The important discussions about whether to waive the 7-year cooling off period for Mattis tend to miss an even bigger civil-military challenge: America’s track record since World War Two has been terrible. Reverence for the military by a disengaged public has masked this problem and eroded accountability. Continued failure to win wars has the potential to badly damage civil-military trust – and America’s credibility in the world.
The United States practices what Samuel Huntington calls “objective control” of the military – the latter agrees to refrain from politics in exchange for substantial professional autonomy and a privileged voice in matters of war.
This autonomy is not absolute. Eliot Cohen shows how the most effective statesmen exercise intense oversight on generals and their strategies. Political scientist Peter Feaver suggests political leaders guard against the military’s all-too-human tendency to follow the orders they like and subtly circumvent those they don’t.
These are different aspects of a complicated relationship, but all presume a special role for the uniformed military in waging war. This merits examination.
For conventional wars, like the second world war or first gulf war, the elements of national power tend to operate like a relay team. The diplomats try to avert war or build a coalition to fight it. When war is declared, the military receives the baton and fights to win, lose or draw. They hand the baton back to the diplomats to craft a peace treaty. The baton may then go to the development community to repair the damage. The U.S. national security architecture is structured to wage war this way.
This mindset has created a bureaucratic approach to war that has led to recent failures.
Why? In contemporary and irregular wars, the interactions are different. Rather than operating sequentially as a relay team, the elements of national power must operate concurrently – more like a basketball team. Relying on a single player all the time undermines the team’s performance. Even those blessed with a Michael Jordan or LeBron James get this.
Our political and military leaders do not. Bush over-relied on military force in Afghanistan and Iraq, leading to quagmires in both conflicts. During the 2009 deliberations over Afghanistan, President Obama was reportedly upset that the military only provided options in terms of troop levels. The generals were suspected of trying to trap him into a surge.
But by asking ONLY the military to provide options, Obama (like Bush) trapped himself. The assumption that the generals have a unique and privileged role in developing strategy is so deeply ingrained that not even a brilliant skeptic like Obama questioned it.
“As commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world,” Obama said to the New York Times, “I spend a lot of time brooding over these issues. And I’m not satisfied we’ve got it perfect yet.”
Trump and Mattis can learn from these mistakes.
If there is “no military solution” to contemporary wars, why seek only military options? By doing so, a President is asking the military for strategies that cannot possibly work.
This sets our troops up for failure and the military to be scapegoated for interventions gone wrong, heightening the risk of civil-military mistrust.
President-elect Trump need not fall into that trap.
There is no war without combat, but there is more to war than fighting. Waging contemporary war successfully requires the integration of all elements of national power. This is what the Trump administration needs to do.
Because the elements of national power must interact concurrently rather than sequentially, Trump should also weigh options in which diplomatic, political, or economic elements of power are the priority – with the military playing a supporting role.
The generals have a privileged role regarding the use of military force. Their professionalism protects American freedom, credibility, values, and lives.
For matters of policy and strategy, however, the military should be a co-equal partner with other elements of national power. This distinction helps keep civil-military relations in a healthy place and increases the likelihood of waging war successfully.
Christopher D. Kolenda, senior adjunct fellow at Center for a New American Security, is a former Pentagon senior advisor and task force commander in Afghanistan
In recent days Saudi Arabia has bombed a Doctors Without Borders Hospital, a school, and a potato chip factory. They have done so using “Made in the USA” bombs from planes we sold them. We are reportedly providing them with targeting and intelligence support, which heightens the perceptions of American complicity.
According to the New York Times, the US has sent over $110 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia since 2009 and the State Department just approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more. The conflict in Yemen “has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation. A recent United Nations report blamed the coalition for 60 percent of the deaths and injuries to children last year. Human rights groups and the United Nations have suggested that war crimes may have been committed.”
My recent report with Open Society Foundations discusses the strategic costs of civilian harm to American interests and our ability to win wars. We outline ways the U.S. government can fix these problems. The recommendations work for allies and partners, too.
President Obama recently issued an Executive Order to improve civilian protection during military operations. It is time to act on it.
