The Best Defense

A response to Lady Emma: No, start by actually helping the Iraqis do things

By Steve Donnelly
Best Defense guest respondent

Emma Sky's recent paper for CNAS provides a welcoming and Iraqi-freshened perspective to the most recent of many chapters in the story of U.S. relations with Iraq.

But there remain a great many unspoken undercurrents in the human interest stories of a U.S. CPA and military actor, no disrespect intended, rather than a professional analysis of the gaps and deficiencies identified -- which all relate to Iraqi self-governance and support for Iraqi civilian institutions.

Emma's stories reminded me of several meetings in Tikrit and Baghdad in 2008, which, I believe, underscore the complexities of the US muddle, and the limitations on U.S. successes in light of our past history.

On a crisp morning in January 2008, a military convoy wound its way through Tikrit's morning traffic to deliver three State Department civilian advisers to Salah ad Din's provincial headquarters. Parents walked their children to the local schoolhouse, garbed in the clean, pressed, yet shabby garb of war refugees, wary of the passing convoy. The turret-mounted M60 intermittently pop-popped warning shots to oncoming traffic at each intersection, as the electronic jammers shut down all civilian cell phone traffic. Children with no parents to take interest sat by the roadside selling gypsy gasoline from small containers. All these scenes were visible to the civilian advisers through the grimy window of the Humvee.

As the provincial headquarters' halls were swept by the U.S. military escort, widows and their young children, descending into PTSD events when confronted with the same soldiers that, under Big Ray, had once kicked down their door and taken Daddy away, and likely to be suicide bombers, were cleared before the civilian advisers entered to attend a brief meeting with Salah ad Din's civilian leaders.

The civilian advisers were warmly greeted by elected officials from the Provincial Government, mostly Kurds favorable to the United States, and "democratically" elected as a result of the majority-Sunni boycott of elections in Salah ad Din and Ninewa. But the Iraqi civilian administrators were, on first meeting, typically reluctant to speak directly to an American, whether military or civilian.

The reasons for that reluctance were understandable, given their backgrounds. Some were survivors of the Shia opposition left by the United States to fend with Saddam after Desert Storm, highly-skilled civil engineers returning from prestigious exile in Kuwait to find their country in ruins as it had been after the Iraq/Iran War, but with the resources and responsibilities for reconstruction now in the hands of well-intended but unskilled U.S. military E-5s and 0-3s. Most important was an unwillingness to be publicly identified as "collaborators," when, after the United States left, reprisals would be certain, and did occur.

After the meeting, two civilian advisers were directed to another room while the return convoy was being organized. After very careful negotiations through one of the Sunni leaders, they had the opportunity to meet in private with the former civilian engineers and administrators who had operated and rebuilt Salah ad Din before the Baathist purges. They knew where everything was, how to fix it, and were anxious to help, but could not do so directly.

As the U.S. civilian advisers intermediated between the U.S. military, and Iraqi provincial and national leaders to rebuilt the bridges over the Tigris, a complex chain of communication was required, with "anonymous" help from the former Baathist administrators, and indirect calls from current administrators and anti-Americans unwilling to be identified as direct collaborators, but needed to get their country reconstructed.

Through an equally byzantine chain of events and contacts, two of the civilian advisers were invited to attend an Iraqi meeting (no U.S. military, please) in Baghdad in June 2008, where ministry and provincial officials were meeting to coordinate procedures for the upcoming 2009 budget deliberations.

Here, behind closed doors in the Al Rasheed Hotel's main ballroom, Iraq's leading national and provincial technocrats were blunt in their criticisms of the current state of affairs, the crooked politicians they were confronted with, and the hope that by returning to their older and technically-based processes for project and budget considerations, hoped to move the system to one based on genuine need, public participation, technical reviews and cost/benefit frameworks to get Iraq moving again.

As the meeting proceeded, the old-timers mentored the handful of confused post-Saddam administrators on the old cost-budget analysis processes and technical studies used in the older processes, and agreements were made to republish and re-distribute the old budget manuals, so that a modern and functional government could hopefully emerge.

Why were these two State Department civilian advisers being invited into meetings to which U.S. military and prior CPA advisers were never invited, and embraced by the civilian solutions that the CPA and U.S. military had not engaged?

