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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2001 - 2002

The Changing Roles of the Regional Commanders In Chief - Robert B. Oakley

Ambassador Robert B. Oakley, Distinguished Visiting Fellow
Washington, DC
March 23, 2001

Opening Remarks and Introduction by Alan Lang, Chairman of the Open Forum

Photo of Ambassador Robert B. OakleyDana Priest is, I think, the foremost analytical defense reporter, not just a first-rate investigative reporter. There is a difference between the two, and when you combine them, I think you have something really superb.

I think your point about those who want to rein in the CINCs is interesting in the context of discussions about U.S. defense during the [2000 presidential] campaign, which focused almost exclusively upon various types of technology and weapons systems, but not very much on the world as it is and the things in which [the U.S.] is involved. The same thing is true, to a degree, in the last quadrennial defense review, where [DoD] hinted at some of the things that needed to be changed, but they werenít able to address them frontally because there was too much resistance. The idea of the military playing this role was one that came about partly by accident. But partly -- as you suggest, Dana -- it was the design of [Joint Chief of Staff Chairman General] Shalikashvili and [former Secretary of Defense Bill] Perry, who were very, very thoughtful. They took a number of things which the military had been doing during the Cold War -- like exercises, military education and training, in order to win hearts and minds for the United States in the competition against the communists -- and transformed them into a doctrine, Preventive Defense, as Perry called it. This was, really, a mixture of diplomacy and defense but conducted by the military using the same instruments as before, including the sale of weapons with military and civilian technicians to teach people how to use their resources and to gain influence. Perry said, "If a country is entering a crisis that may result in a shift between authoritarianism and democracy, I want the military to be on our side, the side of democracy and the United States." Therefore, we began to codify these things and, as you say, they ended up with [very thick] documents, most of which were simple tabulations of what was going on. But the number of contacts and the number of programs were amazing. I guess the same thing would be true if the State Department were to document every contact it had every time any diplomat called upon someone or talked to someone in a foreign government on a given issue. The process, I think really emphasized the role of engagement, and this is spelled out in the official National Security Strategy. There was a great emphasis on what is called "shaping the environment." Again, much of this was taken from Perry and Shalikashvili in the Pentagon on using military influence to determine the course of events abroad. I think this is a very valid objective because, if you look around the world, youíll find that military establishments in many countries are not only politically powerful but are sometimes politically dominant.

The adoption of a new doctrine reflected the transformations underway in the former Soviet bloc and in central and eastern Europe in particular. They designed something called the Partnership for Peace, which is really the ultimate in shaping. By using all of these devices, if you look at it closely, youíll find there and elsewhere around the world, successes in changing the nature of governance. However, this only comes when one takes a combined approach, as happened in central Europe, in particular, where one used bilateral, governmental and multinational economic tools, diplomacy, and military-to-military contacts as part of a concerted effort. In central Europe this has been taking place. The United States is doing that; NATO is doing that; the European Union (EU) is doing that; the Germans are doing that -- as part of a combined effort that included the private sector and the NGO community. All these things were brought to bear upon countries that had formerly been under Soviet sway. The ones where this has been most successful also had some experience with democracy and free enterprise upon which to build.

Finally, they dangled the incentive of being a member of NATO and a member of the EU as the carrot. So, all of these things together produced some very striking changes in Central Europe and in some east European countries where armies no longer have the political roles they used to have. To some degree, weíve been able to employ this approach elsewhere. But I think itís exaggerated if you think the military can do it all alone, which is sort of the basic assumption that was coming out of the Defense Department. Remember, this is coming out of the Defense Department at a time when youíve got a very weak Secretary of State. [Secretary Christopher] would say, "I think itís very good that the Secretary of Defense is doing all of these things," and he meant things that a Secretary of State might ordinarily do. [Christopher] was very appreciative in public of what Perry was doing. Things that, as you point out, Dana, the State Department for various reasons, was not able to do. Part of it involved a lack of resources, as you said, and I think youíre right. The peacetime posture of our foreign relations had been sadly neglected.