In this 15 minute video, Christopher Kolenda outlines current challenges in the war against Islamic State and discussed his Inside-Out strategy to defeat them. See the article.
An anti-ISIS insurgency (the Inside-Out approach) is the most cost-effective way to defeat Islamic State. Insurgencies that have enjoyed durable, tangible local and international support in their fight against predatory or incompetent governments have been consistently successful. Here are five key steps.
1. Provide international backing for a tangible goal. An insurgency needs a compelling outcome to rally local and international support. Examples could include a new Sunni Arab state or significant autonomy within Syria and Iraq.
2. Support locally legitimate leaders. An insurgency is a contest for legitimacy. Credible and effective local leadership is essential. The prospect of an alternative to predatory ISIS or Syrian and Iraqi regimes should provide sufficient reason for local leaders to begin emerging. Beware of charlatans.
3. Provide protected sanctuaries. A protected place or set of places on the ISIS periphery to organize, train, gather logistics, plan, and coordinate operations is essential.
4. Promote development of a political program and strategy. These are key to winning the battle of legitimacy and effective use of support. Shadow governance must be trained and deployed to compete with ISIS. The west must resist the temptation to do this for the insurgency or nag them with incessant demands.
5. Provide sustainable, but conditional support. Financial support, logistics, training, advice, intelligence, and air support are among the ways international actors can aid the insurgency. Western states should also learn from Iraq and Afghanistan that unconditional largess breeds corruption and complacency. Conditionality enables supporters to calibrate their backing, encourage positive policies and performance, and sanction where necessary.
Christopher D. Kolenda is President and CEO of Kolenda Strategic Leadership, LLC, senior military fellow at King’s College, and author of The Counterinsurgency Challenge. He served as senior advisor and key strategist on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and three Commanders of International Forces, Afghanistan.
Defeating ISIS Begins by Recognizing a Sunni Arab State
Like many around the world, I watched reporting of the recent murders of innocent civilians in Beirut, Paris, and over the Sinai skies – all attributed to Islamic State and their sympathizers – in horror. French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin, like President Obama, have vowed to defeat ISIS. France has struck targets in Raqqa, the putative capital of Islamic State. Russia has increased its support to Syrian President Assad and has begun hitting ISIS as well.
Clearly, ISIS is feeling pressure in Iraq and Syria and aims to take the fight abroad into the cities and living rooms of their enemies using their version of precision strikes. Anti-Muslim hysteria in the west, cynically exploited by politicians, plays directly into ISIS hands by giving them scores of potential recruits among alienated local youths.
Equally as clear, our current approach to defeating ISIS is not succeeding. Airstrikes have hurt but are insufficient to defeating them. President Obama is right that American ground forces can beat ISIS temporarily, but the hard part is afterward – developing and sustaining inclusive and decent governance. Otherwise, we get repeats of Iraq and Afghanistan – initial successes that turn into bloody and expensive quagmires as insurgencies spawn.
Recent suggestions about how to defeat ISIS have been unsatisfying. Many call for more ground forces, but fail to address Obama’s “what next” problem. Some advocate working with Russia and Iran, others urge against. All tend to suffer from an unwillingness to make hard choices, manage trade-offs, and recognize unpleasant realities. Frankly, many of the ideas are trapped in the same thinking that imprisons our current approach to the problem.
It is time to think differently.
We should begin by finally recognizing five unpleasant realities:
1) A proto-Sunni Arab state now exists in the territory controlled by ISIS;
2) A proto-Kurdish state exists;
3) Neither the Assad regime nor the current Iraqi government are going to win the battle of legitimacy in those areas, ever.
4) The Assad regime and Iraqi government have legitimacy in the Shi’a areas they control.
5) The Assad regime will not be defeated as long as it has Russian and Iranian backing.
The upshot is that the current state boundaries can no longer co-exist with durable peace in the region and abroad.
Accepting these realities opens up the potential for game-changing approaches.
