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April 12, 2007

Important Guest Post: Modern Foreign Policy Execution


Mark Safranski, the ZenPundit of 4GW (fourth generation warfare), has earned quite a deserved reputation for his studies. This, of course, is an essential subject – indeed, critical to the accomplishment of U.S. foreign policy in an asymmetrical warfare world.

Mark Safranski, below, writes a guest post for Democracy-Project readers which is MUST reading. (Additional footnotes at end)

INSTEAD OF CROWNING A NEW CZAR, BUSH SHOULD IGNITE A REVOLUTION

President Bush’s fruitless search for a “czar” to resolve poor interagency coordination in the GWOT in Iraq and Afghanistan is an attempt at finding a solution for a problem that has plagued most chief executives. Harry Truman sadly predicted that his successor would soon find that being president was not at all like commanding an army while Ronald Reagan used to joke that in his administration “ the right hand doesn’t know what the far right one is doing”. Given the difficulties in stabilizing Iraq and the resurgence of the Taliban in Pakistan’s frontier provinces and the poor state of American public diplomacy the interagency process is no longer a joking matter. Recent history however points to potential solutions.

In 1983, the United States invaded the island nation of Grenada and overthrew a Cuban-supported radical Communist military junta that had just murdered the Marxist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and established a shoot-to-kill curfew that threatened the lives of Grenadians and American residents alike. While ultimately successful, America had difficulty in bringing its overwhelming force to bear on the junta’s ragtag Communist militia and a Cuban construction battalion. Each service sought its own objectives in Grenada, inter-service rivalries dominated as each branch of the military fought to gain a share of the glory without regard to the overall good. Incompatible communications equipment made coordination in the field difficult and potentially put U.S. troops at risk for “friendly-fire” casualties. And slowed the progress of the campaign.

Such a dysfunctional situation exists again, except today it is not merely a military problem. The process for executing American foreign policy through various departments, agencies and bureaus is less like the president activating a streamlined network than it is like a farmer attempting to move a herd of unwilling cattle. Changing policies or presidents will not help, except to shift the area or degree of failure without improving the performance. The foreign policy process is becoming unmanageable because the bureaucracy through which the president –any president – must work his foreign policy, was built for an era that is increasingly relegated to history books. A world of iron curtains and checkpoint charlies that ran at the pace of snail mail, telegrams and rotary telephones. That time is gone and it is never coming back; America’s problems today evolve at a much faster velocity.

There is a lesson to be learned here. In the aftermath of Operation Urgent Fury, the Department of Defense took a hard look at itself and committed to reforming the execution of combat operations and so did the U.S. Congress. The Goldwater-Nichols Act empowered regional Combatant Commanders with command and control responsibility for their geographic area, strengthened the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and made joint assignments a prerequisite for selection to general or flag rank”
Secondly, a special operations command was created (SOCOM) to handle the coordination of elite units and thirdly, the services began to preach and practice the philosophy of “jointness” in training, planning and combat. The process took years and faced considerable bureaucratic resistance inside the Pentagon and although much work on “ jointness” remains to be done, the level of coordination in the field today is beyond what could have been imagined by commanders in America’s previous wars.

Unfortunately, when it comes to America’s civilian agencies that critically affect U.S. foreign policy objectives – the State Department, NSC, CIA, USAID, FBI, Treasury, Energy, Commerce, the Federal Reserve –it might as well still be 1983. Or even 1953. The interagency process is an adversarial exercise in turf warfare where the defense of tiny bureaucratic empires and budgets are paramount. Each agency pursues its own agenda; its headquarters leadership ignores unwelcome input from the rank and file ( the FBI rejected repeated warnings about 9/11 highjackers from its own field offices); antiquated Federal personnel policies prevent the most competent staffers from being placed where they are needed most; IT capabilities are almost uniformly close to a decade behind the private sector.

