties to the communities we interact with, backed by a robust department of State and a developed relation between the armed forces and state dep. Its the scandic UN model.

    But I remember Bush saying in 2002 “We dont do nation building”, and the ratio between promised resources and delivered resources 2002-2006. I wonder how things would look if we had gone seriously in with some sort of plan after the invasion wayback when. From what I have read, our popularity in Afghan didnt really fade until a few years after the invasion, partly due to good rains for the first time in a long time following the invasion.

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