The Foreign Service Journal, May 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2022 71 The Stabilization Debates Why VietnamMatters was published in 2008 when the U.S. was struggling through two other counterinsurgency campaigns that to many were reminis- cent of Vietnam. It established Phillips’ place in the debates then underway about state stabilization, debates which ultimately led Congress to pass the Global Fragility Act of 2019. But it was a period of intense frustra- tion for Phillips, who watched Iraq and Afghanistan play out with seemingly no application of the many lessons that by then should have been absorbed or at least led to caution and humility. In the chapter on Iraq in Stabilizing Fragile States , he comments, for example, on the “stunning lack of cultural aware- ness and political acumen” in the early team there, followed by economic and military surges that were never matched by a consistent effort to build a political system that would deliver for the Iraqi people. In Afghanistan, where he spent time as an election observer and adviser on his 80th birthday, he similarly notes the early failure to support political negotia- tions with the Taliban, with “U.S. brute force tactics” often fueling the very insur- gency they were intended to curtail. He concludes that the strategy overall simply “failed to consider the reaction of the Afghan people and their leaders to having their country used as a counter- terrorist platform with little or no support for their own self-defense.” There are bright spots in the narrative, and Phillips is keen to highlight them. He suggests that El Salvador is a country where the government, with indirect U.S. support, robbed the insurgents of their political cause, fought them to a standstill and made peace. And in a chapter on Colombia’s strug- gle with the FARC insurgency group, he shows how the U.S. did not smother or undercut the nationalist credentials of the country’s leaders, but rather encour- aged their good instincts in developing a new “culture of citizenship,” alongside an effective national military strategy. He holds out the Colombia case as a “guideline for action” for other strug- gling states and their supporters. An Entirely New Concept Phillips turns in the second half of Stabilizing Fragile States to what is perhaps the most interesting for this audience: the architecture and person- nel for doing stabilization, centered on a proposal for an entirely new task—politi- cal action. An entirely new officer would Rufus Phillips on a 1954 inspection trip to a formerly Viet Minh–controlled area in the Mekong Delta recently handed over to the South Vietnamese Army. COURTESYOFRUFUSPHILLIPS be needed to conduct the new task—the political action officer, working in a new organization, the State-USAID Joint Stability Assistance Team. Phillips reflects back on times when such a unit could have made a differ- ence in what became a national catas- trophe—Somalia in 1993, for instance, when weak U.N./U.S. political work led to the Black Hawk Down fiasco and the unraveling of the entire mission; or Iraq in 2003, when lack of a “viable political strategy for creating a national compact among the country’s contending fac- tions” led to that country’s undoing. The team’s first task would be to understand the country’s “competitive environment.” While they are not there to directly intervene, they are there to know what the host-country govern- ment will need to do to win, a step well beyond conventional reporting and representation. From there, they are to seek out ways to help effective local leadership, with whom they have developed relation- ships of trust and confidence, design and help carry out political and military strategies to achieve stability. All of this is done with an eye to fos- tering “sustainable economic and social improvements with a positive political impact” and “boosting citizen participa- tion in government.” The models for these specially selected and trained officers, Phillips suggests, are T.E. Lawrence, Lansdale and, more recently, retired Ambassador James Bullington, whose work under the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations in 2012 helped resolve the political dispute between the Senegalese government and its Casamance region. Bullington became a “facilitator, coach, adviser, partner and personal trainer,” able to earn the good faith of both sides