Fortunately, it is being turned around now by a new Secretary of State with a lot of support from Congress, as best I can see. I think the Independent Task Force Report on State Department Reform, chaired by Frank Carlucci, underscores imperatives for improving coordination between State and DoD. Let me add that Frank is a former colleague of mine. I was pleased to hear that he recently addressed the Open Forum, Alan. We were classmates at Princeton University and in the A-100 State Department entering course. Frank, having been a career diplomat, then went on to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, National Security Adviser, and finally as Secretary of Defense. He clearly understands the importance of combining a strong defense with vigorous diplomacy. Frankís report is quite different from others that are coming out on national security affairs because it examines the role of the State Department and its relationship with the Defense Department and why the two must work together more effectively -- which is what I strongly believe has to happen.

I can understand the frustration on the part of the CINCs. Letís look at the situation they were put in. The first thing that CENTCOM ran up against in the new administration was the change in mission for Somalia from protecting and assisting in humanitarian operations to one of rebuilding a failed state, disarming it, and making it into a democracy. The latter mission produced confrontation and eventually conflict. What ensued was very, very costly to the military in lots of ways not just in terms of the loss of life or having to withdraw. It also produced a syndrome of "No casualties, thank you very much" as the number one rule for the Clinton administration in any military operation. When that order went out to the task force sent to reinforce our troops in Somalia and also to prepare for their ultimate evacuation, there were four missions assigned to this combined joint task force. Then, somehow the three others disappeared and we ended up with one -- "no casualties."

Thatís one of the things that came out of the experience in Somalia which the military was pushed into after the objectives changed. Policy comes from the top. But there was a shortage of joint thinking about the policies. The result was disastrous for the military. Making sure that your objectives are realistic, making sure that you have the resources to carry out what you decide upon as an objective -- this requires a combined civilian-military operation in policy development at the top, in the White House. It is interesting if you think about people as different as William Tecumseh Sherman and Lakdar Brahimi -- one, a consummate warrior in the civil war, and the other a consummate diplomat working with the UN. Both of them said that force alone is not enough. One has to have something more to achieve oneís objectives. One has to include a framework, a plan for peace after the fighting. I think [the United States] has recently tended to overlook that before fighting. Although the military idea of "shaping" involves laying the groundwork for broader cooperation, it canít be done without essential tools on the civilian side.

The U.S. European Command was given the task of implementing the Dayton Accords -- leading NATO into Bosnia for an operation that was supposed to last for only 1 year, at which point all the military forces would be withdrawn. Deliberate decisions were made at the senior policy level -- in this country and elsewhere -- to separate the civilian side from the military side. Well, anyone with any sense knew this wasnít going to work. And it didnít work. Six years later, we are still there because, in part, things got off to a bad start because rather than working together toward a common objective there was a bifurcation between military and civilian components, in Bosnia, at the operational level.

The second problem in Bosnia may be attributable to faulty thinking and coordination at the strategic level -- thinking that one could somehow produce a multi-ethnic, multi-party, cohesive peaceful democracy out of three entities that had never known anything like that separately and certainly were not about to adopt it together. It has taken a while for the division to become public, but now it is are quite out in the open. Croats donít like the Federation very much. The Bosnians are going their way. The Serbs are going their way. The objective of bringing these groups together in a true democracy in a short time was unrealistic. The military was given the job -- the primary responsibility -- to carry out that objective, which was very frustrating for General Joulwan. It changed his views about the importance of military and civilian cooperation. He is now a great partisan of it, perhaps because in the beginning his mission was to conduct the military [operation] without any regard for what was happening on the civilian side, and he has seen that it does not work.

In Kosovo we have seen a very similar situation develop. Again, the initial objective was spelled out in Security Council Resolutions which sought to stop the killing, get the Serb military and police out, and get the refugees back. Suddenly a second element was added -- NATO would do this in partnership with the United Nations to produce a multi-ethnic democracy in Kosovo. Well, again, that was an unrealistic objective. The military in the dominant role, in this case supported by a civilian United Nations function, would try to make this happen. So far it doesnít look like itís going to be any more successful than was basically the same democratic objective in Bosnia.