Each was an actual U.S. civilian developer, planner, engineer and builder. They spoke the same language as the technocrats, understood the complexities of the systems problems, and the routine paths for solutions. Bureaucrat to Bureaucrat. Bridge Engineer to Bridge Engineer. Water Treatment Plant Operator to Water Treatment Plant Operator. Builder to Builder. The language, social, and cultural barriers were irrelevant to the common language of troubleshooting and public systems.

Most important, they had each been sent with explicit instructions from Foggy Bottom and Ambassador Crocker's "bubble" to find those solutions, and were empowered by MND-North Commander MG Mark Hertling, and his experienced command staff, who all came with the same common mission: Give Iraq back to the Iraqis.

The lessons of these many experiences were distilled by the State Department civilian advisors into a report arguing for the rapid transition to Iraqi civilian government based on three insights: (1) Iraqis, by their national culture still driving them, are inveterate builders who had proudly built and rebuilt their country as each war and flood swept through; (2) Iraq had invested heavily in training core groups of administrators, public works managers and engineers, who were available, respected by their peers, and anxious to take responsibility for restoring a functional public service structure, but needed help to get past the interim political leaders (many of which were our own); and (3) that joining these insights into SOFA negotiations could provide rapid transition to Iraqi government, and enduring value for future U.S. and Iraqi relationships.

Where Emma Sky's limitations, as a former CPA Administrator and Odierno adviser are most apparent, is perhaps unintended bias toward what the United States, rather than Iraqis, shoulda or coulda have done during and after a chaotic and ill-informed occupation which drove out the very Iraqi engagement and responsibility that was the only viable way forward, and the lack of training and technical experience in the actual systems of government needed to address the lingering issues.

If anything could be recommended at this point, it would be for the Obama Administration to abandon the unwanted meddling in Iraqi police affairs and ineffective training, and to openly and effectively engage that broad Iraqi public through positive political focus on the "plain vanilla" operations of civil government systems and technical advice, which the United States has an abundance of and the Iraqi public seriously needs.

It is clear that the spooks and spies, by not leaving a basically functional, and somewhat reconciled government, lost their entry, and, perhaps, ceded that U.S. role to Iran (actually more to Turkey).

Focus on what the Iraqi public actually needs, and they will tolerate, if they have to, a handful of spooks and spies, but it is axiomatic that if the United States is viewed by that Iraqi public as a helper rather than an unwanted intervener, less spooks and spies would be required, and valid intelligence on the actual Iraq and its problems would be abundant and routine.

The Lesson from Benghazi and Syria: Effective U.S. engagement in these countries is going to require a more sophisticated and meaningful exchange with these many publics than the current military and diplomatic systems consider. Big U.S. footprints, soldiers, and colonial occupiers are unwelcome. Better to use internet engagements to link Iraqi administrators to U.S. technical resources, then re-engage overtime.

Stephen Donnelly, AICP, is a Crofton, MD-based planning and development consultant who served as Senior Urban Planning Adviser, US Department of State, Iraq Reconstruction, during the civilian surge (2007-2009).

US Department of Defense Current Photos/Flickr

The Best Defense

Mission command is nice but I suspect we are indeed only paying it lip service

By Richard Buchanan
Best Defense office of mission command

In 1993, when I left the Army as a CWO (HUMINT/CI) myself and another CWO (Order of Battle) were training 7th Infantry Light non-MI personnel on MI skill sets using a hand-jammed two-week NEO scenario exercising against Abu Sayfeh. Down right counter guerrilla if you ask me as we were using my Special Forces Vietnam experience to frame the scenario. Bottom line up front -- if a light fighter is trained well in his infantry skill sets counter-guerrilla operations are not a problem -- it was true in 1993 and it is just true in 2012 so why did we have to create COIN?

We were actually breaking ground in 1993 by creating the CoIST and DATE concepts years before they became standard terms. The MI Center in Ft. Huachuca was interested in the scenario and concepts of our version of CoIST/DATE, but came to the decision that guerrilla warfare was where the Force was not heading so they basically canned what had been provided to them.

I then left the Force and moved into the IT world of ATT and Cisco where for years we spoke using the IT slogan "people, processes, tools" long before the Army broke into the G/S6 world.

Now 29 years later the Army has "people, processes and tools" -- People is a PME system generating Cmdrs and Staffs, Processes is Science of Control, and Tools is multiple mission command systems.

