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Old 07-13-2011   #81
J. Robert DuBois
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Not so long ago Southeast Asia and Latin America were the focus of American attempts to prop up "friendly" governments and destabilize "unfriendly" ones. They were seen as basket cases; the terms "banana republic" and "tinpot dictator" were coined to describe Latin American nations and governments. We poured on both military intervention and "development aid," all calculated to support the governments we liked and exclude those we didn't.

Today, of course, Southeast Asia and Latin America are generally quite peaceful and are chalking up impressive economic growth and development figures. They've a long way to go, undeniably, but there is real and impressive progress. So what happened? Did America rescue them from their benighted squalor with development aid and military intervention to protect them from the bad guys within?

Actually, no. What happened was that we finally left them alone.... Without the Cold War paranoia, we've found Chavez and Morales to be minor inconveniences, easily managed.... With less meddling and less aid these regions have actually prospered, and found their own ways to peaceful coexistence.
I like this observation. Your signature line references keeping a population in check through fear of monsters. A "leader" can easily manage his flock through fearmongering, as easily as a comic pulls laughs through potty humor; both are hollow and of a much lower order than their potential.

This comes right back to the original point of this thread! Fearmongering is no more than a form of hard power and, though a necessary tool, hard power does not endure on its own. It's time to move beyond the legacy of management through paranoia. I grew up fearing the "Red Menace" and preparing to "Kill a Commie for Mommy." Artists like Sting cut through that nonsense with songs that told the truth about the Other Side, like "I hope the Russians love their children, too."

I'm pro-intervention, at the right time for the right reasons. Of course, that sounds like non-speak, but like Sting it gets at the truth. Fearmongering made it easy to prop up tin-pots...and those decades have left us with a cumbersome alternate legacy to live down: that of a meddling, uncaring, manipulative power interested in taking and promising and never following through. The future of international interdependence is being revealed day-by-day. In the new reality such a reputation is a severe liability.

Genuine smart power will always consider national best interests, but with more forthright and transparent (and, dare I say, humble?) efforts we can disentangle the snarl of this reputation while actually contributing to local improvements and corresponding, general Improvement.
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Old 07-14-2011   #82
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Fearmongering made it easy to prop up tin-pots...and those decades have left us with a cumbersome alternate legacy to live down: that of a meddling, uncaring, manipulative power interested in taking and promising and never following through. The future of international interdependence is being revealed day-by-day. In the new reality such a reputation is a severe liability.
Fully agree on that. Of course we actually ended up cultivating that which we feared: in many places the only thing that kept the Communists in play was loathing for the dictator and lack of a peaceful alternative route to change. The perverse symbiosis between rebel and dictator has seldom been more obvious than it was during the cold war, but we didn't see it... because we didn't want to. Anyone who pointed out that we were propping up governments that any one of us would rebel against was dismissed as a sympathizer with evil.

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I'm pro-intervention, at the right time for the right reasons...

Genuine smart power will always consider national best interests, but with more forthright and transparent (and, dare I say, humble?) efforts we can disentangle the snarl of this reputation while actually contributing to local improvements and corresponding, general Improvement.
This is where I start to worry. I don't disagree, but I have real doubts about our ability at any given point to reliably determine what is "right" and what is "smart". We have never consciously or intentionally used stupid power or intervened at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. At the times we acted, we believed that we were doing the smart thing and the right thing. We were often wrong. We can easily be wrong again.

Ultimately I think our ability to wisely choose how and when to act depends on both our ability to assess situations and, maybe more important, on our ability to assess ourselves: to cut through inertia, assumption, ideology, ego, and all the other blinders that convince us that wrong is right and stupid is smart. Can we do that? I hope so, but history holds few grounds for optimism.

I worry that once we declare something "smart", our ability to dispassionately assess that course of action will be impaired. That's no reason not to try, of course.
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Old 08-05-2011   #83
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I don't disagree, but I have real doubts about our ability at any given point to reliably determine what is "right" and what is "smart."

I worry that once we declare something "smart," our ability to dispassionately assess that course of action will be impaired. That's no reason not to try, of course.
Sorry for this extended stay in Absentia! I'm on final approach with what I hope to be one of the most important books of the decade on balanced peacemaking, and it devours all of my non-work hours. (Or, more accurately, the book is the most important work I have - but it is severely limited by the work that is currently necessary for simple things like food.)

If I'm reading our comments correctly, I think there's a great deal of overlap on principle and a trend toward disagreement on semantics, i.e., "smart" power. I don't use the word "semantics" to trivialize the difference, though. In fact, it's a very important distinction that may lead to the improved understanding of smart power.

