War Stories

Do As I Say, Not As I DoD

Will the Pentagon ever value nation-building as much as war-fighting?

A Pentagon directive issued this week might herald the most dramatic upheaval of the U.S. armed forces in 20 years—or it might dissolve upon first contact with reality, like so many reform plans and nostrums before it. We’ll know in the next few months, or maybe weeks, whether the order gets taken seriously or waved off as empty rhetoric.

Department of Defense Directive 3000.05, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England on Nov. 28, declares the following to be new Defense Department policy:

Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission. … They should be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all DoD activities, including doctrine, organizations, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning.

On paper anyway, this is huge. First of all, it amounts to an admission that the White House and the Pentagon botched the planning for the war in Iraq—that their dismissal of “nation-building” as a worthy concept and their subsequent failure to plan for “stability operations” in Iraq (the official term for securing order and building stable institutions after an armed conflict) account, in large measure, for the mess we’re in now.

Deeper into the 11-page directive, the implicit indictment gets specific. For instance, it notes, “Whether conducting or supporting stability operations, the Department of Defense shall be prepared to work closely with relevant U.S. Departments and Agencies, foreign governments and security forces, global and regional international organizations … U.S. and foreign nonGovernmental organizations … and private-sector individuals and for-profit companies.” This, of course, is precisely what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in his machinations against arch-rivals at the State Department and the United Nations, refused to do.

Second, beyond taking a scornful glance at the past two and a half years, the directive prescribes a radically new course for the future. To put “stability operations” and “combat operations” on an equal footing—not just in a memorandum but for real—is to alter the way that the Pentagon not only plans and fights wars but also recruits, organizes, and even envisions the U.S. armed forces, especially the Army and Marines, which do the fighting and stabilizing on the ground.

Here are just a few of the things that would be involved: new curricula and training methods that entail learning foreign cultures and languages as well as firing guns and driving tanks; new budget priorities that boost pay, maintenance, logistics, intelligence, and communications, perhaps at the expense of buying certain weapons systems; the recruiting of many more military police, civil-affairs personnel, foreign-affairs officers, and psychological-warfare specialists.

More than any of these things (which could, theoretically, be driven through by a determined president or secretary of defense), a truly serious adoption of this policy would require new sets of incentives that make it clear, beyond any doubt, that a career in stability operations will offer at least the same chances for prestige and promotion as a career in an armored brigade or a weapons-procurement office. If equality is not achieved on this day-to-day level, the mission will never be taken seriously, and those who go that route will be widely seen as losers.

That’s roughly what the situation is now. Stability operations are almost entirely a function of the National Guard and Army Reserve. In the entire U.S. Army, just one active-duty battalion—the 96th Civil Affairs (Airborne)—is devoted to civil affairs, and it comprises just 4 percent of all such forces. The other 96 percent consists of four subordinate brigades and battalions in the Army Reserve. About 55 percent of military police personnel come from the Guard and Reserve. How can the task be seen as—much less actually be—the equal of combat operations when its soldiers don’t occupy a rung on the military’s career ladder?

Changing this situation takes more than a directive; it takes a new culture, maybe a new generation.

A similar change took place not long ago. In 1985, Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols Act. Among other things, the act created “joint commands,” which in theory would transcend the artificial barriers separating the Army, Navy, and Air Force. I was a Pentagon reporter at the time, and I remember that almost everyone—in the Defense Department, Congress, and elsewhere—dismissed it as hopeless. The individual services, I was told, were firmly entrenched; they would never cooperate; the Army would never plan ground operations with the Marines or let the Air Force do the job of artillery; the Air Force would never provide close-air support to the Army or share targeting plans with the air branch of the Navy.

The skeptics were right—for a while. In the 1991 Gulf War, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led one of these new joint commands (U.S. Central Command), did run the war, but not in an integrated manner. The Navy and Air Force bombed Iraq for 30 days (using separate plans); then the Army and Marines crossed the border (along separate paths). It was not joint warfare. Still, there was some interaction, Centcom did its job, and by the time the second war against Saddam got under way, joint missions and integrated air-ground operations were the rule. The military establishment isn’t entirely “joint” yet: Tensions and rivalries persist, and the budgetary process is still a tri-service spat. Still, the impossible, to some degree, happened.

Can a similar cultural evolution bring stability operations to the fore? It’s a harder nut. The elements of the joint commands were all engaged in the same basic task—fighting a war. Stabilizing the scene afterward is still widely seen as a separate kind of activity.

Still, the idea of joint commands took hold in the cauldron of real warfare; the warriors saw with their own eyes the concept’s value. Might the idea of stability operations take hold in the chaos of “postwar” Iraq, as the warriors experience all too painfully the consequences of not having taken it seriously before? You might think so, but the shift hasn’t happened yet, at least not at the high levels.

The Pentagon’s directive isn’t the first document to address the need for a big change. In 2004, the Defense Science Board conducted a “summer study” on the subject and, in December of that year, issued a 199-page report titled Transition to and From Hostilities urging the adoption of a directive very similar to the one signed just this week—plus some. Even as all hell broke out in Iraq, nothing happened.

So, in September 2005, the DSB took the unusual step of issuing a follow-on report, titled Institutionalizing Stability Operations Within DoD, reiterating the matter’s urgency. The board noted that the Pentagon had made only “modest progress” toward this goal in the previous year and that the rest of the executive branch had made “very little progress”; the State Department’s office of coordination for reconstruction and stability, in particular, had not received “anywhere near the level of resources and authority needed.” As in its 2004 report, the DSB noted the “formidable hindrances” as well as the need for “strong incentives” and “executive leadership” to overcome them. As a first step, it called for the prompt signing of DoD Directive 3000 or some slight revision thereof.

It took two months for Deputy Secretary England just to sign that slight revision, Directive 3000.05—a document that, as Bradley Graham reported in the Washington Post, took a year to compose. And yet the directive states only the broadest of guidelines. There are no targets or benchmarks for progress, no specific goals. There is no authority granted for recruiting more people—only an order to the personnel bureaucracy to consider whether and how to do so. One high-ranking military officer, who supports the directive’s idea, told me: “It’s a lot of nice words. Say I’m the Secretary of the Army, and I look at this thing. What am I supposed to do?”

If Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t explicitly address that question soon, the answer will be clear: You’re not supposed to do anything.