The Foreign Service Journal, September 2009

36 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 9 to make in Afghanistan, where many Provincial Reconstruction Team leaders are military officers, not civilians. While building roads, other in- frastructure and development proj- ects like hospitals might have mili- tary or strategic significance, they are also complicated political decisions. Who gets the con- tract and employment for building the new road? Who decides in what direction it will go and why? Whose apple orchard is going to be cut down to make room for the road? Who is going to pave and maintain it? Sol- diers can’t make those decisions, and it is unfair to ask them to. This is not because civilians necessarily know better, but because they can more easily and effectively empower local communities to solve problems. And it is within that context that diplomats must step up and op- erate. Two years ago, the Bush administration supple- mented the military “surge” in Iraq by expanding the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams and aug- menting their responsibilities. Appropriately, these teams were led by diplomats, with a corresponding em- phasis on the civilian role and responsibility to the local population in resolving conflict. This approach helped consolidate the military gains and made a real difference on the ground. Iraq certainly continues to face chal- lenges, but the situation there has improved significantly. And that success comes from putting civilians in posi- tions of authority, which sends a strong message that we are not present as conquerors. The familiar saying, “all politics is local,” has a corol- lary: Development is localized, too. Imagine you’re a Foreign Service officer in Sadr City, with a development goal of reopening Iraqi businesses. If you succeed in partnering with local leadership and achieve economic growth that matches or even exceeds the levels prior to the invasion, that represents tangible success. Moreover, you have given the population a sense that things are im- proving, that there is hope. In such a situation, civilian leadership has done as much to resolve the larger con- flict as military action, and quite possibly more. I witnessed such efforts succeed in Adhamiya, part of Baghdad, in 2007 and 2008. Yes, I saw plenty of mis- takes and failures during my tenure in Iraq. But I also saw a genuine desire to move economic development in the right direction, and observed many achievements that made a real, lasting difference. So imag- ine how much more we could have accomplished if only we’d had more qualified civilian personnel with the requisite experience in development. Strengthen Civilian Capacity That said, the problem isn’t just a lack of people. It is a matter of getting the right people with the proper train- ing to where they are needed. Sadly, that capability does not yet exist within the United States government. So before civilians can step up to bear their share of the re- sponsibility, Washington will need to develop the requi- site organizational tools and expertise. In Iraq, for example, civilian agencies literally had no capacity to keep up with the military surge in 2007. De- fense Secretary Robert Gates, a strong public supporter of civilian roles in conflict zones, was reportedly surprised when he discovered that the State Department could not even come up with a few hundred people to staff the em- bedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams. To be sure, State and USAID officers are fully engaged all over the world on the diplomatic basics: visa adjudica- tion, HIV/AIDS programs, economic development, trade promotion and countless bilateral and multilateral issues. Yet both agencies are tiny. It is frequently asserted that the Department of Defense has more military musicians than State has diplomats, or that State’s budget is smaller than some fraction of the operating cost of one battleship. Whatever the truth of those claims, it is indisputable that both State and USAID are grossly underfunded and un- derstaffed. As it stands, they are simply unable to take on the mandates of a civilian organization that is a partner with the military in a modern conflict zone. When I took over as PRT leader for Sadr City and Adhamiya, I selected reservist officers to cover various areas. “Regular” civilians came later. The reservists were heroic, highly capable and dedicated; but they had no ex- perience promoting economic development in a foreign country. Even those few who had arguably relevant back- grounds were too mired in the military culture of urgency to be able to give development goals much attention. They often did not realize that establishing the process for build- ing a road was often more central to stabilizing an area F O C U S Success in conflict zones comes largely from local governance — not American military leadership.