View Full Version : CNAS on the NSP: Echos of El Sal

John T. Fishel
03-19-2009, 12:51 PM
Posted on the SWJ Blog is an entry of CNAS' new paper on the National Solidarity Program in Afghanistan (by John Nagl, Andrew Exum, et. al.). There is also an interesting embedded video of Exum explaining the program. What is particularly interesting to me is that the NSP is little different from the final and, according to the first US MILGP commander to support the war, COL John Waghelstein, most successful of the three successive Salvadoran national plans, Municipios en Accion (Municipalities in action). This plan - designed by Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte and US Ambassador to El Salvador, Ed Corr - allocated funds directly to the elected municipal governments for projects that those governments had identified.Sounds to me exactly like the NSP.

This approach is clearly one important strain of development theory applied to COIN that has been highly successful in all contexts in which it has been tried. I would go so far to argue that it really is the best approach to development as well as to the developmental component of COIN and other Small Wars. It is essential to the achievement of Host Government Legitimacy.



03-19-2009, 01:54 PM
Well said John! IMO the economic stability actions are the most critical for success in COIN. Economics is a weapon or use of force just as much as bullets and bombs, except it is far more powerful in that it can sustain the system you are trying to create.

Ken White
03-19-2009, 03:29 PM
fact and you've got a route to success. As CORDS found out in Veet Nam 40 years ago...

Or, even worse, as the US of A found out in its own west and in the Philippines. What's that old Pennsylvania Dutch saying? "Ve are too zune oldt und too late schmart..."

I'm not a CNAS fan but they've got this one right, I believe.

03-19-2009, 05:46 PM
CAP here = Community Action Program; not the Marines' CAPs in Nam (although that was also, in part, local political action).

The CAP program was part of the OEO (Office of Economic Opportunity) started in 1964, by formation of Community Action Agencies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Action_Program). The Head Start (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_Start) program began there as well, but was spun off in 1969. The CAAs varied from locality to locality in quality, purposes, etc. - this one (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Action_Services_and_Food_Bank) is fairly typical of the present program as I know it.

The idea was based on a Saul Alinsky model ("all politics are local"; as opposed to the "Rodham" model - large government programs). Over the 40 years that my wife worked in it, the program morphed. Aside from some instances of local corruption and incompetence, the major problems were:

1. Increase of bureaucratic control in the Fed and state agencies involved in oversight and funding.

2. Diversion of funding to larger (more governmental) programs, which look better on legislative resumes. E.g., various forms of welfare programs.

In the case of my wife's consortium (a number of CAAs) the sources of major funding changed over the years from Fed > State of Michigan > Private (not a bad thing).

The net result to her was a rather cynical attitude toward government programs that "help" the poor (welfare programs) - and towards politicians in general. She still has a torch she carries - give a break to the working poor (emphasis on "working"), who do get screwed in our system.

My own perception for the relative non-effort by government toward CAP was that it was potentially too dangerous for politicians because it was not part of their political machines. When politics becomes truly local (with organized community groups), demands are made on - and questions asked of - politicians. They do not like that.

Ken White
03-19-2009, 06:32 PM
...The net result to her was a rather cynical attitude toward government programs that "help" the poor (welfare programs) - and towards politicians in general. She still has a torch she carries - give a break to the working poor (emphasis on "working"), who do get screwed in our system.I can identify -- strongly -- with that. I can also apply it to the Armed Forces and their programs to 'help' the troops...
My own perception for the relative non-effort by government toward CAP was that it was potentially too dangerous for politicians because it was not part of their political machines. When politics becomes truly local (with organized community groups), demands are made on - and questions asked of - politicians. They do not like that.I can equally strongly agree with that.

Reminds me also of your recent posts on the Shadow Supply System which was a well known and not classified phenomenon in all of Southeast Asia in the very early 1960s. Invariably, the Politicians and local Generals were most upset about it because it intruded on their 'perks.' :rolleyes:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the MACV Staff used it as an argument to not properly set up and fund the FID effort to the potential exclusion of big unit actions. I have been told but cannot verify that the later classification of the activity was requested by the government of south Viet Nam and that request was acceded to for some interesting reasons (and if correct, valid to me) pertaining to some of our programs.

