IPA’s Global Strategy Group (GSG) is a team of former officers from the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Commerce, Justice, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the FBI, and the private sector. They are a team of experts in foreign affairs, global security, interagency and intergovernmental cooperation. Emphasizing a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach, the GSG provides solutions by designing, planning and executing scenario-supported wargames and experiments addressing complex emerging security challenges.

The GSG has produced and delivered numerous reports and handbooks on best practices for civil-military, interagency, and host-country cooperation. The topics range from conflict prevention and mitigation to post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. The team has also provided extensive support to NATO in moving toward the implementation of the Alliance’s Strategic Concept.

Terrorism expert Daniel Byman surveys the state of affairs 18 years after the beginning of the War on Terror.

  • Re: Eighteen Years On: The War on Terror Comes of Age - Combating Terrorism Center at West Point

    by » 10 months ago

    Daniel Byman's timely assessment of the U.S. prosecution of the War on Terror is a good start at what needs to be a comprehensive review of the American way of war (and peace) in the 21st century. Perhaps the more relevant and poignant question, however, is not as much how well we've done as what we've learned.  

    On the latter, I tend to be a bit less optimistic than Byman seems to be. It is far from clear whether our foreign policy, national security, and military establishments have really embraced the more enduring lessons of the people-centric wars of identity in which the U.S. has found itself enmeshed since 9/11. Among them is that tactical and operational successes are feckless unless they can translate into sustainable strategic and political outcomes - i.e., the consolidating military and security gains into political and civil outcomes. In other words: you haven't won the war until you've won the peace.  

    The other major lesson - that the capacities to do this are more resident in civilian agencies and partners than in the military, whose job is in mainly enabling the process - has gained little to no institutional traction. Time and again, for example, especially in Iraq but also from rotation to rotation in Afghanistan, we can't seem to get Phase IV right. Watching one set of bad guys after another take the ground in places like Mosul and Fallujah once we've cleared the previous tenants out, we've failed to plan, organize and resource the necessary assistance to address the gaps in local governance and public service delivery that laid bare the vulnerabilities and grievances that groups like ISIS were ready to exploit.  

    It’s curious that Byman frames the problem of getting to the causes rather than treating the symptoms of violent extremist and other illicit networks by saying how "the United States is not well positioned to resolve these deep-seated problems of governance," then goes on to explain how little money State and USAID have. That has been a matter of choice rather than necessity - the slow and steady decline of our conflict management and mitigation (or God forbid, conflict prevention) capacities in those agencies, through Bush and Obama, is now in full nose-dive under Trump. Why is the United States so good at fighting wars but not winning them? Well, you get what you pay for.  

    The "impressive successes" Byman cites are almost wholly tactical and operational rather than strategic and political - and at a humongous cost of $4-5-trillion. One working definition of asymmetric warfare is how, in a few days or months, a few thousand irregulars on a budget of a few hundred million dollars can provoke a response, over years and years, of hundreds of thousands or regulars costing a few hundred thousand million. What makes the author think this is sustainable?  

    Our approach to security assistance has likewise netted mostly counterproductive results, with the typical overemphasis on train-and-equip and under-investment in leadership development, institution-building, and civil-military relations. Witness the coup in Mali, the rapid roll-up of the Iraqi Security Forces after over $20-billion spent on hardware and tactical training, and the failure of the Afghan Army to be a viable force to protect its civilian population from the Taliban. Or even the performance of the Saudis in Yemen - the evidence is overwhelming that our model just doesn't work anymore, if it ever did.  

    Over 50 years after the Tet Offensive, an American military culture steeped in an industrial-era annihilation strategy remains stubbornly resistant to a more universal understanding of war as fundamentally political and psychological as well as physical. The Army's current obsession with "lethality" is one proof; another is how somatic the domains of Multi-Dimensional Operations are (air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace). Where do the political and socio-psychological fit in here? Besides, all of these doctrines, by their own admission, are war-fighting operations concepts and not war-winning strategies.  