Your excerpted quotes above are, in my opinion, spot on. Some of the worst human abuses occur because someone who possesses some form of "hard" power (national authority, military might or IED) determines that his opinion is "right," his opponents' is wrong, and he has the self-appointed prerogative to use force. I don't want to overuse the cliche that Hitler has become, but...well, someone like Hitler.

The same is true, as you point out, for the term "smart." Once I get it in my head that my approach is smart, it may lead to the unconsciously logical conclusion that any other way is dumb. Maybe it would be helpful to use a generic term like "balanced." Ultimately, what I would like to see on the table is that simply because a nation owns a Department of State and a Department of Defense does not mean that nation is effectively leveraging all of its resources at optimal efficiency and in optimal proportions.

It seems to me that some of us in these fora (not you personally) dismiss discussions of "balancing" our methods for the simple fact that leadership has always involved aspects of diplomatic and military assets. My question to us is, "Then why isn't it working?"

- Rob
PS: How do I set my account to notify me when people reply? I'm an idiot.
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Old 08-05-2011   #84
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Ultimately I think our ability to wisely choose how and when to act depends on both our ability to assess situations and, maybe more important, on our ability to assess ourselves: to cut through inertia, assumption, ideology, ego, and all the other blinders that convince us that wrong is right and stupid is smart.
PPS: I have a big "Amen!" for this statement of yours. I used a term previously that I think sums it up: Humble. Yet in support of your reservations on all this in practical application, how in God's name can we ensure "humility" among our policy makers? It may be an absolute conundrum when we live in societies that reward those with election who make the most grandiose statements in their campaign promises.
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Old 08-06-2011   #85
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Default A couple of points... (as always)

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If I'm reading our comments correctly, I think there's a great deal of overlap on principle and a trend toward disagreement on semantics, i.e., "smart" power. I don't use the word "semantics" to trivialize the difference, though. In fact, it's a very important distinction that may lead to the improved understanding of smart power.
I agree... I don't think we're that far apart on any of this, and what divergence there is comes mostly from seeing the same picture from different perspectives. That to me is a good thing, and one of the useful things about this forum. Still, as always (it's a habit) I find a thing or two to pick on...

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Some of the worst human abuses occur because someone who possesses some form of "hard" power (national authority, military might or IED) determines that his opinion is "right," his opponents' is wrong, and he has the self-appointed prerogative to use force. I don't want to overuse the cliche that Hitler has become, but...well, someone like Hitler.
It's certainly true that hard power is easily abused and misused, even with the best of intentions, and that the abuse and misuse of hard power are very visible and very unpleasant. If we're going to think of balancing hard power with soft, though, we have to remember that soft power can also be abused and misused, and that its abuse and misuse can turn an effort intended to alleviate tension and address root causes of conflict into a disaster that exacerbates tension and generates conflict. I've seen that happen a number of times and there are many many cases I haven't seen. That's one reason why I'm wary of turning "soft power" tools like "development" aid over to people who aren't really from the development world, such as those from military or diplomatic backgrounds. Because "development" is so often presumed a priori to be "good" and to be an antidote to violence, people not fully familiar with the history may forget how easily "development" can snap back as a driver of conflict.

That's not meant as criticism of soldiers and diplomats, just as acknowledgement that they don't generally have the training or the expertise to manage development efforts, which is a very difficult task that even development professionals routinely screw up. Realistically, it's not possible to give soldiers and diplomats that training and expertise without compromising their effectiveness in their primary roles. Soft power is a useful tool, but in the hands of people who see its utility but don't see its hazards, it can do as much damage as hard power.

Of course hard and soft power are both necessary and both useful, but we can't fall into the trap of seeing hard power as the harsh side and soft power as the benign mitigating side. If we're not careful and aware, we can make as big a mess with soft power as with hard, and that has to be considered when trying to develop a "smart" balance.

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The same is true, as you point out, for the term "smart." Once I get it in my head that my approach is smart, it may lead to the unconsciously logical conclusion that any other way is dumb. Maybe it would be helpful to use a generic term like "balanced."
I like "balanced" better, mostly because to my mind "balance" is something dynamic that has to be constantly assessed and adjusted. Whether or not anyone else draws the same implication is of course an open question!

These three points point me toward another of those things that I get worried about...