1. Outside-In. This approach uses a large scale ground invasion to defeat ISIS. The Sunni State will be governed under UN mandate and gradually turned-over to legitimate, inclusive local governing authorities supported by a decades-long peacekeeping force.
a) A United Nations-backed international agreement for a Four-State Solution needs to be struck in advance. This would recognize the existence of a Sunni Arab and Kurdish state, in exchange for Assad remaining in control of a rump-Syria and the Iraqi government in control of a rump-Iraq. A prospect of a state gives Sunni Arabs the opportunity to create and fight for a better alternative to ISIS.
b) Forces totaling up to 500,000 are likely necessary to defeat ISIS, defend borders, and to maintain security afterward. A significant portion should come from Sunni Arab states.
c) The Sunni Arab state should be governed under UN mandate until a legitimate, inclusive local government can be fully established. A political strategy, not simply a set of milestones, is needed to manage the inevitable scrimmage for post-ISIS power.
d) A UN peacekeeping force should be sized to ensure 20 security force personnel on the ground per 1000 inhabitants. The force additionally needs manpower to protect the boundaries of the Sunni Arab and the Kurdish state. The force could be adjusted over time but should remain in place for roughly 50 years. The commitments for this force need to be agreed in advance.
This approach has the advantage of swift action once the international agreement is struck. The clear drawback is the size of the ground forces requirement for the invasion and the need for interim international governance.
2. Inside-Out. This approach supports a local Sunni Arab insurgency against ISIS, backed by protected safe-havens. Once the insurgency defeats ISIS, the new government will be backed by UN peacekeepers. Steps A and D above will remain necessary.
b) UN recognized protected safe-havens should be established and defended by international forces. Much of these forces should come from Sunni Arab states. Safe-havens will give local Sunni Arab opposition groups the opportunity to form a political program, develop a strategy, train, and sustain logistical support.
c) If the opposition unites and forms a coherent and inclusive shadow government, the need for governance under UN mandate could be reduced, modified, or eliminated. A political strategy remains critical.
This approach has the advantage of using a local insurgency to defeat ISIS. Insurgencies that have durable tangible support tend to succeed. Safe-haven, financing, training, logistical, and air support must be provided. The drawback is the likely amount of time required, and the probability that ISIS will continue to foment attacks abroad.
Both approaches require sacrifices and hard trade-offs by all involved. The requirements may be dismissed as too hard. Success on the cheap and without compromises is appealing but unrealistic. If such choices are too hard, then get accustomed to living with ISIS.
If we are willing to make tough choices and pay the price, these two broadly framed approaches have real potential for durable success.
Christopher D. Kolenda is President and CEO of Kolenda Strategic Leadership, LLC, and senior military fellow at King’s College London. He served as senior advisor and key strategist on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and three Commanders of International Forces, Afghanistan.
President Obama’s welcome reversal of his draw-down decision in Afghanistan has given the U.S. and Afghan government a chance to achieve a favorable and durable outcome. Instead of drawing down all forces by the end of 2016, 5,500 will remain indefinitely to train Afghan Security Forces and to conduct Counterterrorism missions.
Now it is time to put someone in charge to deliver a successful outcome. That person should be a civilian.
I have argued extensively that troop presence is necessary but not sufficient for a successful outcome. A new strategy was needed that would put the Afghan government in the best possible position for a peace process. This would require major reforms in the kleptocratic Afghan government, addressing malign activity from regional neighbors (especially Pakistan), and developing a clear and compelling road-map for a peace process.
President Obama thankfully announced the need for each of these steps. I worry, however, that the U.S. and Afghan governments will fail to execute them.
That he was joined in this major announcement by only Department of Defense officials is highly disconcerting. Where was the State Department? They will surely lead US efforts in support of Afghan political reform, peace process, and regional diplomacy. They will need the support of the President and DoD every step of the way.
In fact, a State Department or Senior U.S. Civilian Official should be in change of the effort in Afghanistan going forward, to include executing the major steps outlined by President Obama. The military commander on the ground should be subordinate.
The civilian in charge should be supported by an interagency staff and be given the authority to direct and manage all elements of U.S. national power deployed to Afghanistan. She should be responsible and accountable for delivering a successful outcome.
