The Changing Roles of the Regional Commanders In ChiefAmbassador Robert B. Oakley and Dana Priest
Remarks to the Open Forum
March 23, 2001
Question and Answer Session
Q: Thanks for two superb presentations. I am a Fellow in the House of Representatives, and I work both with the State Department and the Pentagon frequently in getting folks up to the Hill to do presentations and study groups on new security issues or post-Cold War security issues. I am wondering as a staff person on the Hill, what could be done to improve interagency policy and program coordination between the Pentagon and the State Department? For example, I can walk down to the basement of the Rayburn Building everyday and see all the military branches represented there. They arrange trips to Camp Lejeune, Quantico, and the Crisis Operation Center at the Pentagon. One of the things I have brought up with them is the possibility of arranging role-playing exercises in a civilian-military operation center and including people from the Hill just to make it more real. One senses that Congress doesnít care much for the UN nor for multilateralism. One senses that international affairs issues are not assigned a very high priority on the Hill because it is just a little bit too hard to get an in depth understanding of these matters.
Ambassador Oakley: Fortunately, Secretary Powell has already taken an important step by approving a recommendation Mrs. Albright specifically disapproved -- having State Department liaison officers on the Hill just like the military which has liaison officers on the Hill. His concept as I understand it, is to make the Bureau of Legislative Affairs into a bridge rather than a dam.
Ms. Priest: Now, I have found that the military is all very open to telling people what it does on a certain level; thatís why it has a large office on the Hill. The focus of that office is often on procurement and some of the other clear-cut policy choices that legislators confront. What we are talking about is more nebulous, in a way. We are describing something that the Pentagon doesnít feel comfortable doing -- stepping into this vacuum in international affairs in the aftermath of the Cold War. I think Members of Congress who approach the Pentagon office on the Hill asking for certain things will get them. And I would think that if Members approached the State Department, that eventually the State Department would come up with a way to satisfy them.
Ambassador Oakley: Dana, if you begin to discuss the issues before they become public and before Members have taken a position then you are likely to find more support. If one waits, which is usually how congressional relations are conducted, then itís too late. At that point, people have dug in and that makes it much more difficult. If you look at what Dick Holbrooke did in undoing this animus toward the UN, by personal diplomacy, working really hard over a long period of time with individual Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with others on the Hill, we may find the keys to success. It can be done, but it takes a lot of work and it takes a whole different attitude.
Q: I am with the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities in Quantico. One of the things we know from our military experience is that exercises, games and so forth produce valuable lessons about how our systems and personnel work. Whatís the likelihood that weíll be able to develop joint, combined coalition exercises and operations to the point where we get the same sort of lessons learned and the same sort of proficiency in a crisis that calls for that?
Ambassador Oakley: First I would like to challenge your thesis. Having attended a number of lessons-learned conferences on Bosnia, the whole thing is done on an ad hoc basis each time you start a new operation. Sometimes, people planning it at the operational level and in Washington are smart enough, indeed, to pick up the lessons from the past and to apply them, but not always.
This whole idea of combined planning and combined operations came very, very slowly to the Clinton administration. It came only after the shock of what happened in Somalia on the October 3-4, 1993, when they realized suddenly that there was no crisis management element, either in the State Department or the Pentagon, much less a combined mechanism. There was no combined, high-level attention being paid to what was going on, politically and militarily. And they began to develop, what eventually became PDD 56. They developed a crisis management approach built around something called the "ExCom," which actually tasked Assistant Secretaries of State and various people in the Joint Staff with specific assignments and provided follow-up to make sure that they were done.
Then for Haiti the same mechanism engaged in political-military planning for the first time. It produced a combined plan, at least the beginnings of a plan and looked at how each element -- civilian and military -- would deal with the situation in Haiti. Of course then they had a year to get ready. That was an improvement.
