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?"
"Limited interagency" participation was an intentionally bland way of describing our near-total reliance on military personnel to substitute (on an extended basis) for diplomats, agriculture experts and financial advisers.
Rumsfeld replied that the United States is "better at it now than we were five years ago."
The hard truth is, America has never been good at coordinating diplomatic, information, military and economic efforts ("DIME" being the acronym).
World War II U.S. military planning guru Gen. Albert Wedemeyer argued that we didn't do it well in that conflict. "Our failure to use political, economic and psychological means in coordination with military operations during the war also prolonged its duration and caused the loss of many more American lives," Wedemeyer wrote in 1958. Wedemeyer concluded that no side won World War II, since it morphed into the Cold War. Americans did not get the victory their troops earned.
Wedemeyer's opinion matters. As a major in 1941, Gen. George Marshall tasked him to assess the demands of a global war and then devise a mobilization plan to fight it. Wedemeyer's "victory program" became the spine of the U.S. mobilization effort.
Recommendations 74, 75 and 76 of The Iraq Study Group (ISG), published in November 2006, echo Wedemeyer. Here's Recommendation 75: The United States "needs to improve how its constituent agencies -- Defense, State ... Treasury, Justice, the intelligence community ... -- respond to a complex stability operation like that represented by this decade's Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the previous decade's operations in the Balkans. They need to train for, and conduct, joint operations across agency boundaries, following the Goldwater-Nichols model that has proved so successful in the U.S. armed services."
The Global War on Terror is a war for neighborhoods. The war will only be won by successful economic development and political evolution, supported by military and police action.