Death of the Combatant Command? toward a Joint Interagency Approach

Article excerpt

In the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, one of the most important lessons ... relearned is that military success is not sufficient. ... These so-called soft capabilities along with military power are indispensable to any lasting success, indeed, to victory itself as Clausewitz understood it, which is achieving a political objective.

--Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense (1)

Hindsight is often 20/20. We can study our efforts in Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and even the current situations in Afghanistan and Iraq and come to some fundamental conclusions. One is that our interagency process is broken. (2) Why is that? If it is broken, can we fix it? In this article, we explore the problems with our current interagency process, (3) suggest a solution, compare that with other possible solution sets, and discuss consequences of its implementation.

The problems with the American interagency process are complex. We do not pretend to be experts on the current process or historians recounting each incremental step along our path to the present. We do believe, however, that most of today's problems arise from a gap created by a lack of either capacity or integration, or both, below the national level. This article proposes filling that vacuum with standing, civilian-led interagency organizations, having regional responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy. (4)

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Thomas Ricks posits that the decision to give the Department of Defense (DOD) the lead for postwar Iraq was problematic and may have doomed the American effort from the start, since the department lacked the capabilities to oversee a large multiagency civilian mission. (5) If so, then why did DOD get the lead for postwar Iraq? A possible answer is that although DOD may not have had all that it needed at the outset of the war, there was no other government institution that had the budget or manpower to manage the effort. (6)

While history will judge how well DOD lived up to those postwar Iraq challenges, it seems evident now that an agency responsible for one of the instruments of power should not be responsible for integrating the efforts of all the others. At the national level, that integration is supposed to occur from within the National Security Council (NSC). The NSC advises the President, decisions are made, and the instruments of power are integrated toward our national interests. In response, the various agencies march forward to do their respective parts. Below the national level, integration is problematic. At the regional or operational level, a coherent blend of the instruments of power is dependent on cooperation. (7)

It seems logical that if true integration only occurs at the national level, execution at the regional or local levels could be fraught with problems, as the agencies representing the instruments of power are organized differently and there is no directive authority for implementation at the regional level. DOD is organized with six geographic combatant commands responsible for the various regions, but the Department of State regional organization is different. State also has six regional bureaus, but the boundaries do not match those of DOD. As an example, the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) commander must coordinate efforts with three regional State bureaus: African Affairs, Near Eastern Affairs, and South and Central Asian Affairs. The State bureau system is also relatively new, as the traditional approach to coordination has been at the Ambassador/Country Team level. The result is that the combatant commander must coordinate efforts with three Assistant Secretaries of State (leaders of State regional bureaus) and 27 Country Teams. Conversely, the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs must coordinate with three combatant commanders: those of USCENTCOM, U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM).

Integration of the informational and economic instruments of power is also problematic at the regional level. …