Failure to take this critical step increases the risk that the U.S. will continue to fall victim to thepoorly integrated and stovepiped efforts that have undermined the mission to date.
“I am an extreme introvert,” he confessed. “I get tired at the end of a day of seeing people. I need time alone to re-charge. A cocktail party is my least favorite thing to do.” We laughed.
Those who knew him recognized something profound in his statement. The speaker was one of the most charismatic leaders we had ever known.
Some believe that an extroverted personality is a leadership pre-condition. I disagree. More importantly, so does Susan Cain, author of the Bestselling book Quiet.
In fact, I have often found senior leaders (like the one above) to be introverts. Of the three Secretaries of Defense, two Under Secretaries, and four Commanders of U.S. Forces – Afghanistan I have advised, seven of the nine were on the “I” side of the line.
On balance, nature provides certain traits; nurture is how those traits and other characteristics and capacities are developed. So how to cultivate leadership?
First, experience is the great teacher. There is no substitute for time in the saddle handling difficult, stimulating missions. Most people learn by doing. We get various forms of feedback – results from our efforts; formal and informal communications from the boss, peers, co-workers and subordinates; our own observations. The crucible of experience challenges us to learn and adapt and grow.
Experience is also the school of hard knocks. All leaders go through the trial and error process – that cannot be avoided. Most would agree that reducing unnecessary pain would be helpful. To paraphrase Bismarck, any fool can profit from one’s own mistakes, the wise person profits from those of others.
Experience alone can be limiting and potentially imprisoning. Even the most fortunate among us are only able to cram into a lifetime a finite few experiences. If experiences occur only in a particular set of environments and challenges, the range of our capacities to deal with the unexpected tends to be narrow. Leaders with limited experiences may be more susceptible to applying conventional wisdom to unconventional problems. Too often such leaders give proof to the old saw that insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.
Experience needs to be enriched and complemented.
Mentors and role models and coaches can be highly effective. Mentoring is an example of “paying it forward” to the profession and to leaders one has touched along the way. A good mentor can help us think through problems in different ways or bring to light certain factors we might not have considered completely. Feedback from the organization, even in the best of circumstances, will contain hints of bias and desires to please (or not terribly offend) the boss. Mentors are generally free from such constraints. The best ones tell us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear.
We can interact with a mentor. She can challenge our thinking and we can respond. He can help us see our blind-spots. Since our mentors are generally from our own profession, they can provide expert insights and feedback using commonly understood terms and concepts. A potential limitation is that their advice and insight on unique challenges could reflect past norms and conventions rather than fresh ideas.
Study is critical to enrich and expand our perspectives. This does not simply mean book-smarts. Study should build leader capital in highly useful ways. I have found that three broad categories are consistently effective in accelerating a leader’s growth.
Theory and Philosophy. Leadership deals with the human condition: how to inspire in people the spirit and act of following; how to create effective organizations. Various fields of theory and philosophy can help leaders bring out the best in both. Focus first on the classics. They are timeless for good reason. Examine more recent, highly respected works in fields such as psychology, behavioral economics, political science, and business.
History. Read exceptional works on great historical leaders and organizations. Find readable, critically acclaimed works that examine both failures and success. Puff pieces and hatchet-jobs have limited utility. Historical fiction can offer superb insights as well.
Contemporary perspectives. Finally, gain the thoughts and insights of contemporary leaders. Learn from their recent, practical experiences – their mistakes and triumphs.
Building leader capital in ourselves and among the leaders in our organizations is a professional responsibility. Build it through experience, a network of trusted mentors, and personal study.
Christopher D. Kolenda is President and CEO of Kolenda Strategic Leadership which helps Not-for-Profit organizations maximize their impact in conflict zones. He commanded Paratroopers in combat and served as Senior Advisor to three Commanders of International Forces (ISAF) over four tours in Afghanistan. See his two books on applied combat leadership: Leadership: The Warrior’s Art and The Counterinsurgency Challenge.
