Thinking About the 21st Century Security Environment: The Need for a Whole-of-Government Approach

January 3, 2012

Despite the American public’s misperception of one continuous combat operation in the Middle East, for most of the past decade the U.S. military has been fighting two distinct wars in different countries and terrain and against different enemies. It could even be argued that the number is three: Iraq, Afghanistan and al Qaeda and its affiliates. However, one major commonality has emerged—the need for more interagency commitment than in any previous war. This deficiency was common to both wartime administrations, although the reasons behind them are different for each administration.

Had there been more interagency involvement, U.S. efforts in both theaters might have been concluded earlier and with a more satisfactory outcome for all participants. Perhaps we would not have been so slow to learn and adapt, as was the case in both Afghanistan and Iraq. More interagency involvement might also have encouraged a civil-military discourse at the strategic level that would have produced more reasonable U.S. strategic objectives, thus avoiding the second- and third-order difficulties in execution and in communication to the American people that we have all witnessed. Operationally, the inadequate interagency effort made the stability, support and counterinsurgency operations much less effective than they could have been.