Austin Bay

Maintaining a competent military organization is a challenge for wealthy nations, even in times of relative peace. Bureaucrats and politicians hijack budgets as politically connected officers wrangle promotions at the expense of creative, forward-thinking war-fighters. War reveals the organizational corruption, stagnation and decay, and this institutional decline exacts a stiff price in soldiers' sweat and blood.

The "rich man's security challenge," however, pales when compared to the multidimensional security problems of the impoverished, fractured and terrorized. Afghanistan is a pertinent case, but only one of many on the planet. Africa has at least a score of different-yet-similar situations -- the different being varied cultural and historical contexts; the similar being embittered factions (ethnic, religious, ideological), weak government institutions, corruption, violence and lethal weaponry.

The United Nations' attempts to forge an effective national army in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one example. Burundi is another, where building a new military requires slowly dismantling the old Burundian Army (an institution once dominated by the Tutsi tribe) and integrating former Hutu guerrillas into its ranks.

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Creating a disciplined army in a country like Afghanistan, which confronts terrorist assaults, tribal guerrilla attacks, criminal intimidation and political fragmentation is difficult, but it is not a new difficulty and it is not an impossible task. The process however, is time-consuming, requires extraordinary patience and flexibility, and moreover requires balancing the immediate demands of the ongoing war with achieving long-term goals.

Achieving that balance between the immediate needs and the long-term good is always tough. During the American Revolution, George Washington understood his army's mere existence was a strategic strength, and that his inadequately equipped and spottily trained forces had to be used wisely.

Revolutionary America's motivated militiamen needed time to gain experience and become a competent, disciplined army. Yet many American political leaders, quite understandably, constantly pressured Washington to attack the British Army.

Washington fought 220 years before the advent of the 24-7 news cycle. After a week of frost-bitten video from Valley Forge, the strategic geniuses at ABC, NBC and CBS would have demanded Washington's resignation -- and then become colonial subsidiaries of the BBC.


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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