John T. Fishel
03-19-2009, 07:20 PM
JMM, interesting you should mention these but not Peace Corps. The Great Society CAP grew, to some extent, out of programs overseas, especially in Latin America - the Alliance for Progress in particular. Peace Corps, in tis early years - and again, especially in Latin America - focused heavily on community development. LBJ's war on poverty/Great Society incorporated the community development experience in the CAP programs, helped to support them with VISTA volunteers (domestic Peace Corps derivative). Many of the community organizers (where have we heard that term?) - especially the VISTAs - got their tactics from Alinsky's Reveille for Radicals. Some of the tactical learning was from the textbook; much was not - it was just in the air...

I was an undergrad and grad student during this time. 2 undergrad summers working community development in Mexico - 1 rural with the American Friends Service Committee, 1 urban with a bunch of Jesuits, seminarians, and secular college kids in Mexico City. As a grad student, I worked in rural Peru and collaborated with local governments and Peace Corps vounteers while I was researching my doctoral dissertation. So, the all politics is local notion was very much a part of what I was involved with and, I should point out, it was in my experience, a very successful development model.

Interestingly, and bringing this discussion back to where it started, Amb. Corr during this period, was detailed from the Foreign Service to Peace Corps staff where he was Peace Corps Country Director for Colombia. That experience clearly influenced the way he thought about development strategies when he was Ambassador to El Salvador.



03-20-2009, 03:19 AM
JMM, interesting you should mention these but not Peace Corps.

it's just that I have lived with "CAP" for 40 years. Can't say the same for the Peace Corps, although a friend (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loret_Miller_Ruppe) was one of its directors.

As to Alinsky, my preference is his later "Rules for Radicals", which is a more mature version of his methodology.

John T. Fishel
03-20-2009, 12:34 PM
an excuse to expand on the theme. :cool: I, personally, liked both Reveille and Rules. Who says civilians don't have tactical doctrine manuals?

One of the things that I find puzzling is that Peace Corps - except for the period when it was lumped with a bunch of other agencies (which your friend took care of) has pretty much stayed the same - although its focus has changed over the years as the needs of the countries in which it operates have changed, the internal USG volunteer programs have changed their names and focus over the last 40 years including term of service. Alinsky might have hypothesized that the reason was the threat to local power elites posed by these organizations if they were allowed to become instituionalized.



03-20-2009, 02:44 PM
I, personally, liked both Reveille and Rules. Who says civilians don't have tactical doctrine manuals?

LOL - I grew up with those two (plus a certain little Red Book), got the chance to meet Alinski (I think I was 6 or 7 at the time; a big protest in Toronto), and got a ground floor look at "civilian tactical doctrine" via my parents and the rest of my family who were founding members of the NDP :D. When I grew out of my "Socialist Phase" (about age 8 or 9), I carried over a lot of that tactical doctrine and still use it today in my teaching.

Alinsky might have hypothesized that the reason was the threat to local power elites posed by these organizations if they were allowed to become instituionalized.

I'd agree with that, John. We saw the same thing happen up here, and it really makes me mad (it's also getting much worse under our current Provincial gov't). It's not so much the local elites who are the problem, at least here, it's the neuveau, self-procalimed elites (the older elite families were either staunch, right wing [NOT neo-con] Conservatives or NDP).

John T. Fishel
03-20-2009, 02:54 PM
Successful COIN really means making a better Revolution than the insurgents can make. Maybe that's why we keep reinventing VISTA with a new name every few years.:wry:



03-20-2009, 05:22 PM
from JTF
Successful COIN really means making a better Revolution than the insurgents can make.

Happen to agree with this - and did back in the early 60's, especially as to the Americas (Canada excepted since they are incorrigible :D). Apparently, you helped to make that happen in El Sal, which is a good thing.

The question I have had in reading the various pros and cons about Vietnam - which really don't discuss it very much among the arguments for and against "conventional" vs. "non-conventional" - boils down to this: Was it feasible for us (US) to make a "better Revolution" in SVN given the politics and "governance" of the GVN, whether under Diem or the Generals ?

