Speaking at Air University at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked about the Office of the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization. The Secretary’s long response is short on detail and incomplete in what hints at the low priority she has given an office, known as S/CRS, that is very much required today and tomorrow.
The Secretary’s focus on the “2,000 or so Americans” in the Civilian Response Corps that is to draw from the general public modeled on the military’s reserve system ignores the two much more important components of S/CRS, the Active Response Corps (ARC) and the Stand-By Response Corps (SRC), that draw from government agencies: State, USAID, Transportation, and the Justice and Agricultural Departments, among others. See my post, In-sourcing the Tools of National Power for Success and Security, at Small Wars Journal for more on S/CRS, what it is and what it is intended to be.
QUESTION: Major Courier from Air Command and Staff College. The cooperation and friendship between yourself and Secretary Gates is refreshing and important to the unity of effort between the Department of State and the Department of Defense in addressing regional conflicts. I was wondering if you could please discuss specifically the new Office of Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization and our nation-building effort.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Yes, first of all, let me say that Bob Gates and I have a very close friendship that goes back a lot of years. We served together. He was the Deputy National Security Advisor when I was special assistant on that NSC staff of Brent Scowcroft and George H.W. Bush that was fortunate enough to be around at the end of the Cold War. So we had a great friendship and we have a lot of good stories and we enjoy being together.
And we recognize that we have a very strong obligation to have the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the uniformed military, be able to perform well on really what is a continuum between war and peace. We tend to think in our theory of war and then peace, so you win the war and then you go and build the institutions of peace. But of course, that’s not how we are fighting and winning any longer. We’re fighting on a continuum. Counterinsurgency really means that you have go to into an area, you have to clear it of the enemy, then you have to hold the area with police forces, most appropriately police forces of the home country, which means you have to build adequate police forces, and then you go in and you do reconstruction and development right there where you’ve cleared so that people don’t turn back to the terrorists.
Because the best – by far, the best weapon that the terrorists have is when they can imbed in a village or in a community and have the local people refuse to turn them over. Very often, the local people don’t really support them, but they’re terrified of them. And if you can give people security, then they will turn over the terrorists and they will be on your side. And that’s what we’re seeing in places like Al Anbar province in Iraq, where the Sons of Anbar turned on al-Qaida and have essentially thrown them out. And we’ve been able then to stabilize Al Anbar.
Now, if you’re going to do that, you have to have not just the ability to fight, but also the ability to bring that reconstruction effort. We call it the post – the stabilization phase. And we have never had in the United States an institution that was really capable and dedicated to doing that, and it needs to be a civilian institution. We’ve done it in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Frankly, we tried to do it with the UN structures and that didn’t work terribly– all so well. And then in Afghanistan we tried to do it with the Bonn process, which brought every country in the kind of adopt-a-ministry approach, so the Germans took one ministry, the Italians another ministry. And frankly, while the efforts were sincere and I think many of them good, it left us with some of the incoherence that we have today. In Iraq, we tried to do it by handing it to the Defense Department to do reconstruction and development. Of course, that worked not all that well either. I mean, we were able to do some things, but not as much as we should have done.
So finally, Americans – if there’s one thing we do, we keep going until we get it right. And I think we’ve now got the right structure, which is a civilian structure that would be akin to the Reserve and the National Guard, where you have different kinds of expertise on call to go out and do reconstruction and development. There’s no way in the State Department that I can have city planners and engineers and specialists on building judiciaries and specialists on police. You really, however, might be able to call up Americans — perhaps, that prosecutor who’s in Arizona and wants to spend a year helping the Afghan people to learn how to build a good justice system, or perhaps that city planner who’s in Montgomery and would like to go and help the people of Haiti or Liberia know how to do city planning. And so the idea is to have a civilian response corps, probably initially of close to 2,000 or so Americans, who would train the way the Guard and Reserve train, and then be ready when we need to do one of these stabilization efforts.
And not only do I think it would be a wonderful call for Americans who want to contribute in that way; but frankly, this isn’t what the military, the Reserve and the Guard should be doing, and we’ve had to rely heavily on the uniformed military in order to do civilian stabilization and reconstruction because we’ve just not had the right institution. I think this is the right institution. It’s had no stronger supporter than Bob Gates and the uniformed military. And if Congress fully funds it, which we hope that it will, it should be really ready for its initiation phases very shortly.
But thank you for asking.
Interesting side note: I noted in my 3 January 2008 post on S/CRS that it enjoyed bipartisan support in both the House, Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jim Saxton (R-NJ), and the Senate, Senators Richard G. Lugar, Joseph R. Biden, and John McCain are behind it. In opposition was Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who seemingly based his opposition on the grounds that more government spending is bad. Sen. Coburn has been a recent subject of this blog for a different reason…