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Ultimately, what I would like to see on the table is that simply because a nation owns a Department of State and a Department of Defense does not mean that nation is effectively leveraging all of its resources at optimal efficiency and in optimal proportions.
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It seems to me that some of us in these fora (not you personally) dismiss discussions of "balancing" our methods for the simple fact that leadership has always involved aspects of diplomatic and military assets. My question to us is, "Then why isn't it working?"
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Yet in support of your reservations on all this in practical application, how in God's name can we ensure "humility" among our policy makers? It may be an absolute conundrum when we live in societies that reward those with election who make the most grandiose statements in their campaign promises.
Why isn't it working? Good question, with several possible answers. One possibility is that we're not using the right balance of the right tools, and therefore not achieving our goal. Another possibility, one that I think has been very much in play in recent years, is that we've pursued goals that are unrealistic and impractical, and often shifted our goals in midstream: the justly dreaded "mission creep".

I've been reminded several times on this forum that people from the military side are disinclined to question the goal, and tend instead to focus on the means by which the goal can be achieved. That makes perfect sense and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. We need to be constantly looking for better tools, better way to use those tools, better ways to balance the various tools at our disposal.

At the same time, especially as we get to the theoretical "Futurists & Theorists" level, we can't let the search for better tools and more balanced use of tools take over to the extent that we stop questioning the goal, or that we forget that success starts with choosing the right goals and not steering the goals off on tangents. No matter how good our tools are and no matter how well we balance their use, if we use them in pursuit of a bad policy, we will still make a mess.

I'm sure our government is not "effectively leveraging all of its resources at optimal efficiency and in optimal proportions", or using the tools at its disposal in an optimally balanced method. Even if we were doing well, there would always be room for improvement and discussion of improvement would still be useful and necessary. I still think that our recent problems stem less from inappropriate or unbalanced use of power than from pursuing vague, nebulous, impractical and ephemeral goals... and that no matter how well we balance our use of power the problems with the goals will remain.

So yes, by all means let's pursue balanced power... but let's also not forget that even the best balance of power will not save us from poorly chosen goals.

I'd be the last to challenge civilian control of the military, but I confess that I'd love to hear someone from the military side say something like this:

"If that's really the goal you want to choose, we will do everything in our power to achieve it... but we would be remiss in our duties if we failed to inform you that in our opinion this is one %$#@ing stupid goal that's going to get us into all kinds of trouble"

Actually I recall Colin Powell saying almost exactly that, in slightly more polite language, about Iraq. Of course nobody listened, but it's always worth the effort.

Again, I don't question the need for smarter, better balanced uses of power in pursuit of goals. I just don't want to let the search for better ways to achieve goals blind us to the need for better selection of goals in the first place. Best way to get out of a hole is not to get in it in the first place. IMO, of course

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PS: How do I set my account to notify me when people reply? I'm an idiot.
I've never tried it, but I'm guessing "thread tools" up at the top, and then "subscribe to thread".

Looking forward to reading the book, though it might take a while to get to this back-country mountaintop!
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Last edited by Dayuhan; 08-06-2011 at 03:12 AM.
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Old 08-17-2011   #86
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I'm guessing "thread tools" up at the top, and then "subscribe to thread".

Looking forward to reading the book, though it might take a while to get to this back-country mountaintop!
While grateful for the suggestion on subscribing, I find myself dismayed you didn't even make the slightest effort to contradict my assertion that I'm an idiot.

...Ah, well. I suppose I wouldn't have, either. And I know me even better than you do!

This week is HARD CRUNCH week with the manuscript, in which my editor is panting down my neck in perfect harmony with my publisher and agent. I promise to return with more idiocy as soon as the draft is out of my hands and into his. This is a great discussion.

With regard to a copy reaching your mountainesque back-country, however, fret not. I look forward to winging you an inscribed copy post-haste in gratitude for the edifying convo. Will just need a mailing address DM'd!

- Rob
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Old 09-10-2011   #87
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Default Backgrounder: US Smart Power Counterterrorism

I missed Secretary Clinton's speech on the 9th, but found a reference on Cryptome. The speech:http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/09/172034.htm

A background briefing by 'Senior Administration Official Number One':http://cryptome.org/0005/us-smartpower.htm
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Old 09-10-2011   #88
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Default Struck by recent comments

I was particularly struck by recent comments of new Army Chief Odierno that the US military presence not be too big----which would be an impediment to Iraqi progress for its own self-determination.

A small, belated but very insightful mea culpa to the entire sphere of post-defeat "foreign" activism, under any acronym we care to attach.

In grad school in the 1980s, the buzz word was Industrial Policy. The Japanese centralized control and we did not. The argument went that we must follow their lead or (1) we would be toast, and (2) they would take over the world.

A decade ago, the planning profession became enthralled with the term "Smart Growth," to which, ultimately, every smart, dumb, good or bad idea later became attached, and could be thoroughly argued from each side---to the point of meaninglessness.