My perception then and now was that the GVN was FUBAR (where the R word could be any of "Recovery", "Rehabilitation" and "Rescue", etc.). So, when I read such as Krepinevich or Nagl, I tend to say "so what" - that is, assuming we did all of what they say, the South Vietnamese villagers would still have been left with bad governance by the GVN - which the North could have exploited after we left upon "successful pacification" of the South.

Maybe someone with a more optimistic view of what could have happened in SVN should talk me down.

John T. Fishel
03-20-2009, 09:27 PM
COL Robert M. Herrick, was of the opinion that we simply sold President Thieu down the river after Nixon resigned. That is a correct statement, IMO, but hardly the whole story. For all the incompetence and corruption of the GVN, life in RVN was one hell of a lot better than in the North. The indigenous South Vietnamese insurgency had been decimated and defeated during Tet 68 and the continuing war was against the NVA. One of the best analyses of the post Tet 68 period that I have read is COL Stuart Harrington's Stalking the Vietcong originally published as Silence Was a Weapon. In many ways, his account supports my view expressed here.

I recall in 1973 hearing (seeing or reading) that President Thieu had dismissed the local elected governments and replaced them with appointed district and province chiefs. The short lived experiment in local democracy, which could have been the focal point of a NSP?MEA type COIN/development program was over. I recall telling my classes that I thought by that single act Thieu had just lost the war.

So, was there no possibility of redemption/recovery? Not after that IMO. But before - when we still had some real leverage over both Thieu and the conduct of the war (eg the ability to resume bombing the North and to keep the RVN supplied) - I think the war was winable by a largely population centric strategy. Going after the enemy, the NVA, was still both necessary and desirable without any significant negative impacts on GVN legitimacy.

That's my view and I'm sticking with it (until somebody comes along with a more accurate one).:wry:



Mike in Hilo
03-21-2009, 03:50 AM
In basic agreement with you, John... Concur on Herrington, who lived in Hau Nghia while I was on the CORDS team in adjacent Tay Ninh Province. Now, the decree you are thinking of was issued in Sept 1972 and called for appointment of hamlet chiefs by Distict Security Committes (essentially, by District Chief cum Subsector Commander, unquestionably in consultation with and approved by Province Chief). Province Chief was a colonel's slot, and always appointed. District was essentially a military command (subsector), as GVN civil service departments were not represented at district level. District Chief was an LTC or major's slot. The most important level of local administration was the village (hamlet is subordinate). Village council members continued to be elected.
From my observation at the time, I believe events did not bear out that the decree constituted a watershed in people's attitude toward the GVN. I say this because of (1) a deep cynicism on the part of the Vietnamese people toward democracy....echoed, I believe, in Moyar (quoting Rand studies?). As an aside, a common belief among the South Vietnamese was that election day was an unwanted tribulation visited upon the people--because that was when people would predictably get blown up in VC "atentados."...;
(2) The decree dwarfed in relevance compared to greater outrages, viz.: Virtually every rural family had members in RF or PF. By 1973, and much more so in 1974, commanders were pocketing sizeable portions of these poor troops' pay. By 1974, certainly, officers saw themselves in a race against time to amass nest eggs to tide them over while building a new life in France or the US after the anticipated fall (source: my conversations with ARVN colonels mid 1974)
(3) A tactical, military problem that compelled cooperation with the enemy-- hearts and minds antipathy to the NLF, as in Catholic communities, notwithstanding. Elections or their absence would have made no difference. The country remained a mosaic of "leopard spots." There were enemy base areas and mini-bases. A hamlet's security status could not be judged in isolation to its geographic environment. Every community had some security forces--RF/PF and from 1972, National Police. But their capacity to protect the villagers, even where there was a minimal VCI presence, was negated when a robust enemy unit was based in close proximity outside the population--which was far from uncommon. By 1971, when I arrived, the rapid US military withdrawal (courtesy SecDef Laird, I believe, not Congress) had, in MR-III, left a serious vacuum which ARVN could not fill, and NVA rapidly exploited.
(4) Excessive (by Vietnamese standards) corruption government wide did not inspire confidence. My opinion: a modicum of sound governance would have been sufficient to elicit loyalty. but this would not have negated problem (3)above.
(5) The VC political message through my tenure in RVN was Peace for the War-Weary.."We will never leave and never quit...If you want peace, help us win quickly and peace will come that much sooner." But the medium was the real message. The enemy were held in awe for fighting for principle (and it mattered less what the principle was, IMO) as opposed to fighting for money. Annecdote: One of our Tay Ninh FSNs who had been an interrogator related having asked a captured VC how much his pay was. He relates that when the VC replied that he received no pay, "I knew we would lose the war." His sentiment was not unique. The GVN, of course had no electrifying message, but the view of virtuous communist asceticism could at least have been given a run for the money had there been some honest GVN efforts toward probity.

