Wow, I can’t think of any better example of how we are a “nation at war” but completely don’t act like it than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s address at the Brookings Institution today, unveiling the administration’s new National Security Strategy, which is, at it’s heart, a fairly pedestrian, idealized patchwork of global do-gooding, terrorist thwarting, counterinsurgency (COIN)-advancing measures, much of which have been put into practice in the last several years, but to no realistic success. Perhaps that is why it was more important what the secretary didn’t say, than what she did. She barely spoke of Iraq and Afghanistan, other to say that it is fairly expensive to put civilian officers into current conflict zones (I do not think she said the word “war” once today), but that the State Department was dedicated to the “whole of government approach” to our missions there anyway.
Not in Clinton’s speech, nor in the document itself, were there references to, or examples of, military or diplomatic accomplishments in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan, probably because it might be uncomfortable to make up such things in the absence of any long-term stability, peace or prosperity in any of these countries after nearly a decade and over 5,485 U.S lives lost in the trying. In fact, the political situation is imploding in Iraq and the first real test of the “whole of government” or WOG approach in Marjah has been pretty much ruled a bust in Afghanistan by people who know.
Of course the National Security Strategy is a congressionally-mandated exercise that is supposed to be a working blueprint for the President’s vision moving forward. But the formula for achieving something in Iraq and Afghanistan reads like a shopworn, two-page brochure: deny al Qaeda safe havens, minimize the influence of the Taliban, strengthen the central government, work with international and regional partners and hopefully start withdrawing troops by the imposed July 2011 deadline. The same with Iraq: help stand up their country as much as possible in order to transition the hell out of there.
Nothing new or exceptional here. And it is really hard to engage in the rest of it (56 pages total) with such stale invocations, talking about our country’s “military superiority” and our “responsibility” to “strengthen and apply American leadership” with a shift to comprehensive yet “soft” power abroad, in order to advance global cooperation, democracy and peace in a broad and effective “international order” based on universal values of human rights and dignity. All too familiar messaging, just slightly tweaked for the new liberal internationalist administration and completely taken out of the context that we have virtually taken a bulldozer to two countries and have been bombing another (Pakistan) daily through two U.S administrations.
But yet Clinton’s kindred spirits at the Center for a New American Security (the house where COIN lives) were nodding in agreement, though nothing in the advancement of their vaunted “Petraeus Doctrine” has yet seen fruition. I got a press release with a series of well-versed reactions to the document just as it was released. Just a taste from CNAS President John Nagl, who has been called the “Johnny Appleseed of COIN”:
“The Obama Administration’s National Security Strategy displays an impressive understanding of the new threats and challenges America faces in this new century. It recognizes that America is stronger when it fights alongside its allies and helps our partners build their own capacity to combat the threats we share – from Al Qaeda to climate change to cyber attacks. Building our partners’ capabilities can help prevent wars and is the key to victory when we do have to fight.”
I’m glad we got all that figured out. They don’t call it a think tank for nothing.