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Sunday
Jun242007

Africa command: How America organizes to win war and peace

For years now, I’ve argued for splitting America’s military into one force that wins conventional wars and another that focuses on crisis response, disaster relief, post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, and counter-insurgency operations. That decisive bifurcation of our forces is currently on display in Africa.

I dub the war-fighting force the Leviathan, a term borrowed from the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose book of the same name described why man’s life was then filled with wars: the lack of an all-powerful entity that enforced global peace. America’s conventional force constitutes just such a capability in today’s world.

Numerous academic studies document that we’re currently enduring less conventional warfare per capita than ever before in human history. America’s role as global Leviathan is the necessary but insufficient cause: necessary to rule out great power war but marginal in comparison to globalization lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty in the last quarter-century.

Our struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan likewise prove the Leviathan’s limited utility. If everyone is an "asymmetrical foe," then no one will fight your Leviathan. Instead, much like Hezbollah versus Israel last August in Lebanon, your opponent refuses to fight the war and simply waits for the ensuing postwar, where the Leviathan’s otherwise superior capabilities are neutralized by unconventional means.

In doing so, these entities force us to field a force more specifically suited to these postwar struggles. That force I’ve called our System Administrator force, or SysAdmin for short.

I employ that information-age term because this force is closer in form and function to the police, emergency response and infrastructure maintenance elements that manage our increasingly complex world. Extending that capacity to off-grid locations suffering postwar and post-disaster deprivations is particularly difficult because we’ll often face highly inventive opponents hell-bent on exploiting that tumult for political gain.

So, yeah, this force must be able to enforce peace, not just keep it. It will require lots of boots on the ground, and to avoid perceptions of American imperialism, those forces must be drawn overwhelmingly from other countries, especially those currently most involved with globalization’s advance — such as China and India.

Globalization comes with rules but no ruler, so this SysAdmin force must skew in directions far different from the Leviathan: more civilian than military, more rest-of-the-U.S.-government than just the Defense Department, more international than simply American, and — most importantly — more private sector investment than foreign aid.

The SysAdmin force must be all about improving the investment climate, enabling enough security and economic activity to generate the impression of a low-cost country just waiting to be exploited for its cheap wages. Sound crass? Look at this way: Either we leave the country more connected than we found it, meaning more able to access the global economy and be "exploited" by it or we condemn it to further rounds of deprivation, disaster and mass violence — your choice.

No country in human history has developed without access to outside capital, so either we connect these disconnected societies or we can simply schedule our Leviathan’s next visit five years hence. In sum, either we plan to win the peace or there’s little sense in winning the war.

Right now in East Africa, in the form of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), we see this bifurcation naturally occurring: The task force has no firepower worth mentioning. Its 1,500 troops consist primarily of military trainers, well-diggers, medics and civil affairs specialists. The task force has never fired a round in anger since being set up five years ago.

Embedded alongside this task force, however, is Central Command’s special operations forces, the Leviathan that co-exists uneasily with the SysAdmin.

That force will occasionally — and with great discretion — swoop into the task force’s multiple "precincts" like a SWAT force, capturing and killing bad guys with impunity. These are the guys who shot up southern Somalia last January, looking for al-Qaida’s foreign fighters.

CJTF-HOA will serve as a template for America’s new Africa Command, pioneering — within this SysAdmin form — new levels of interagency and international cooperation. By combining defense, diplomacy and development — the so-called 3-D approach — in a synergistic manner, Africa Command strives to become everything our occupation of Iraq is not.

Many observers decry this expansion of U.S. military power. In contrast, I see our military, when left to its own devices in this strategic backwater, forging the obvious solution.

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