Nevertheless, my point, I guess: I find it telling that despite real, deep fatigue, "political" shortcomings and weaknesses among which the above are only a few, the prospect of reunification and life under communism was so unattractive that, frankly to my surprise, the country held together until the 1975 offensive--And in a cratering economy, the literally shortchanged troops continued to fight and die in shocking numbers. Yes, they were severely tested militarily time and again 1973-74 --see inter alia, Col. LeGro, Sorely...Plus, I believe we can also attribute this cohesion to a deep, traditional, culturally-mandated obedience.

Sorry for a meandering and somewhat convoluted, hurriedly written posting, but you can probably get the drift.....


John T. Fishel
03-21-2009, 11:35 AM
with a better explanation.:cool: I defer and agree, Still, it is clear from Mike's comments that the possiblity, even the probability, existed for the rVN to have won the war had we and they followed an effective pop centric strategy that addressed the legitimacy issues weighing down the GVN and not abandoned Thieu to his fate.



03-21-2009, 06:36 PM
I am going to tackle three of the five principles Mike in Hilo observed in Vietnam (and perhaps in parts of Latin America) and use them to discuss what I have seen in El Salvador, Iraq, and Nicaragua. Unfortunately/fortunately I was too young to see Vietnam on the ground; my views were shaped by carefully low crawling to the edge of the living room and remaining undetected in order to watch the evening news coverage of the firefights & bombing runs and Walter C’s commentary while wondering about what my Dad was up to over there…

My take on Mike in Hilo’s observations:

1) A deep cynicism on the part of the (insert country)’s populace toward democracy
2) Dismissing local governments as policy
3) A tactical military problem that compelled cooperation with the enemy
4) Excessive corruption government wide
5) The (oppositions) political message was Peace for the War-Weary

My observations:

1. Local politics was working at a certain predictable level in each of the three countries that I mentioned that I have worked in. I am going to use Taylorism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taylorism), and its unending quest for efficiency, as a representative proxy for 1st World Western Capitalistic/Democratic philosophy. I’ll also state the obvious and note that life moves at a different pace and in a different way outside of the Golden Bubble that characterizes 1st World Western Democracies. The majorities of Hoi Polloi in the areas that I worked in did not see a favorable cost/benefit calculation in order to buy into and make the changes needed in order to score high on the litmus test of Taylorism. But, I would ask: How often do we show/explain by local examples, which fully take into account local cultural norms, the benefits of what we are in effect selling in order to change the outlook of the populace? Perhaps it is true that our 2-year and 4-year political timelines and the general hyperactive/ADD characteristics of our political and cultural landscape are not compatible with what the requirements of such a strategy. I think about the example of the 99-year lease on Hong Kong vs. the current level of cooperation we currently see in Washington regarding our economic crisis when I think about differing approaches to long-term strategy. Perhaps this is part of why we face cynicism when we push Democracy upon non-Democratic cultures?

