Friday, March 11, 2016

Quotable: Christopher Holshek on engagement, study abroad, and exchanges

Thursday, March 10th 2016
“The United States is once again in the midst of an inward turn,” wrote retired Army Colonel Christopher Holshek in a March 4, 2016, essay in the Huffington Post.  Education deficits, “bad-guy bashing and fear mongering,” “a post Cold War exodus of troops, diplomats, and developers from posts abroad,” the closing of overseas media bureaus, and other trends have led to “America's Foreign Engagement Gap.” 

“The fact that ‘they know more about us than we know about them’ -- politically and economically as well as militarily -- is America's main grand strategic vulnerability going forward,” he added.

After reviewing the status of Civil Affairs in the U.S. Army, Holshek made a strong case for diplomacy, development, public diplomacy, study abroad programs, and education exchanges.

  • At a Civil Affairs Symposium last November, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, deputy commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command -- and among the military's top thinkers -- critiqued the Pentagon's relentless obsession with firepower, technology, and tactics over strategy.

  • War, he stressed, is more about humans than hardware. Being an extension of politics and thus about the consolidation of gains leading to a sustainable and lasting political outcome, war is ultimately a contest of wills and fundamentally as psychological as it is physical. Being uncertain, it also demands "adaptability, endurance, and a willingness to learn."

  • All that means the military has to be a force of cooperation as much as confrontation, including "Phase Zero" activities to engage security partners abroad that could head-off full-scale conflict that comprise most of the military's emerging mission template.

  • Despite the most prominent early lesson of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan being the inability of U.S. operators (in or out of uniform) to understand foreign cultures, not much has changed to address this systemic shortfall.

  • Capacities like Civil Affairs still represent less than one-half of one percent of the entire Joint Force - the rest is focused on "kinetic" operations.

  • Forged from nearly two centuries of engagement in military government and working with local, interagency, and multinational partners, Civil Affairs helps transition war-torn areas in the performance of peace and stability operations. Being mostly part-time because of their access to civilian mentalities as well as skills, they are habitually under-sourced. The Reserves, ideal for engagement missions and where 85 percent of Civil Affairs is nested, are funded for only two weeks of work with partners overseas. That's hardly enough time to figure out where the bathroom is.

  • The danger of Bush and Obama's preference to use stand-off precision weapons platforms like drones to deal with the Taliban or Islamic State is that they present no human face of American engagement with affected populations, ceding the psychological spaces at the center of gravity of peace and security and presenting such outliers an open field to shape local narratives of the United States, its policies, and its people. Facebook and Twitter are not enough.

  • The connection is clear: The more you engage other people, the more you know about them, their culture, their interests and what drives them - thus, the better your situational awareness and understanding of an environment increasingly impacting your own interests, and the better you are able to learn and can exploit opportunities as well as anticipate problems.

  • The fact that "they know more about us than we know about them" - politically and economically as well as militarily - is America's main grand strategic vulnerability going forward.

  • As many including retired Admiral James Stavridis have posed, military power can win battles, but only soft power, resident mainly among civilian agencies, organizations, and actors, can seal the deal of winning the peace and - increasingly importantly - help prevent the next calamity.

  • Engagement is more than winning-hearts-and-minds and public relations gimmickry, something hard to understand for those who themselves come from a highly transactional society. Foreign encounters of all kinds are all about building and maintaining relationships, because that's how things get done in most places. It's how to build trust -- the social capital needed to move things forward -- over here as well as over there.

  • . . . there are a few steps that the U.S. government could take right now to strengthen its global capability in collaborative leadership through greater strategic investment in diplomacy and development. The walk, however, has yet to catch up with the talk.

  • Even the latest "increase" of the International Affairs Budget reveals a congressional shell game -- the spike in (less accountable) Overseas Contingency Operations covering cuts of close to five percent for (more accountable) core international programs. Once again, Uncle Sam is still running the wrong way.

  • Antiquated practices need purging. As was done with the military after the Civil War, the country's corps of diplomats and developers needs professionalization -- the nearly one-third of political appointees should be pared down or eliminated.

  • . . . there should be incentives for more Americans to engage with and in foreign cultures, enlarging the pool of those with first-hand knowledge of other peoples and countries for public and private sector resourcing as well as helping to raise the national foreign intelligence IQ.

  • . . . the three "D's" - diplomacy, development, and defense - should especially make a more conscientious effort to leverage diasporas, at home as well as abroad.

  • In this day and age, the relationships among peoples are becoming at least as important as the relationships between states. That's why activities like the State Department's educational exchange program, among Washington's most effective at public diplomacy, should be expanded exponentially. Its program budget of less than $600 million includes funds for about 100,000 American students abroad.

  • A comprehensive effort to enable young Americans of all backgrounds to study abroad would "improve American society and American foreign policy," as professor Sanford J. Ungar lays out in Foreign Affairs.

  • Beyond the immeasurable intangibles, such initiatives pay for themselves many times over -- like most development, they are an investment, not a cost. At home, in turn, education policies should emphasize more history, geography, and foreign languages.

Author: Donald M. Bishop

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