Quickie: If State is to be DoD’s exit strategy in Iraq….

Laura A. Hall, a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow (State Dept.) who blogs at Budget Insight (a Stimson Center blog on National Security Spending) recently pens an item about the transition to civilian-led operations in Iraq. Excerpt:

The continuing reports on the difficulties of the transition from military to civilian responsibilities in Iraq expose several key issues that remain unaddressed.  Others will write on the political situation, regional power struggles, the overall strategy, the risks of leaving (and of staying).  The management challenges, however, are less understood and appreciated.
No one seriously expects DoD to leave State and USAID officials vulnerable even as the military reduces its presence.  But the difficult discussions on transition reveal a key issue.  When the security issue is paramount, and diplomats are unable to do their jobs without great risk and without military-level logistics and security support, one must ask whether the civilian presence should be reduced to reflect the insecurity or whether the timing for the military departure is realistic.
The security challenges faced by civilians could belie the policy of a normalization of our presence.  The security paradox is that the military presence and the focus on force protection and eliminating risk to personnel have undermined the U.S. counter insurgency strategy and limited the conduct of diplomacy.   Progress in developing a more expeditionary mindset and training has not turned the Foreign Service into the Special Forces, nor should it.  Increased reliance on private security contractors would increase concerns about accountability.   Creating a standing capability owned by civilians to enable operations in dangerous environments would be costly and unlikely to match military capabilities.
No one should be surprised that there has been inadequate planning and development of civilian capabilities to manage this transition.  It is true that counter insurgencies require 80% political and 20% military focus, but the balance of resources has been the reverse.  The Department of State has been underfunded overall and in the triage, management capabilities are the last in line.  This creates a vicious cycle whereby Congress is unsympathetic to resource requirements they perceive as inadequately justified and yet the very capabilities required to analyze and present requirements have been under-resourced.  DoD resources its management capabilities.  It also makes clear what the resources will buy and what will not get done without them.  State tends to be more reticent.  Unless the Department of State can develop sufficient in-house management capabilities for analysis of workforce requirements and budgets, it will continue to receive less than it needs.

Finally, this episode reveals the need for cross-department thinking in the Congress.  The fact that there are legions of Congressmen willing to fight to save contractors and unneeded weapons systems and who argue that every dollar of DoD funding is sacred – but there are few willing to provide funding to State for relatively small sums – is shortsighted.  If State is to be DoD’s exit strategy and the removal of troops from harm’s way is justified by the diplomatic mission being left behind, then those responsible for the overall budget – in Congress and the Executive Branch – must cut the Gordian knot that the two subcommittees have created and provide sufficient funding to civilian activities.

The idea that there is some great wall of China between Defense and State budgets where no savings can be transferred is absurd.  It is incumbent on Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen to make good on their statements about the need for greater civilian capabilities and to stop saying it cannot be done at the expense of the DoD budget.

Continue reading Transition to Civilian-Led Operations in Iraq: This Time It’s for Real.