I am all for "Smart Power," and generally, smart anything, but I can't seem to extend that to haphazard "Whole-of-Government" approaches, or ill-conceived COIN strategies aimed to locally prop up an ineffective central government, etc...

Smart is as Smart does, but it seems, from recent use, that those who argued it, and plaster "Smart" all over their idea, program, project or policy, do so to mask underlying problems.

In Northern Iraq in early 2008, the bridges were all down across the Tigris, and checkpoints restricted almost every movement. It was obvious that trade could not be restored until bridges were reopened and paths cleared.

That done, the recently released Wiki sitreps from Salah ad Din, for example, showed prices dropping, trade increasing, and business returning---across the board.

There is not a lot of rocket science to this, and no need to attach Smart monikers to most obvious post-conflict problems or solutions.

No matter how you label them, if they are stupid, they will fail.
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Old 09-11-2011   #89
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I am all for "Smart Power," and generally, smart anything, but I can't seem to extend that to haphazard "Whole-of-Government" approaches, or ill-conceived COIN strategies aimed to locally prop up an ineffective central government, etc...

Smart is as Smart does, but it seems, from recent use, that those who argued it, and plaster "Smart" all over their idea, program, project or policy, do so to mask underlying problems.
These are great comments. I'm personally under the belief that good ole American egos drive this type of discussion. Of course applying power smartly is better than applying stupidly, but simply calling it smart power doesn't make it smart. I have seen little evidence that our government leaders are even half as smart as our founding fathers who actually thought deeply about important topics and had a better understanding of how the world worked then than we do now buried in information overload.

I think you're right, we are masking the underlying problems with our rhetoric and doctrine. The State Department is largely a relic of history and DOD is trying to fix problems that would most likely fix themselves if they just got out the way.
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Old 09-11-2011   #90
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I didn't see much of substance in the speech or the briefing, mostly broad generalities and motherhood statements... but that's what you expect in a speech. It's hard to argue with using the full range of tools at our disposal, but that's nothing very new, and it seems less a new direction or a new strategy than an effort to highlight a difference from the previous administration's perceived over-reliance on "hard power". "Smart power" seems to me largely a way to imply that the last bunch to sit in the chair were stupid. I wouldn't argue with that proposition, but I've yet to see anything resembling evidence of a smarter proposal, on any level beyond broad generalities and motherhood statements.

It would seem smarter, to me at least, if somebody would explain what they propose to do, on a practical, tangible level, and what exactly makes it smart.

I'd still point out that even the smartest, most balanced, most nuanced mix of powers will be ineffective if applied in pursuit of goals that are poorly chosen and impractical. Smart power starts with smart policy, and that starts with choosing goals wisely. I'm not convinced that we've done that in Afghanistan, to cite one example.
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Old 09-11-2011   #91
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Rory Stewart's recent piece in NYT, The Uncontrollable Momentum of War, provides a sobering reminder that an analysis with only one line of investigation, one premise, one perspective, and one outcome is not always the smartest way to proceed.

For all those focused on "measurables" and "metrics" even if via simplistic red, yellow, green colors, I wonder which metrics are following those of Stewart, Semple, etc...

I became a planner because I was interested in the connections between things--linkages to problem causation, and viable solution paths (linked to actual resources, schedules, plans and programs that (realistic means to credible ends)).

My problem with much of this "Smart" stuff is that I only find broken links, paths to no apparent outcomes, and resources applied for no obvious purpose.

Maybe it's just me???

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/10/op...stewart10.html
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Old 09-11-2011   #92
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My problem with much of this "Smart" stuff is that I only find broken links, paths to no apparent outcomes, and resources applied for no obvious purpose.

Maybe it's just me???
Steve, hardly, I think many of us who don't drink the CNAS Kool-Aide feel this way, and I think that is part of the reason our senior leadership wants to see metrics, because their intutition is informing them that what we're doing at great expense to the American people isn't working. Metrics isn't the answer for most of the things we do in the military due to the dynamic situation. There is also the tendency to bias metrics to create the perception that we're on the right path.

Instead of metrics, we should be able to explain why are actions are progressing towards the desired objective, and how that objective ties into our strategic end.

As for planning, I agree with your reasons, and would add that one of our biggest flaws is identifying the real problems, and then identifying which problems "we" need to address and which ones we should ignore. Design is supposed to help us in that regard, but if the planners/designers can't approach design in an unbias manner they'll shape the design to justify their preconceived views (seen it). It is very difficult to overcome our human weaknesses, and even tougher to overcome organizational bias that is reinforced by peer pressure.
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Old 09-11-2011   #93
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Steve,

Good article, and while it is opinion peace the author obviously has a good understanding of the situation based on his experience in Afghanistan. I'll also post this link on the AFPAK thread.