In the Middle East, moving from Somalia to the Gulf -- where the entire civilian attention was focused upon Israel and the Palestinians, at least for the past 4 or 5 years -- the military was supposed to somehow sustain a coalition which came together for a specific event at a specific time to get Iraq out of Kuwait. It wasnít meant to be an alliance. Nevertheless, the military was given the responsibility of taking care of all this while the civilians focused on Israel and the Palestinians -- a very frustrating experience for someone like General Zinni. Fortunately, heís a thinker and a diplomat as well as a warrior, as was Charlie [Charles] Wilhelm with respect to his job commanding SOUTHCOM. I served with both of them in Somalia.

It was an exhilarating experience to work with people like that. They are rare. They get exceedingly frustrated, as you point out, because they can see the other side of it and they know what is lacking. And they want help. They donít want to do it alone. They donít want to be proconsuls. They donít want to be the senior[-ranking] American [official] to whom people in these countries turn because they donít think that any other high-ranking Americans will listen to them, which is frequently the case. Think about the telephone calls they get. These calls shouldnít be going to the military. But leaders in many of these countries donít feel that there is anyone on the civilian side to whom they can talk honestly and get honest answers. Zinni said at the beginning that he didnít think this idea of overthrowing Saddam Hussein with a small group of guerillas made much sense. He didnít want a "Bay of Goats" on his watch. He had seen what happened with the Bay of Pigs. He didnít think this was a very good way to proceed because he didnít want to be in the position of being forced to come in to bail these people out when they got into trouble. This got him into a lot of trouble. But it reflected his honest perception and certainly was one that was shared by countries in the region who said, "We donít want any part of this. Furthermore, we think that your sanctions are not working very well. And we donít think youíre totally dedicated to overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Since youíre not, and youíre over there, stop telling us that we have to be working towards overthrowing Hussein because weíre over here, next to him. We have things to gain and things to lose. So weíre going to have a more adaptive, a more flexible policy." This situation was not created by CENTCOM and its CINC. It is a reality that the U.S. must recognize rather than fooling itself.

The same thing is true of Iran. The political policy of dual containment was not realistic over the long term was not one that was shared by the countries in the region and not one that could be sustained. The current Secretary made his initial trip to the region; he listened and came back with very sensible ideas as to what to do. We have a Secretary of State who is engaged in that part of the world, listening to people and talking to them, which is a big plus.

In the Pacific, because of our understandable and commendable dedication to civilian elected governments, we decided that we didnít want to have anything to do with the military in Indonesia. You have an inexperienced civilian government with no institutions sort of floundering out there, taking the place of a military which has run the country under Sukarno and Suharto since it became independent. They were taken out of the game for internal security. For the moment, they seem content to be out of the game because they donít want to get involved in internal security anymore -- itís too messy, there has been too much criticism of the army, and it has caused too many problems within the Indonesian Armed Forces. So weíve decided that we canít talk with the Indonesian Armed Forces at a time when our influence would be helpful to military reform and closer military cooperation with the civilian authorities.

Pakistan is another example. Again, the most powerful political institution in the country was the one with which we didnít want to deal because they were military not civilian. The one time we did deal with them was during a crisis. President Clinton quite wisely asked General Zinni to call upon General Musharraf, someone he had gotten to know before he became the Army Chief. As a result of their conversation, General Musharraf, as an Army Chief, said, "Weíd better climb down from Cargill before we have a huge war with India." This was a direct result of their conversation. Zinni didnít threaten; he didnít make any promises. He just discussed matters calmly and quietly. And this is where military-to-military cooperation and engagement and shaping pays off, Dana. But sometimes we get a little bit idealistic -- too idealistic for our own good. After Zinni came back from that successful trip, he was reportedly told, "No more contacts with General M -." Certainly, no contacts after General M - took over the country, except three times when he was asked by the National Security Adviser to please call General M - and ask him to receive our ambassador. I told Tony [Zinni], "This [request] seems demeaning. I am sure it will be considered by General Musharraf out of courtesy to you, because you are a friend, but it wonít have any effect, the answer to the issue the Ambassador will raise will still be, 'No.'"