By terrorism scholar Joana Cook
Women play diverse roles in violent extremism. Understanding this is essential for an effective strategy against groups like ISIL.
Groups such as ISIL have made women an important tool in advancing their cause. Those seeking to defeat groups like ISIL have, too. Sadly, meaningful efforts to involve women against terrorism tend to be poorly integrated and languish in the shadows of military activity.
Women are often viewed as victims of terrorism and limited to stereotyped roles. Success in countering violent extremism (CVE) will be more likely when women are empowered as key actors on terms they define for themselves.
ISIL have increasingly engaged women in a variety of ways, reaching out to urge women to travel abroad and join their organization and wider ‘state’. ISIL have enslaved others deemed to be ‘spoils of war’ such as Yezidi women. Increasingly, governments and other organizations are noting that the empowerment of women is a key tool to counter violent extremism (CVE), as well as noting the disproportionate ways that terrorism and extremism may impact women. The roles women play in relation to perpetrating and countering extremism is diverse and complex, and requires important consideration by all concerned actors.
One of the most important aspects for countering terrorism and violent extremism involve understanding the roles that women are playing in them. Women have been both violent and passive actors in extremist and terrorist organizations. In fact, women often have many of the same motivations to join these organizations as men.
Because women have not always been the most violent actors, they are often overlooked in considerations of terrorist organizations. The roles women play may come in the form of logistical support, financing, recruitment, and combat roles (amongst others). These may change over time as opportunities and resources for terrorist groups constrict or expand.
These roles have spanned ethno-nationalist terrorist organizations, such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the Basque separatist movement in Spain, the PKK in Turkey or the IRA in Northern Ireland. Women tend to have higher membership in ethno-nationalist organizations. Miranda Alison notes, for example, that women made up around a third of the combat strength of the Tamil Tigers. Women have also been present in groups of various political, religious and ideological motivations throughout history. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find many groups that have not engaged women.
In groups like ISIL, women’s roles have largely been restricted to the domestic sphere and ‘culturally appropriate’ roles such as those of teachers or health care workers. Nonetheless, they have also taken on roles in all-female police units (the al-Khansaa Brigades) and there are some indications they may take on increasingly violent roles. An increasing number of women, noted to be around 18%, are now travelling to join the group. Their reasons include participating in the building of a state, travelling with/to a partner, fulfilling religious motivations, and satisfying a sense of adventure. With young girls who are travelling abroad, recruitment may reflect sexual grooming, where they are being lured abroad by men in the group.
While each category of women would have a different status in the group, both women who are seized as slaves, such as the Yezidi women, and women being urged abroad come marry fighters, also serve another purpose. Having women present helps keep fighters linked to the group. As Mia Bloom points out, having a wife, child and house makes it less likely that a fighter will leave a group. Having women available as slaves and wives also acts as an incentive for potential fighters to come join a group. Women play roles in recruiting other women, too, playing off of maternal or ‘big sister’ roles. Understanding these dynamic roles will help all actors effectively counter such organizations.
For governments, women have been increasingly identified as key to CVE initiatives. These are often viewed through their familial roles, such as that of mother or wife. Often noted is their ability to influence family members, see first hand the warning signs of rising extremism and acting as key supporters for de-radicalization processes. Women who have themselves been victims of terrorism, or have lost family members to extremist ideologies, can offer powerful counter-narratives aimed at preventing other individuals from engaging in violence.
An area that is not yet receiving enough attention is the important roles that female security practitioners, such as police, intelligence officers and border guards, for example, can play in CVE initiatives. With an increasing focus on community policing in CVE, women’s engagement should expand.
Women’s roles are dynamic and complex; their agency evolves in diverse ways. There is increasing evidence, for instance, that bottom-up and community-based solutions are among the most successful. These tend to be much more effective than a few spotlight roles at national levels – though these too can be useful for challenging widely perceived stereotypes. When women serve on their own turf as local police or officials or civil society actors, other women tend to get more engaged, too. This can create a virtuous cycle in communities toward discouraging enrolment in violent extremism, and also bring to the table more robust solutions which reflect the concerns and skill sets of the wider population. The combination of local and national roles could be very powerful.