    So, what have we really learned from all the waste and friction over the last 18 years? The institutional evidence doesn't point to much. There is no paradigm shift unless it's reflected in programs, budgets, and operations - not just policies and doctrine. We've backed off from the original core idea of the DoD policy on stability operations that stability operations have equal footing to offensive and defensive operations - for programs, budgets, and operations. A promising initiative, the interagency stabilization framework has (correctly) tasked the State Department and USAID with the lead. Denuded of even their formerly thin capacities, however, they have mission impossible in heading up a vital U.S. national security mission that has scant interest on the Hill. The defense establishment, in turn, is fixated on fighting "near-peer" force-on-force battles in the "competition continuum" - codewords for returning to the comfort zone of fighting big wars versus small wars, as if these were mutually exclusive choices.  

    By and large, even the great power adversaries identified in the National Security and Military Strategies have learned the obvious lesson that asymmetric warfare works well against the United States - especially in more competent hands with better resources. Consider the success to date of Russian non-linear hybrid warfare in the European periphery, China's waging of global economic warfare in the Belt and Road Initiative, or Iran's use of proxies in the Middle East. Once again, our enemies – who always get a vote - will continue to inconvenience us by refusing to present us with the kind of wars we prefer. 

    Meanwhile, the Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute is a shell of its former self - many of its officer billets going to the Army Futures Command to help decide what ground combat systems to buy rather than the touchy-feely between-war-and-peace stuff they did at Carlisle. At the War College and Leavenworth, stability or civil-military operations remain honorable mentions in the core curriculum or outright as electives. Strategic thinking and social sciences taught at lower levels of the Professional Military System remain cottage industries such as at the CTC where the article was published.  

    Civil affairs - the Army's main capability to consolidate gains and engage and influence that part of the Clausewitzian trinity comprising the center-of-gravity of most contemporary conflicts - is once again under generational attack. Subject to what former National Security Advisor assistant Nadia Schadlow calls the "American denial syndrome," civil affairs has been the red-headed stepchild of the Army after every major period of conflict since Colonel Irwin Hunt wrote his seminal report a century ago, recommending the establishment of a permanent civil affairs capability with representation on the Army Staff (the latter still yet to happen). Army Special Operations Command has seen fit to demote the Commandant of the Civil Affairs Corps from a colonel to a lieutenant colonel, while the directorate at the Special Warfare Center & School for CA development has seen little of its (authorized, approved, and funded) civilian and military billets filled. Many were assigned instead to more kinetic directorates.   

    Despite glaring evidence of CA's necessity over the War on Terror, only one battalion of the Army's singular active-duty conventional CA brigade remains. Plans are resurrecting to strip the (Reserve) U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command, which comprises 90% of CA and practically all its operational and theater-strategic level CA capabilities, of roughly 20% of its force structure. Meanwhile, the CA functional specialist program (to help solve that problem of governance mentioned above) is only seen a fraction of its program development envisioned nearly ten years ago.  

    Yes, we've cut a lot of the bad guys to ribbons and denied them safe haven, making it more difficult to come back as before. On a cost-benefit analysis, however (including some palpable losses in diplomatic and strategic capital), those "impressive successes" belie a larger truth about the War on Terror. The asymmetric warfare problem is still there, lurking somewhere. And like bacteria surviving the latest antibiotics, a new strand will emerge - more intelligent, invasive, and resilient than the last.  

    Instead of tallying tactical gains, we need to do more of what Byman suggests. From a macro as well as micro level, we need to see ourselves more as our adversaries do, noting with appropriate humility and candor how few games we have in the win column despite the touchdowns. Our national martial business model has been flawed if not outdated since the Berlin Wall came down. More importantly, as deficits fly to stratospheric levels, it is unsustainable, playing into a strategy that bleeds us to death. We throw more money than the next 15 countries at the defense sector, but are we getting our money's worth? What is the international security bang we are getting for our buck, especially in comparison to what our adversaries get for theirs?  

    We lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we’re losing in Africa, and certainly not winning in eastern Europe and other places. Admitting this is difficult, if only that these losses are as ambiguous as the conflicts themselves, our national hubris notwithstanding. Yet, we must recognize and accept the institutional weaknesses and strategic inertia that have husbanded them. It's time for the kind of bold institutional leadership, for example, that deliberately placed most of the Army's war-sustaining capabilities in the Reserves after Vietnam. One pattern that emerges from military history is that systemic military reform rarely takes place until clear and decisive defeat. Is that the fate that must await us?

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