2. We have played some role in dismissing the governments of communist challengers in El Salvador, Daniel Ortega, and Sadaam Hussein. As I have mentioned elsewhere IMO we shot ourselves in the ass in Iraq (if our objective was stability) when we fired the majority of the Iraqi populace from their jobs in civil service (Baathism/SOE’s, etc) and the military. By now we have more than enough experience and examples of the need to fully consider 2nd and 3rd order effects upon the populace (which are the center of gravity) of dismissing local governments as policy. Are we watching for/advocating the application of these hard won lessons in Afghanistan?

3. Cool and very lethal high-powered weapons, high-tech walkie-talkies, the anonymity of soul concealing celebrity-style sunglasses, short attention spans, and simplifying powerpoint briefings are stereotypical images associated with the American Soldier. Does the application of just short-term force result in long-term changes to a society? Can we kill our way to victory? Our opponents use local knowledge in order to systematically apply a mix of lethal force and social service arms in order to discredit local governments not in line with their views. They try and use a longer timeline than we like to their advantage (although overall we did relatively well with the Cold War timeline). What, if any, are the stereotypes of Americans who successfully use local knowledge to sway a populace by a mix of lethal and non-lethal means over long time periods?

More questions than answers this Saturday…

03-21-2009, 07:31 PM
After the Fall, Stephen B. Young (a young USAID advisor 1968-1971) included a couple of excerpts in Al Santoli's oral history (here is one at page 48 (http://books.google.com/books?id=uaJg4hqeMIYC&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=%22stephen+young%22+%22al+santoli%22&source=bl&ots=h3udykA5rf&sig=q_bvuBt_pK3O2hG8NGEwGRICjxo&hl=en&ei=xTDFSaniO4znnQfPkpGZAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result)), with bio at page 367. But, very relevant to the present discussion, is his longer excerpt on Village Development, starting at page 209 (some pages are not incuded in the Google snips, but you will get where he was coming from).

His was a more optimistic view of what could have been done than that of the CIA analysts and historians (see recent thread on CIA histories - Vietnam (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?p=68472#post68472)). Not surprisingly, he too advocated a populace-centric approach - ala Alinsky and many others, including JMM (under the right conditions).

Stephen Young went on to a distinguished career (as a lawyer and business consultant) - see bio here in middle of page (http://fletcher.tufts.edu/ibr/gss/speakerseries0506.shtml) and .pdf here (http://www.cauxroundtable.org/view_file.cfm?fileid=18). He has kept his hand in things Vietnam (e.g., AEI paper here (http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.14877/pub_detail.asp)).

Here is a heavy hitter (IMO) who saw a favorable course of action as being "possible" - though his excerpts (from Santoli) did not really get into whether that COA was feasible or probable.

My concerns about feasibility (much less probability) boiled and boils down to several factors which, in my perception, controlled the GVN:

1. Oligarchy - a mix of paternalism, classism, urbanism and family ties, which were very strong and affected all of the other factors.

2. Venality - present in both military and civilian appointments and promotions; nothing close to a meritocracy.

3. Corruption - not only who you knew and who you paid; but also corruption in the larger sense of "power corrupts", etc. - often hidden by use of family members and friends (e.g., mistresses) as middle persons.

4. Close involvement in outright criminal enterprises (following a long Saigon tradition); and "nation-defeating capitalism" (e.g., the shadow supply system and the brass concessions).

5. Conservatism (not in a good sense) by carrying on the military and civilian mentality learned from the French and those who co-operated with them.

6. Very much of a threat-centered policy vs. "enemies" (including not only Coms, but also the nationalists and non-Com socialists) - who were "neutralized" first by Diem and then by the generals.

7. Absence of rural-focused empathy. In short, the GVN from Diem on had no real feelings for the farmers - and they none for the GVN. Thieu was pushed to some rural reforms in 1969-1972 (confirming title in small farmers to some 2-1/2 million acres of land, which BTW had been "given" - with strings - to small farmers by the VM in the 40s and 50s; and then restored to the landlords by Diem).

8. Absence of a cause - other than self-preservation - and, indeed, Diem and the generals were anti-communists (the primary common link with us). The farmers didn't like the communists either; but their other choices had been foreclosed.

To me, all of this seemed too high a mountain to climb, without good feasibility of success in revolutionizing the GVN (which is what would have had to be done).