A couple of interesting excerpts:

Quote:
When I walked alone across central Afghanistan in the winter of 2001 and 2002, I found Afghan villagers to be hospitable and generous, but also far more conservative, insular and Islamist than foreigners acknowledged. When I returned to the country in 2006, to establish a nonprofit organization, it was clear that their resistance was inflamed by the increasingly heavy presence of Western troops, which allowed the Taliban to gain support by presenting themselves as fighters for Islam and Afghanistan against a foreign occupation.
That is obvious to most of us I hope.

In reference to the Carr Center at Harvard:
Quote:
The center’s research fellows collectively had more than a century of experience on the ground in Afghanistan. Research by fellows such as Andrew Wilder, David Mansfield and Michael Semple proved that our aid projects were increasing instability; that we were undermining any chance of political settlement with the Taliban; and that the Taliban-controlled areas were often more secure than the government areas. Their findings explained why our counterinsurgency strategy was empty and the “surge” was counterproductive, but they were often ignored by the military and political establishment, which has remained defiantly optimistic.
Quote:
At the heart of our irrational persistence are the demons of guilt and fear. Leaders are hypnotized by fears about global security; feel guilty about the loss of lives; ashamed at their inability to honor our promises to Afghans; and terrified of admitting defeat.
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Old 09-11-2011   #94
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Bill:

As to any negative implications as to military, my experience was with Gen. Hertling and his 1AD staff at MND-North in 2007/8.

Most outsiders could never have imagined such a crack, and deeply experienced batch of folks seriously pursuing and accomplishing the objectives assigned to them, and pushing hard past any inconsistencies presented.

I recall a conference at Spiecher in early 2008 where then-MG Hertling flew the Baghdad Embassy staff up to explain the plan to stabilize/reconstruct Iraq, so that his staff could support it. When they realized there was none, all of us set about creating on for Northern Iraq---and implementing it with high-level support to bypass the obvious obstacles.

Read the Wiki cables from Salah ad Din, for example, and you will see measurable reports of goods returning to markets, and pricing dropping. People were getting back to life from the safer routes and repaired bridges courtesy of MND-North with Iraqi cooperation and security. Still dangerous, but functioning. This is not rocket science.

Our mission (forget about the window-dressing) was what Gen Odierno is espousing today---to create enough stability to rapidly turn Iraq over to the Iraqis an rapidly get us out of the middle of the road, both for ours and Iraq's sake. Iraq's infrastructure is, today, as bad as its politics, but fixing them is now, properly, up to Iraqis.

Afghanistan, however, is a different kettle of fish from start to finish. My concern has always been that, first, there is no viable plan, and, second, the options for a commander to create his own and successfully implement it were non-existent.

The flaw was in the strategy (or lack thereof), and no amount of tactics, however well considered, could, on a material and sustainable basis, overcome it.

If, as was the case in Iraq, Ambassador Crocker put out a call for civilian troubleshooters to come and cut the Gordian Knot, I would be there, ponce again, as soon as all the silly pre-deployment details were overcome, but even he has not done that in Afghanistan, with ominous suggestions that, in effect, there really is no Gordian Knot that the US can cut.

It is a very different problem set, in large part because of the lack of indigenous resources and capabilities, not actually enhanced during our tenure (as Stewart notes) despite Herculean efforts by those on the ground.
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Old 04-16-2012   #95
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Default Update

Robert Du Bois, who started this thread off has written a book and this thread has details:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ad.php?t=15427
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Old 06-23-2012   #96
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Default Roger & Bob in Helmand Province

A short tale on video:
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former US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was asked to reflect on the lessons he had drawn from the US intervention.....Finally, he told a story about how village elders in Kandahar remembered USAID and Peace Corps volunteers from the 1950s, and reflected on ‘those brave Marines who had fought so hard’, who ‘sadly would not be remembered’ so fondly.
Link and scroll down to the third podcast:http://iissvoicesblog.wordpress.com/...m-afghanistan/

Alas the story is incomplete, so if anyone knows Roger & Bob were that would be neat!
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Old 06-23-2012   #97
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David, thanks for the link. I think most of us, at least the military old timers, have always accepted this as a truth before we got into the post 9-11 nation building business. We have wore our welcome out, while diplomacy and aid done correctly is not overly intrusive, but since 9/11 I'm not so sure that is true is anymore. It is worth going back to the 50s and really studying our small foot print type engagements. What we call small now almost always includes the words task force, which is often the wrong answer.
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