As [America is] the only heavyweight doctrinal fighter in the world, nobody [has been] willing to step into the ring with our military. America's enemies learned that they would have to come up with new and creative ways to jab at us while avoiding our right hook. They exploited weaknesses that we did not even know we had. Terrorism made the revolutionary leap from criminal nuisance to strategic threat.
I recently left the Army and I am now working for a defense contractor. I have a personal interest in seeing big budgets for net-centric warfare, leap-ahead technology, and futuristic weapons. I strongly believe that those things are in America's best interest too. It is the Defense Department's obligation to prepare now for any possible future contingency. It is true that many of the weapons being developed today will have little application in the Global War On Terror (GWOT) but we must maintain our Leviathan status through leadership in the quality, quantity, and technology of our weapons and intelligence. That is the shield that makes prosperity possible and the big stick to make it Global. We can never afford to risk losing that advantage. The world is full of irrational leaders, and we will always need our Big Stick to keep them from derailing progress.
What is missing is the “Sys Admin” force. Right now, we expect one Army to fill both roles with one set of equipment. We can see how well that is working in Iraq. I have discussed this very issue with my peers since I was a cadet at West Point. Soldiers are less than ideally suited for Operations Other Than War (OOTW) but right now there is nobody else better suited to do it. American soldiers are intelligent and flexible and will do their best at anything we ask of them, but it is costly and wasteful to expect soldiers to be proficient at two very distinct jobs. My soldiers, trained as a tank crewman to identify and kill enemy armor at a distance, had go through significant re-training before being qualified to walk through villages and build relationships with tribal leaders. Once that mission was completed, their skills as armored crewman were so diminished that they had to go through significant re-training before being certified again to perform their primary duties.
The Sys Admin force is desperately needed. As an armor officer I was primarily trained to defeat enemy armor. Yet, in Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo, my soldiers and I had responsibility or oversight for such varied areas as: commercial farming and irrigation, water purification, road and bridge repair, infrastructure assessments, opinion polls, public opinion shaping, educational assessments, electrical power distribution, organizing elections, advising local governments, refugee relocation, riot control, traffic control, training police, providing medical care, restoring essential services. . . the list goes on, but the point I want to make is that in order to succeed, we had to do all of those things while simultaneously fighting an insurgency. “Simultaneity” is a major buzz-word for commanders in Iraq and the first time I heard it the meaning was clear - something is missing - the Sys Admin force. Some have argued that the Army has always gone back and forth between Big Stick and Sys Admin (civil war reconstruction, frontier outposts, WWII constabulary, etc). That doesn't make it right.
One of the biggest things saving us right now in Iraq is the institutional level of “Sys Admin” skills developed accidentally as a result of mission creep in the Balkans. Frustrated and saddled with open ended peacekeeping commitments in the Balkans that were distracting us from the “real” business of training for the next major war, Army leaders took on additional responsibilities to move things along faster. Once the fighting ended, there was nobody really pushing for economic progress, democratic institutions, reconstruction, and the list of other things which must take place in order to set the conditions for military withdrawal. Sure, there was the UN and OSCE and other NGOs but they just were not organized enough to be able to find their way to work every morning. To the benefit of all, the Army took a broader view of our mission and applied our surplus organizational skills and manpower to ensuring the success of many of the NGOs. We were not trained for such tasks but Americans see a need and pitch in. That experience is paying off in Iraq, where there are no NGO's and the Army is going it alone.
The Sys Admin half needs to be run by the State Department or some future successor to it. It needs some MP-type foot soldiers and a lot of military advisors and trainers, but most of all it needs expertise in the systems and functions of government to train and develop indigenous populations. It needs cultural and language experts; electrical, civil, and agricultural engineers; natural resource developers; communications experts … basically, everything we lack right now in Iraq. Much of this can not be contracted as we learned in Iraq.
The lieutenant's letter continues, and is worth reading in full.
Barnett's vision is compelling. Breaking the world down into the "Functioning Core" of developed, politically stable states and the "Non-Integrating Gap," (those states which are either partially or completely "failed"), in the second of his two books, especially, Barnett lays out a comprehensive strategy for bringing more and more of the failures in the direction of success. One of the things that struck me about Barnett's thinking is how our tendency to conceive peace and war as diametrical opposites sets up a false dichotomy, especially in this era of Fourth Generation Warfare. Thinking from the left end of our political spectrum especially suffers from this limitation. From Barnett's point of view, our military has to be thought of only in part as an overwhelmingly powerful quick-strike force (the "Leviathan"), focused on suppressing hostile governments and nongovernment entities. To a much greater extent it will function in an administrative capacity, assuming responsibility for facilitating the transition of "gap" systems into the "core." Read Barnett to learn how we might retool our military to more effectively carry out the kind of reconstruction which has proved so problematic in Iraq.
And think, too, in this holiday season, of giving to Spirit of America, where each of us in our own small way can become part of the "SysAdmin" force and, for example, help to set up a teaching hospital in Najaf; contribute to bringing women's centers to Iraq in general; or assist Marine Civil Affairs Groups in setting up an agricultural co-op in Al Anbar...