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U.S. Army Civil Affairs– The Army’s “Ounce of Prevention”

March 7, 2003

First published in 1944, A Bell for Adano—a fictionalized story based on the real-life struggles of Major (now Colonel, Retired) Frank E. Toscani, a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer in occupied Sicily during World War II—won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize. Fifty-eight years later, Hersey’s words are still true, not only for military peacekeeping operations but for postwar Afghanistan and postwar occupied Iraq.

Now the United States copes with a war against terrorists around the world as well as with peace operations. Immediately, nothing else matters on the military front but the total destruction of al Qaeda and its cells and the defeat of Iraq. But the planning for defeat of the terrorists must also consider how to prevent them from ever rising again. There was no support in the current administration for “nation-building” in Afghanistan, but necessity dictated otherwise. In 1989, after the Russians were ousted, the United States walked away from its Afghan allies and gave them no significant help to build a government. The Afghans saw it as betrayal and abandonment. In 1991, after Operation Desert Storm, the United States did not fully support Iraqi and Kurdish factions rebelling against the Saddam Hussein regime. Now the United States confronts governments and individuals who subsidize and harbor a fanatical culture of destruction without limit and threaten use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Even after terrorist networks and WMD capabilities are destroyed, what must be done concerning the culture that, if left alone, will only breed them again? “In the short run we have to crack down on the networks; in the long run we have to drain the swamps that spawned them. . . . In general, the Muslim world has had the most problem with modernizing.” But this is easier said than done. Their religion and culture have been hijacked by extremism. “The problem is not that Osama bin Laden believes that this is a religious war against America. It’s that millions of people across the Islamic world seem to agree.” The great cause of the rise of radical fundamentalism was the total collapse of political, economic and cultural institutions in the Arab world. Governments in the region deny free markets and basic freedoms to their people and encourage that their rage be  directed at Israel and the “unholy” West—a Middle East version of “NIMBY” (“not in my back yard”).

The relationship of terrorist organizations (e.g., Taliban, al Qaeda) to a government (e.g., Afghanistan) is defined by the weakness of that government and its willingness or inability to withstand being co-opted to achieve terrorist goals. Now that they are defeated and dispersed in Afghanistan, the terrorists’ center of gravity shifts to cells operating throughout the world and wherever other weakness in governments exist (Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines). The Philippine government is weak in controlling certain regions. The Iraqi government is personified in its dictator, Saddam Hussein. While ruthlessly strong, he is completely identified with the goals of terrorism and has developed WMD capabilities. Even now, as the Taliban has been driven from power, the interim Karzai government is too weak to act as a counterbalance to the terrorists’ subversive activities. So there are two parts to the ongoing Afghan mission: to eliminate the terrorists and the environments that foster terrorism and to build up the government.

The United States must address emphatically in its policy how to negate the political effects of tactically successful terrorism. Dr. Colin S. Gray writes in Parameters that, although they may damage the nation economically, psychologically and with loss of prestige, the Osama Bin Ladens cannot defeat the United States. Only ill-judged U.S. policy can bring about defeat. Bureaucracies—military and civilian—that reward rulefollowing are inherently ill suited to think innovatively about asymmetrical threats. The U.S. military has only a handful of such people among their substantial special operations forces who truly can think “outside the box.” According to Gray, the military response readily available tends to be unduly heavy-handed, if not plainly irrelevant, while the policy hunt for the carefully measured and precisely targeted reply all too easily can be ensnared in a lengthy political process which inhibits any real action. Should coalition forces “burn out the pirates’ lair”? Yes, where possible. The hard-core adversary must be killed or permanently detained. Ideally that task can be left to their enemies or to U.S. allies. Underreaction is seen as weakness. Nonetheless, a low-key response is preferable to heavy-handed action that risks alienating public opinion. So far, the United States has used symmetric force on an asymmetric threat. The United States needs policies that build terrorist illegitimacy and in a way that the terrorists do not expect. These policies must be politically and morally tolerable to U.S. culture in context of the law of war as well as the CNN factor.

What response does the United States shape beyond searching for and destroying the terrorists and ousting Saddam Hussein? The nation must have culturally sophisticated profiles of foes to understand what might best discourage them. What does the foe value highly? The challenge to military policy is not where there is a military option but where there is not. How shall the military behave in ways different from that expected by the enemy? These strategies must effect a cultural and political change to open their societies and to govern for the benefit of the governed.

Iraq is a different matter. Only overwhelming force will bring about the regime change, but what change will be made? Both Gray and Fouad Ajami state that, after removing the Hussein government and destroying the terrorist networks, the United States clearly needs a strategy nothing short of a new political order with a plan of reform that invokes diplomatic, economic and military elements. Currently, the administration contemplates a U.S.-led military occupation of Iraq for about two years.

 Jay Tolson wrote in U.S. News & World Report that America recoils from the concept of “empire.” U.S. foreign policy is conflicted between isolation and humanitarian intervention. The nation has agonized over not being principled enough while engaged in “realpolitik” with the state of mind of a country that has not decided what it wants to be on the world stage. The U.S. military intensely dislikes its involvement in “nation assistance.” As disagreeable to some who regard American imperialism as the root of all evil as it is to others who believe that the world beyond U.S. shores is not the nation’s business, there is a basic truth—that there are many people who owe their freedom to the exercise of American military power. Just recently Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said to President Bush, “[The Italian people] will never forget that we owe our freedom . . . our wealth to the United States.”

This debate will never end, but the United States cannot afford to abdicate its responsibility again. The nation has for too long turned a blind eye on Middle Eastern regimes that have suppressed human rights. “What concentrated the minds of the Bush team was the long-standing call for the U.S. to develop a comprehensive strategy for the post-Cold War era.”

U.S. military history is filled more with postwar/postdisaster recoveries and peace operations than it is with war. And the U.S. military has a unique capability in the Civil Affairs branch with its military government heritage in the post-World War II occupation of Germany, Japan and Italy. The Bush administration is currently focused on waging and winning a war, but they must become focused on securing the victory. This is difficult to apply to the Middle East because western involvement is resisted by Arab governments and by anti-Western rage. Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek that if Muslims do not take it upon themselves to open their societies and stop their religion from falling prey to radicals, nothing any outsider can do will save them. However, after the war in Iraq, a U.S.-led military occupation will result in direct U.S. involvement in an Arab government.