Austin Bay

The Washington press corps has discovered the war -- the self-defeating tug of war between the Pentagon and virtually every other Washington government agency.

Two recent articles in The New York Times portrayed the "interagency" struggle as primarily a turf tussle between the Defense Department and the State Department, with culture clash, personal animosities and money (as in budgets) the sources of accelerating friction.

The Pentagon and State collision over economic and political operations in Iraq is (at least for the moment) the most dramatic example of interagency discord. However, the Departments of Agriculture, Justice and Commerce, and virtually every other civilian agency, are at loggerheads with Defense.

In an article published Feb. 6, the Times reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had told President Bush that the administration's "new Iraq strategy could fail unless more civilian agencies step forward quickly to carry out plans for reconstruction and political development." The Joint Chiefs pointed to a State Department request that the Pentagon supply military personnel to temporarily "fill more than one-third of 350 new State Department jobs in Iraq." The implication: State wasn't doing its part.

The Pentagon argued that "other civilian departments must devote more money and personnel to nonmilitary efforts at improving the economy, industry, agriculture, financial oversight of government spending and the rule of law."

An article published on Feb. 7 sketched State's perspective. A State Department spokesman said the skills "needed for the additional staff" (of 350 people) "are not skill sets in which any foreign service in the world ... are proficient." State "would provide leadership," the spokesman added, but "most of the staffing required would involve specialists like agricultural technicians."

Would that this were the usual budget tiff or Beltway blame game. It's not. Nor is it merely a fight over coordinating the military-security, economic and political "lines of operation" in Iraq, Afghanistan and the entire Global War on Terror, though it is that in spades.

Last week's DOD-State clash was the latest manifestation of America's greatest failure: the inability to achieve "Unified Action." That's the dry, wonkish term for coordinating and synchronizing every "tool of power" America possesses to achieve a strategic goal.

In a column published on Oct. 25, 2006, I queried then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about this abiding problem: "Mr. Secretary, based on our experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the limited interagency and non-governmental organization (NGO) participation in that operation, how do you see 'Unified Action' evolving for future conflicts?"


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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