An Army General's Letter to Obama
A retired career military officer tells the new president that we can’t win the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan without the coordinated effort of all government agencies.
I served in the U.S. military for 31 years and left on principle in 2005, disgusted by the failure to properly plan and execute our mission in Iraq. So I feel compelled to offer some basic advice to the Obama Administration about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we are dangerously overextended without a plan for success.
I know from personal experience on the ground in First Gulf War and in Bosnia implementing the Dayton Accord that effective strategy is a four-legged stool resting equally on diplomacy, economic recovery, political reconciliation and the use of our great military. But to ensure that all four legs are fully extended, the entire government must be engaged, with some interagency person synchronizing the planning and execution of contributions from all appropriate government departments and agencies.
Until the Department of Agriculture is as engaged and committed to defeating Islamic extremists as the Department of Defense, we are wasting our time.
In Iraq in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1996, I saw how effective such synergy can be. In Iraq in 2005, I witnessed the disastrous consequences of ignoring this principle and proceeding as if the use of military force alone can be sufficient.
So President Obama’s first order of business should be to fix the US Government’s interagency process. It is broken and desperately needs an overhaul similar to what the 1986 Goldwater/Nichols Act did for the Department of Defense. Define interagency protocols and assign planning and execution responsibilities. Define the planning process, insist on teamwork, clearly delineate the role of each department and agency and give the interagency group the power to follow through. Without a high performing interagency team, our government cannot be effective, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.
Today’s interagency process is dysfunctional and plagued by infighting. No one is in charge. There is no unity of effort. One would think that the Department of Agriculture would have a major role in Afghanistan generating economic alternatives to the production of heroin, which is a major source of funding for the extremists. But right now, heroin production is flourishing without adequate attention to it. And until the Department of Agriculture is as engaged and committed to defeating Islamic extremists as the Department of Defense, we are wasting our time.
So the president’s second action, once the interagency process is organized for success, should be to task it with developing a comprehensive strategy for defeating world-wide Islamic extremism. No such overarching strategy now exists and as a result, the shortsighted and uncoordinated efforts of our government’s departments and agencies are plagued by infighting, incompetence and wasted effort. The Department of Defense pursues its own strategy in a vacuum, which is a formula for failure.
The challenge in Iraq and Afghanistan has more to do with resolving the gross imbalance of wealth in our world than with the application of force to destroy an ill-defined enemy. The Obama Administration needs to address that challenge by clearly articulating ends, ways and means. How do we define success? What missions will be assigned to each US Government department or agency, and what resources will they require? Who is in charge? Without this fundamental strategic planning and coordinated execution, we risk the continued and unacceptable drain in US national treasure measured in blood and dollars with potentially little to show for it.
Beware the boasting about success in Iraq. Be very concerned about expanding our commitment in Afghanistan. Be equally concerned about the state of our military to deal with other contingencies in a dangerous world. Furthermore, if we do not find a way to deal more effectively with these challenges abroad, we will not be able to properly address the economic crisis at home.
John Batiste Major General, US Army (Retired) President, Klein Steel Service Inc. Member, New York State VA Commission
General John Batiste was the commander of the 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2003, and retired as a major general in November 2005.