Magazine article The American Conservative

One-Sided COIN: The Military-Industrial Complex Surges Washington

Magazine article The American Conservative

One-Sided COIN: The Military-Industrial Complex Surges Washington

Article excerpt

YOU KNOW IT'S NOT going to be a typical Washington think-tank event when, upon entering the gilded doors of the Willard InterContinental Hotel, you are greeted by a peppy female soldier in an Army service uniform bedecked with medals. "Welcome, are you here for CNAS?"

For the Center for a New American Security, the June 11 annual meeting was about doing things big--broadcasting to the swelling Washington national-security establishment that CNAS is a major player; that there is but a sliver of daylight between its civilian-policy mission and that of the U.S. military. Both are working symbiotically to make their vision the only remedy for the young Obama administration's foreign-policy challenges.

Here was a heady mix of Army brass, Navy officers in their starched whites, and soldiers in digital camo networking among the dark suits and smart skirts of the civilian elite. Defense contractors, lobbyists, analysts, journalists, administration reps, Hill staff--1,400 of the "best and brightest," seeing and being seen.

Gen. David Petraeus--no one could have better sanctified this event save Obama himself--stepped to the dais. He called CNAS "a true force." For him, this is a good thing. Just two years ago, this predominately Democratic crowd was all about getting out of Iraq (albeit "wisely"). Then, seeking to establish muscular national-security credentials ahead of the presidential election, CNAS's founders Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell made the savvy decision to position Petraeus's expanding counterinsurgency (COIN) ideal in their own evolving agenda.

It was a marriage of convenience. Petraeus's patrons in the Republican Party were on the way out, and Democrats were looking to retool their neoliberal interventionism, latent since the Clinton administration, into a sort of Counterinsurgency 2.0. The result was on full display as Petraeus broke down current operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan: a "whole of government" or "full spectrum" approach, led by the U.S. military, requiring untold financial resources, more weapons in theater, and more boots on the ground to "protect populations," turn around institutions, and train security forces. As one panelist said, "a long-term commitment" to the region.

Nods of approval. A standing ovation. Why not? For every soul in the room who truly believes this is the "pragmatic and principled approach," there was surely another for whom the Long War means guaranteed employment, flush contracts, justified research, more trips to Capitol Hill. A reason for being.

In June 2007, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stood on the same platform, delivering the keynote speech at CNAS's glittering launch. There the center planted its first marker and was unofficially identified as Clinton's national security team in waiting.

She spoke about the "need to be both internationalist and realistic." She contemplated the idea of a "no-fly zone" over Darfur and a post-Bush withdrawal from Iraq. Meanwhile, panel discussions found the new generation of "hot policy wonks" of the Democratic persuasion extolling the merits of "international power management" and global "listening tours" in a new (Democratic) administration.

But that was all so 2007, before it was accepted by these Clintonian Democrats and the Washington foreign-policy establishment writ large that the surge strategy promoted by the neoconservatives was a success. It was discovered that the narrative could easily be co-opted, along with the brand of its leading man, General Petraeus, and nearly all of his so-called brain trust, now fellows, advisers, and speakers at CNAS events.

At the top is retired Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, who served in the Gulf War and Iraq before working directly for Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. As co-author of the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual in 2006 (aka the Petraeus Doctrine), he has, since February, indulged his role as president and chief COIN pusher at CNAS with almost religious zeal. …

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