Abolish the “body-count culture.”
The op-ed by Sarah Chayes, entitled The world after Petraeus appearing in today’s L.A. Times urges President Obama to seize the opportunity to reset his foreign policy: Base it less on military than political, intelligence, and diplomatic solutions.
Ms. Chayes writes,
Obama should … reverse one of the most dysfunctional elements of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade: an infatuation with military solutions to problems that are fundamentally political.
And as for the use of drones, a tactic with which the President appears most comfortable,
[S]uch an approach [drone attacks], though cheaper in resources and American lives, is still flawed. It is still a military answer to problems that are deeply political in nature and rooted in a complex mix of history, regional and cultural particularism, and the effects of a protracted abuse of power by elites.
Of late, a body-count culture has prevailed at the CIA, exemplified by the secretive drone campaign. If 60 intelligence professionals are assigned to planning and monitoring each drone in the air, as has been reported, that’s 60 who are not on the ground in country, interacting with locals, gaining an intuitive feel for the dynamics.
This brings to mind a long-standing fault of U.S. foreign policy: The reliance on military hardware rather than good, old-fashioned intelligence gathering to, as they teach at the war colleges, “prep the battlefield.” As former CIA officer Robert Baer argues quite well in his excellent book, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism, we would be better served diverting money from military gadgets to human intelligence or “HUMINT.” Knowledge of cultural, political and sectarian factors–yes, down to the village level–would go a long way to support diplomacy and internationally sanctioned police actions, if absolutely necessary to bring bad guys to justice.
We have a sneaking suspicion–with tongue firmly planted in cheek–the administration and it’s congressional rubber stampers are inclined toward military solutions due to the influence of the defense contractors. There’s a lot more money to line contractors’ pockets in the military hardware business than in having intel boots on the ground; case in point, the big-ticket defense projects Congress attempts to shove down the Pentagon’s throat over objections from the administration that they are redundant or unnecessary.
Lastly, Ms. Chayes cites her own experience of living and working in Kandahar, Afghanistan for over eight years when she writes of being “stunned by how long it took U.S. officials to realize that tribes were key to Afghan social structure. U.S. officials resisted meeting with ordinary Afghans, dealing instead with members of a self-serving and unpopular government. So, for more than a decade, the U.S. government was operating almost blind.”
Common sense would argue that this shift in foreign policy cannot be achieved overnight and that it will not solve our militarily overindulgent failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. But it should give pause to officials contemplating the next steps vis-a-vis Iran, Syria, China, etc. We should all urge President Obama and Congress to dig in their heels during the ongoing budget negotiations. They must demand Pentagon budget (especially hardware) cuts, shifting those funds to domestic infrastructure and foreign peace-building efforts.
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