This is the sort of stuff that we get ourselves into when we divorce the military side from the civilian side. Whether itís coming from the civilians or whether itís coming from the military. We have to work together. We have to work together in peacetime engagement. We have to work together in crisis situations. We have to work together in low-intensity conflicts -- what they call military operations other than war or contingency operations. We have to work together in time of all-out war, because after the war is over youíre going to have to pick up the pieces. You better think about the shape of the country after the war is over before you begin. If we'd thought a little bit harder about the situation in Serbia after the war was over, we might possibly not have dropped all those bridges in the Danube, which affected all the regional countries, contaminated the river, and created much bigger problems for the new government that has taken over in Serbia. Or [we might not have imposed] the economic embargo upon Haiti that devastated the country, and once a civilian government came back, it had absolutely nothing with which to work. So, one needs to think ahead, whether you are doing the civilian side or the military side.

In my judgment, having watched what works and what doesnít work in Somalia, having watched what works and doesnít work in a lot of places in the world, we need to undertake combined efforts above all but proactive rather than reactive approaches. For the past 8 years or so, maybe a little longer, we have been responding to crises. Why? Because we no longer feel we have a serious competitor, so we can relax. We used to engage in long-term planning and develop long-term programs of a combined nature. Such programs are essential in strengthening democratic institutions, fostering political and economic stability, and making friends at the same time.

This situation reminds me of the small town where one has two car dealers -- General Motors and Ford -- both run by honorable people in competition with each other, committed to providing reasonable prices and excellent service. All of a sudden one of them dies and goes out of business, while the other one gradually raises prices and cuts corners on customer service. Even with the best of intentions, thatís just the way things turn out in many instances. I think that is what has happened to us. We only respond to crises, we donít look ahead. We donít understand operations have got to be not only joint in terms of tapping the resources and talents of all of the services, but also joint and combined in terms of military and civilian involvement and cooperation.

Finally, with respect to the State Department and the CINCs, one sees an artificial problem. The problem is caused by geography. The Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense have the monopoly upon dealing with the civilian agencies at the strategic level which is here in Washington. The CINCs are supposed to deal with the civilian agencies at the tactical level, with ambassadors and country teams. In between is the operational level, which is the CINC. The CINC combines the operational level, if you will, and to some degree, the tactical level in terms of contact with civilian agencies. But the operational level of civilian agencies is in Washington at the Assistant Secretary and Under Secretary level. Yet a CINC is discouraged from having contact with the operational level of the civilian agencies because they are here in Washington co-located with the strategic level.

We need to better harmonize the basic organizational structure of the State Department with that of DoD when it comes to countries in regions. Moreover, we should encourage rather than discourage closer relationships among assistant secretaries at the State Department and regional CINCs. The POLAD can play a very, very important role in this regard, but direct contacts between the regional Assistant Secretary and the CINC remain essential.

One of the best relationships I observed was between PACOM CINC Chuck Larson and Winston Lord, Assistant Secretary for the Far East. They spoke by telephone everyday, as if to say, "To hell with orders and regulations, we understand itís very important for us to work together, to have a common view of the region, and to apply all of our instruments and resources together." CINCs are highly regarded by ambassadors because they bring resources, high-level access, and considerable influence to bear in their designated geographic areas. In sharp contrast to the CINCs, the State Department is perceived as understaffed and lacking resources. This imbalance gives the CINCs a rather distorted view. It is as if they are going around like honeybees from one flower to the next, picking up pieces of pollen in 20, 30 or 40 different countries rather than forming a coherent, integrated view of a region in cooperation with an Assistant Secretary of State and various civilian agencies.

In Haiti, [U.S. Ambassador] Bill Swing made himself a "super-POLAD" but in reality his role was comparable to that of co-chairman with General Shelton in conducting the operation in Haiti. Bill brought a great deal of political wisdom and effectively coordinated the work of the civilian agencies that by law report to the ambassadors. Therefore, if one were to set up two separate groups -- one comprised of the country team and one of people from the same agencies working for the CINC -- these groups would still report to the ambassador by law, and if they have any sense they will do it in practice. But in the absence of coordination, one may end up with some degree of confusion, which is what we have now.

Dana, I think your series has done a great deal to enlighten our thinking on these issues. Certainly, I think the CINCs are portrayed accurately. I think these are not roles they have sought but are roles that have been thrust upon them. They have been very frustrated by the overall policy. They also have been very frustrated by the inability of the State Department to take the initiative in relating to them. I hope this going to change. We will see.

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