September 1, 2006  

Countering chaos

A Marine Corps general’s strategy for peace in an unstable world

Retired Gen. Tony Zinni is the proverbial E.F. Hutton of defense advice. When he speaks, people tend to listen — and rightfully so. His insights on the intricate dynamics of the Middle East, honed over several tours as a Marine officer, commander at U.S. Central Command and presidential envoy have been sought out regularly. Sometimes that advice was accepted, other times it was not. Far more often than not, people should have listened. His track record, especially with regard to the current debacle in Iraq, is unerringly prescient.

That is what makes this book so irritating.

In “The Battle for Peace,” the pragmatic retired Marine general outlines a strategy that will match America’s power and purpose to better address tomorrow’s security challenges. With his co-author, Tony Koltz, Zinni explains the chaotic nature of today’s insecurity and argues for a strategy centered on countering instability. Based on his four decades of government service, he believes the U.S. must do all it can to create stability or quell impending disorder. The alternative is to do nothing, to hunker down and gamble again that chaos and disorder will not visit our shores. That is a false hope, Zinni contends. Too many societies are too close to instability and “the problems out there will come to affect all of us in the stable part of the world, and this is happening with ever-increasing frequency.” The sinews of this strategy are built upon selective early engagement, international organizations, regional development and today’s Pentagon mantra of “building partnership capacity.”

While the ends of strategy are cogently laid out and appealing, the means are not. As the 9/11 Commission noted several years ago, “As presently configured, the national security institutions of the U.S. government are still the institutions constructed to win the Cold War.” The commission urged the government to adapt its traditional bureaucracies for a new world that requires fast, creative and agile responses. Zinni is especially critical of the organizational reforms to date, particularly the homeland security and intelligence reforms. These are dismissed as “creating additional stand-alone bureaucracies.” This will surprise anyone familiar with the national response plan for domestic disasters or the true nature of intelligence reform, which added an integrating layer but not a stand-alone institution. Zinni goes on to propose altered and new institutions to better integrate, coordinate and collaborate on the fly.

Rather than create single-mission bureaucracies, which suffer from a stovepiped outlook, he strongly urges the U.S. government to embrace a vertical flattening and decentralized approach to adapt to the fast-breaking nature of today’s complex era. Not surprisingly, given his background, the general is comfortable with military structures and approaches. This may confuse the reader. If you’re looking for agile, lean and flattened structures, the Pentagon is hardly a model worthy of emulation. Those familiar with the sclerotic nature of the Pentagon and the deliberate nature of the joint planning process may find its pathologies turned into virtues somewhat disconcerting.

At the strategic level, the authors define a need for a new organization to integrate the relevant national-level agencies, using a small cadre of permanent personnel and members drawn from every department to ensure direct input and involvement. They propose the creation of the National Monitoring and Planning Center (NMPC). Its responsibilities include monitoring unstable areas, destabilizing conditions and emerging threats. It is to serve as an integrating organization, providing all views from each relevant agency, all of whom would be represented. Knowledgeable readers will note that the NMPC has the same task as the National Security Council staff. The authors fail to make this distinction or offer criticisms of the existing system. The proposal has merit, but readers are left short-changed.

At the operational level, the existing joint military command structure is presented as a paragon of organizational efficiency. The military model is described as “far more efficient, far more flexible, and far more responsive to … fast moving changes and new challenges.” To enhance the ability of the country to conduct the kind of multi-agency operations that today’s contingencies call for, Zinni recommends the creation of four standing joint interagency task forces to support each combatant commander. There is a huge presumption here that the Pentagon’s command structure and doctrine remain the optimal means of applying all instruments of American power.

At the tactical level, Zinni urges the establishment of the Inter-Agency Field Force — “a deployable, civilian capability that would join military forces in the field to handle the nonmilitary dimensions of program implementation or postconflict recovery and reconstruction.” The general envisions a modular force but not a specific design or structure. This force would be administered and supported by military units, with the civilians retaining their identity and chain back to their parent agencies, paralleling military lines of command. Without a hint of irony, Zinni compares the Inter-Agency Field Force as “a CPA-like capability,” referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority that governed Iraq until June 2004. There is no discussion of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams that are being used in Afghanistan or the Advanced Civilian Team construct being promoted by the U.S. State Department’s Coordinator for Stability and Reconstruction.

Zinni’s proposals are less detailed and far less original than initiatives put forward more than a year ago by the administration and by influential studies issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. These and other studies have offered detailed organizational designs, as well as the requisite doctrine, training and education programs required to make them effective. Zinni would do well to study the planning, intelligence and cultural flaws that have hampered U.S. efforts in Iraq to inform his proposals. It is not clear whether proposals would generate the common vision, unity of effort, fused intelligence and integrated multidimensional operations required for today’s complex contingencies. Following his model could institutionalize the separate and poorly integrated “lines of operation” that presently characterize a military-dominated approach and outdated operational art.

All told, “The Battle for Peace” reflects a lot of common sense and a well-balanced future strategy for the U.S. Readers dissatisfied with ideological approaches will find the author’s strategy free from blind adherence to academic theory. This will make the book worth acquiring, if only as an antidote to the pedantic musings passed on as revealed wisdom from the chattering class in Washington. The authors’ arguments for taking on potentially disruptive sick cases is a viable strategy. This book easily outpaces fanciful theories about “flat worlds” and dysfunctional gaps in describing the nature of today’s dynamics.

But, despite its subtitle, this is not a front-line perspective on today’s challenges. Quite the contrary, it suffers from a tinge of rear-view-mirror driving. Readers looking for a more comprehensive and true interagency approach are encouraged to look elsewhere.

Frank Hoffman is a retired Marine officer and a nonresident fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.