Civil-Military Cooperation in a Time of Turmoil

General Anthony Zinni, Former Commander in Chief U.S. Central Command, United States Marine Corps (Ret.); William J. Garvelink, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, USAID

Dec 21, 2004

"The United States' ability to respond to complex challenges is heading for a train wreck and should be overhauled like the recent intelligence reforms," said General Anthony Zinni (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Central Command during a recent meeting co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Post Conflict Reconstruction Project, the Wilson Center's Conflict Prevention Project, and USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and USAID's Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation.

Zinni argued forcefully for the reorganization of American efforts to address the post-Cold War problems of civil war and state collapse. USAID's Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator William Garvelink introduced General Zinni to an overflow crowd of more than 250 people by crediting Zinni with the evolution of better relations between military and civilian counterparts.

General Anthony Zinni is a long-time advocate of improved civil-military cooperation in the interest of post-conflict reconstruction. Throughout his military career, he served in numerous command and staff assignments and has first-hand experience with the challenges of civil-military cooperation. Indeed, over the past fifteen years he has been involved in most of the festering problems that have arisen since the fall of the Berlin Wall. While policymakers optimistically and incorrectly heralded a New World Order, vexing and difficult engagements ranging from Somalia to Iraq replaced the expected peace dividend and have forced military and civilian agencies to reevaluate the way they plan for both war and peace.

Gen. Zinni outlined seven primary deficits in current U.S. capacity for winning the peace, and suggested a number of far-reaching strategic and institutional changes.

The first area Gen. Zinni underscored is the need for a clear mission objective. Too often, military missions creep because they are not adequately defined, and thus succumb to pressures on the ground from civilian parties and from within the military itself to overextend. In Somalia, unrealistic expectations and unclear objectives led the United States down a tenuous road. More recently in Iraq, the repercussions of the mission objectives were not considered. Planners in Washington prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq spoke of "transformation" without an adequate assessment of what this would take in terms of both capacity and planning. Whether the objective is to return the situation to the status quo, reconstruct the society, or transform and stabilize, the goal must be clear, and the costs and timeframe ought to be laid out in advance.

The second point Gen. Zinni made was the need for integrated planning. While coordination inside the U.S. government has improved considerably, agencies still tend to plan in isolation from one another, and then meet on the field on game day working off of different playbooks. Gen. Zinni realized this deficit when U.S. forces bombed Iraq in 1998 and rumblings started to emerge that the state might collapse. He realized that the military had a plan for how to topple the regime, but lacked a plan for winning the peace in its aftermath. A subsequent after-action review confirmed the impression that agencies had not been tasked with developing an integrated plan.

Third, integrated planning needs to be formalized. While General Zinni said he was encouraged by the creation of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization within the State Department, he later argued in the question-and-answer session for an independent organization with direct agency representation reporting to the NSC to assume ongoing monitoring and planning for reconstruction and stabilization. Gen. Zinni explained that the costs of the recent intervention in Iraq were evident, but our government lacked a mechanism to lay out the proper information before the President.

Gen. Zinni's fourth point built on this question of unified assessments, raising the need for integrated monitoring as well. The General explained that varying assessments and varying ways of measuring progress do not lend themselves to common understanding and joint action, but rather, to political obfuscation.

Fifth, General Zinni highlighted the need to take a more holistic view of planning for conflict, particularly regarding the need for investment in conflict prevention. It's not enough to think only about stopping war or rebuilding after conflict, he argued. Preventing deadly violence from occurring requires significant resources, yet this investment saves much more in the long run. Developing both prevention and crisis-response mechanisms demands greater coordination between the military and NGOs, provided NGOs are open to such efforts. Gen. Zinni called for the creation of more layered connections on both policy and operational levels between the military and civilians.

Sixth, Gen. Zinni explained that the military role ought to be better defined. The military is not the best answer for providing humanitarian support, he said, but if there is a gap, the military will fill it. Increasingly, the military is asked to fulfill nation-building roles best suited by NGOs with humanitarian or capacity building skills. Yet, at the end of the day, the military is not in the NGO business.

Finally, General Zinni emphasized the lack of true interagency capacity within the U.S. government. He called for a Goldwater-Nichols-like restructuring of U.S. civilian agencies to enable more effective planning and response capacity for reconstruction and stabilization. He pointed out that one lesson the 9/11 Commission learned is that agencies will not change unless there is either a disaster or someone makes them change.

When asked about his opinion on Iraq, Zinni said that if the United States government wants a stable, secure Iraq to be a model for the Middle East, then we'll be there for a while. He noted that the chronic insecurity, inability to provide stability in the post-war period, and likelihood of continuing violence even after the January elections, may portend U.S. military involvement in Iraq for at least 10 years. He further suggested that President Bush 41 understood very well Colin Powell's Pottery Barn analogy of "you break it, you own it," and decided that the containment policy for Saddam was preferable to unleashing the problems associated with toppling the regime. General Zinni concluded by saying that our current ad hoc, half-baked approach to winning the peace is not only inefficient and ineffective, but it is causing us to lose friends abroad and to lose the faith of the American people at home.

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