When the Bosnia crisis occurred, that mechanism was virtually thrown out the window. The regional bureau in the State Department and the regional office in the NSC said, "We will deal with it. We donít want the crisis management people, they will get in our way." So, we had a civilian element over here and a military element over there -- the combined approach was tossed in the trashcan. It has been this way periodically; sometimes they do and sometimes they donít. There are many presidential decision documents that call for doing it, and sometimes they are applied and sometimes they are not. The new set of organizational arrangements has specifically excluded PDD 56 -- I guess because it is felt to be a symbol of getting us involved in all sort of pesky little operations overseas we donít like. Therefore, there is [the thought] that if we do away with the presidential decisions document, weíll do away with the need to get involved in these operations, which I think is totally false because they are going to come up and bite you. One way or another you are going to get involved. They are going to be there, and you are not going to be able to avoid all of them. I hope the Administration is going to come back to the realization that they need some sort of mechanism that systematically pulls the military and civilians together here in Washington to look ahead and, if possible, to avoid crises -- a proactive rather than a reactive approach.
Ms. Priest: Can I just add -- the Goldwater-Nichols Act was a way to force the bureaucracy to work together. The services are not going to do this on their own; itís not in each of their interests to do it on their own. The same goes for your question. I canít tell you how many times I hear everyone saying the same thing. Doesnít it make sense or why does it? No one says, "It doesnít." It makes sense. So, whoís going to force the interests of the Pentagon and the interests of the State Department to work together? I think thatís where you need either presidential leadership or congressional leadership. The committees and people there need to force the issue because itís not going to happen any other way. The interests are just too engrained.
Ambassador Oakley: Wonder what degree of cooperation they have between congressional committees?
Q: The issue of alignment -- aligning the geographic regions of the State Department with those of the Pentagon -- should be fairly simple and straightforward. But if the State Department doesnít have a structural equivalent -- an institutional infrastructure equivalent to the CINCs -- it might be missing an operational level as well. If the work of the State Department is defined in terms of bilateral relationships, one canít work very easily on a regional or transnational basis, much less transregionally, what alternative structures should we consider? One suggestion is to develop an organizational framework, one that complements the CINC structure, a civilian unified structure. The biggest gap is evident in the strategic view back in Washington because the diplomatic perspective in the field is bilateral.
Ambassador Oakley: When the thinking, whatever caliber it might be on bigger policy issues, is largely confined to a small handful of people on the seventh floor in the State Department, it makes it very, very difficult indeed to have the sort of shared vision and shared approach that you were talking about, Dana. It makes cooperation between the Assistant Secretary and the CINC more difficult as well, particularly when these contacts are discouraged rather than encouraged -- and they would be discouraged by the Secretary of State just as much as they would be by the Secretary of Defense. I suspect all thatís going to change. If you look at the Carlucci Report, again it deals with these issues very clearly about empowering the ambassadors and giving them more authority so they will have the ability to control the agencies. It also talks about the proper role for the State Department, as well as that of the National Security Council. I think some of these bigger issues are very, very important. Empowering Assistant Secretaries, which I am sure Secretary of State Powell is going to do rather than sort of castrating them, will enable the reforms proposed in the Carlucci Report to take hold. We need to expand the role of the Assistant Secretary within the executive civilian agencies and regard the Executive Branch as a coordinator and not a dictatorship. We should strengthen the relationship between the Assistant Secretary and the regional CINC, and include the Joint Staff for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. You donít want a secret operation going on off to the side here between your Assistant Secretary of State and your CINC -- it should be transparent, but it should be there.
Ms. Priest: I would like to add a final note. There were often marked differences between the conversations CINCs have with diplomats who were career ambassadors as opposed to those who were political contributors and who later received ambassadorships in important countries. The difference is, obviously, one of competence and confidence. The career diplomats have much more serious conversations with CINCs and are much more willing to stand up and say, "No," if thatís what they really think is the right thing to do. It should not be surprising to anyone that political appointees often seem unable to do that. If diplomats are going to compete at some level sometimes with the CINCs, then you must look at the playing field and have realistic expectations. The CINCs are the best leaders the military produces, and they have been in the military their entire careers. They are respected by their people and are respected by most anyone they come in contact with and they merit that. [It is] not always so from the State Department angle. So, thatís a different take on your question.
Ambassador Oakley: I would like to add one word, Alan. I am pleased to see former Open Forum Chair Rosemary OíNeill in the audience. She made many important contributions to the Department at Open Forum Chair. I want to commend the Open Forum for arranging this series and for continuing a tradition of excellence.
Note: At the conclusion of this program, Ambassador Oakley and Dana Priest received the Open Forumís Distinguished Public Service Award. Ms. Priest was awarded the Forumís Excellence in Journalism Award.