Secretary Rice rattled cages at Foggy Bottom by prioritizing Iraq assignments over the “old boy” network and PC concerns that dominated past FSO assignments, making official the informal practice that prevailed under Secretary Powell. Resistance by diplomats and bureaucrats to working in dangerous locales that are critical national security priorities remains unacceptably high. This is partly due to reasonable safety concerns but also stems from political opposition to administration policy and simple resistance to a synergistic mindset that requires housing “other agencies” in “their” embassies. Even the DIA has been credibly accused of holding back Arabic linguists from Iraq duty and of having managers who retaliate against analysts with Arabic skills who volunteer for Baghdad duty and of enforcing a “groupthink” company line in analysis. Frankly, this is no way to run a foreign policy in a time of peace, much less one of war.

In broad terms, the White House and Congress need to look for a new model for a Goldwater-Nichols II to create a flatter, more adaptive, fast-moving, structure for foreign policy implementation than the industrial age mammoth bureaucracies with their rigidly compartmentalized, hierarchical “cylinders of excellence”. With economic interests and non-state actors attaining prominence alongside traditional political and military concerns, our response time needs to be keyed to adversaries and partners who have a network structure rather than a hierarchy. As RAND scholars John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt have suggested, networks are more easily attacked by other networks, not by slow-moving hierarchies .

Technically, what I am proposing is in organizational terms is that the United States began executing foreign policy through modular networks, which combine the advantages of specialization and control offered by hierarchies with the supple resilience and adaptive capacity of scale-free networks. In practical terms, this would mean pulling experienced, suitably senior, personnel out of their respective bureaucracies and putting them into IT-networked multidisciplinary, field teams with a strict task orientation and real decision authority. A reform that will only bear fruit if future budgets and individual promotions are removed from the hands of bureaucratic managers back in Washington and tied directly to team performance, with team members practicing a 360 degree review system .

These field teams must be financially autonomous, answering not to their departmental hierarchies in Washington but to the NSC collectively, with the National Security Adviser as liason. The current situation, where many have the ability to say “No” with no one person having the clear authority or accountability being able to say “ Yes”, must go. Reforming the foreign policy process by “flattening” it, will yield a number of advantages over the present system:

 The orientation is on mission task rather than bureaucratic “turf”. Everyone sinks or swims together.

 Foreign policy problems will be analyzed holistically and decided upon collaboratively instead of in a compartmentalized and adversarial fashion.

 Most decisions will be made much closer to the problems. And be made by people whose knowledge reflects true depth of understanding.

 The time required to move from proposing foreign policy options to presidential policy is much reduced.

 Streamlined information flow, minimizing the ability of senior departmental managers in Washington to spin, edit and water down unwelcome news.

 Instead of putting State or Defense in charge across the board, as is customary in today’s interagency process, leadership of a field team can be quickly moved to the member whose expertise or skill-sets are most closely related to the problem.

 Shifting the worldview of an age cohort of officials from a parochial departmental perspective to one that embraces a broader, “horizontal” analytical framework.

 The system will be oriented to provide career incentives to the collaborative problem-solvers rather than obstructionists and bureaucratic saboteurs.


In a future foreign policy crisis, “jointness” must exist as much between State, Treasury and USAID and between State, the IC and the Pentagon as it does today between the Army and the Marines. Effecting that kind of cultural change means reinventing the structure of government to the kind of “flat”organizational form we see emerging in the most dynamic areas of our private sector. Our soldiers, diplomats, analysts and spies do not need any more “czars”; what they really need is for existing Beltway “czars” to get the hell out of the way.


1. MICHAEL P. NOONAN and MARK R. LEWIS . “Conquering the Elements:
Thoughts on Joint Force (Re)Organization” Parameters, Autumn 2003, pp. 31-45

2 John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, eds.. In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age. Santa Monica, Calif.:RAND 1997

3 Ileana Debare “360-Degrees of Evaluation: More companies turning to full-circle job reviews” San Francisco Chronicle May 5, 1997

4 http://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/EOP/NSC/html/NSC_Membership.html
“The National Security Council is chaired by the President. Its statutory members, in addition to the President, are the Vice President and the Secretaries of State and Defense. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the statutory military advisor to the Council, and the Director of Central Intelligence is the intelligence advisor. The Secretary of the Treasury, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the President for Economic policy, and the Chief of Staff to the President are invited to all meetings of the Council. The Attorney General and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy attend meetings pertaining to their jurisdiction; other officials are invited, as appropriate.”

Bruce Kesler | Apr. 12, 2007 | 11:29 PM