Simply using women as a tool in CVE is not enough. Perfunctory roles risk creating a perception that women are advancing a cynical western or government agenda. This may create opposition toward women’s groups even among those sympathetic to CVE. Empowering women as key actors with voices and important perspectives in shaping CVE initiatives can limit this risk. Such engagement may reduce the tendency to subordinate everything to military targeting. This will likely enhance the effectiveness of CVE overall.
Joana Cook is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, Editor-in-Chief of Strife and a research affiliate with both the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS) and Public Safety Canada (Kanishka). Her work focuses on women in violent extremism, countering violent extremism and counter-terrorism practices in the UK, Canada and Yemen. She has presented her research to senior security audiences in Canada, the UK and US.
The Afghan government has nearly a full slate of ministers. On April 18 parliament approved the 16 ministerial candidates put forward by President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah. Only the Ministry of Defense remains open.
Now it is time for the Afghan government to develop a compelling national vision and strategy for a peaceful and prosperous future.
Whether the new government, formed after 6 months of internal wrangling, can succeed remains an open question. Afghanistan’s economy remains on shaky ground. Efforts to battle corruption and dismantle kleptocracy have begun but major political reform is needed. Time is critical. Donor flight after international troops depart at the end of 2016 could doom Afghanistan to another civil war.
The war between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban has been growing in intensity and lethality. Reports of peace talks earlier this year remain unfounded. Hopes for progress in Afghan-Pakistan relations after President Ghani’s November visit have begun to give way to cynicism and charges of appeasement. Violence against women remains high; justice is often absent.
Islamic State reportedly claimed responsibility for a murderous bombing in Jalalabad that killed 33 civilians and wounded 125. The extent of IS presence is uncertain, but Afghanistan and Iran have pledged cooperation against the group. A new major terrorist threat in Afghanistan would be devastating for Afghans and highly damaging to the government. The Afghan Taliban now claims al Qaeda is no longer present in Afghanistan. IS might provide a common enemy to the Afghan government and Afghan Taliban.
Ghani and Abdullah can increase the likelihood of success by taking one simple but critically important step: direct the Cabinet to develop a credible and compelling national strategy.
This strategy should integrate five key elements: 1) political reform and governance, 2) contain and reduce the Taliban threat, 3) a dignified and responsible peace process, 4) regional diplomacy, 5) greater economic self-reliance.
The Afghan government has never had a strategy to win the war. This sad state of affairs is partly the fault of former President Karzai who could never bring himself to believe that his own people were fighting his government, and partly the fault of the Obama Administration who never insisted on a common strategy as a an entry-requirement for massively scaling-up and sustaining our assistance.
To the extent a common approach exists, it has mainly centered on the military. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), with the help of International Security Assistance Forces – Afghanistan (ISAF), has a military campaign plan. In the absence of a national strategy to guide and direct it and other elements of national power toward a successful outcome, however, the ANSF are simply fighting and dying in the hope of winning. This must change.
Armed with a national vision and strategy, the President and Chief Executive can use it as a basis for holding their officials accountable for results, and for extending international support. President Ghani, when urging President Obama to reconsider his withdrawal timeline, rightly noted the need for the Afghan government to show credible progress. This strategy can provide a very important part of that argument, and should be sufficient for U.S. and coalition partners to keep an open mind.
The potential strength of the National Unity Government can be realized if diversity and significant common purpose become mutually reinforcing. Assessing the state of the war and developing a strategy to bring it to a favorable and durable conclusion may bring out the best in the Afghan Government — and give people a vision and game-plan they can rally behind.
Christopher D. Kolenda is the President and CEO of Kolenda Strategic Leadership which helps Not-for-Profit organizations maximize their impact in conflict zones. He commanded Paratroopers in combat and served as Senior Advisor to the Department of Defense senior leadership and to three Commanders of International Forces (ISAF) over four tours in Afghanistan. See his two books on applied combat leadership: Leadership: The Warrior’s Art and The Counterinsurgency Challenge.