I recently meet (after 29 years) that same retired CWO who has as a retiree done his rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan and just as I am he is still trying to educate the Force. When we met we simply smiled and almost at the same time said "boy did we get it right 29 years ago" and then compared notes on what has been working and what is failing since 1993. There are not many of us greybeards still out there working with the Force -- and still the Force does not "listen."

So Tom's recent question ("Mission command is nice but what will commanders actually practice it?") caused me to go back and give it some serious thought as mission command is really something some of us have been where possible practicing since 1993.

The question of how do we facilitate mission command training in a Force that is centrically singularly focused on mission command systems is a valid concern and yes one might in fact think the Force is only paying lip service. Processes and tools are simple to understand/control -- but the Art of Command is all about Leadership and right now "Leadership" in the Force is a "black art."

The fuzzy "black art" thing we call Art of Command with the equally warm and fuzzy terms of team building, open dialogue in a fear free environment, and TRUST is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore. It is ignored in the AARs coming out of the DATE exercises, it is ignored by MCTP AARs, it is ignored in Staff training exercises and the list goes on.

WHY? The answer is easy -- not many are comfortable and confident with themselves in the areas of Trust and open dialogue or they have had negative experiences with these terms. Trust and dialogue are hard to mentor day to day in the current Force.

Has anyone recently seen in any CTC AAR or in any MCTP AAR a section on Trust? Meaning, was Trust being demonstrated within the Staff or between the Cmdr and his Staff, a section on how was dialogue being handled within the Staff or what the Cmdr's leadership style was? That is, did it contribute to team building or did it push dialogue and or contribute to trust being developed in his unit? Or was there ease in the way the NCOs and Officers worked with each other. Or was failure tolerated and learned from with the Cmdr leading the way in the lessons learned by a failure?

Has anyone recently seen a CTC AAR or a MCTP AAR speak out about the quality of the Cmdrs Mission Orders to his subordinates (was it clear/concise) or did they speak about the quality of the Commanders Intent -- two critical core elements in the "Art of Command"? Or did the OCs speak about his and his Staff's micromanagement?

What is inherently missing is a clear strong Army senior leadership emphasis on Leadership in the current group of O5/6s and one/two Stars. Leadership that develops the team, develops/fosters open dialogue and fosters Trust. If junior officers see that emphasis in their daily routines then it becomes second nature to them -- right now not many O5/6s are leading by example. We have way too few "truth seekers" in the current O5/6 and one/two Star ranks.

In some aspects the necessity for mission command (Art of Command and Science of Control-the processes not the systems) has been articulated in ADP/ADRP 6.0, in the concept of "hybrid threat" TC 7-100, in the doctrinal thinking behind Capstone 2012, and anchored in the new DATE scenarios that are now standardized at the CTCs.

With the future of the Army training being refocused on hybrid threats tied to DATE training exercises the "Art of Command" is the key in moving forward. If the Cmdr has built his team using the elements of Trust and open dialogue there is no "hybrid threat" scenario that cannot be mastered by an agile and adaptive Cmdr/Staff.

In addition the concept of "Design" then starts to make sense and just maybe we can move into a open debate about whether the current decision making process MDMP makes sense in a "hybrid threat environment" or should it be replaced by a different problem solving process which actually "Design" and "mission command" demands.

Or as a recent article in Tom's blog put it, "I am leaving the Corps because it doesn't much value ideas." It is not only the Army that is having Trust issues. We are losing the "best and the brightest" simply because senior leaders are not serious about a "Leadership" that builds teams, fosters dialogue, and Trust.

Richard Buchanan is mission command training facilitator with the JMTC/JMSC Grafenwoehr, Germany training staffs in the areas of mission command, MDMP/NATO Planning Processes, MDMP/Design, and Command Post Operations. From 2006 to 2008, he rebuilt as HUMINT SME together with the Commander Operations Group (COG) National Training Center (NTC) the CTC training scenario to reflect Diyala Province. From 2008 to 2009, he introduced as a Forensics SME into the NTC training scenario the first ever battlefield forensics initially for multifunctional teams and then BCTs. From 2010 to 2012, he trained staffs in the targeting process as tied to the ISR planning process as they are integrated in the MDMP process. The opinions here are his own and not those of U.S. Army Europe, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, nor even the shattered remains of the once-proud New York Jets.