By: Sean D. Lovett American leaders secured victory by reviewing the strategy and making corrections. Conversely, Tripolitan leaders placed their faith in a comfortable, outdated strategy. Read more »
There is legitimate room for debate if there could have been an effective military reaction to the attack in Libya by al Qaida terrorists that killed Ambassador Stevens and other US personnel. One was apparently never seriously entertained by senior White House, State Department and Pentagon officials. I think there ought to have been an [...] Read more »
It is a staple of much of
postmodern political theory to posit the state as an “assemblage.” That is, the
state itself is not static, it is an equilibrium between contending factions,
bureaucracies, and stakeholding organizations. In the ideal-type scenario, they
achieve a way of dividing labor and consolidating power in such a way that the
ability to wage political violence is consolidated in responsibility and
unified in the interests it serves.
Of course, life is not always that easy. As Corey Robin provocatively pointed out, our theories of national security are Hobbesian, but our states rarely live up to the best aspects of his theories. Assemblages do not always capture a truly “national” interest and fall sway to faction, whether bureaucratic, regional, ideological or social in cleavage:
To cite just one example: it is a well known fact that African Americans have suffered as much from the American state’s unwillingness to protect them from basic threats to their lives and liberties as they have from the willingness of white Americans to threaten those lives and liberties. Throughout much of US history, as legal scholar Randall Kennedy has shown, the state has deemed the threat to the physical safety of African Americans to be an unremarkable danger and the protection of African Americans an unworthy focus of its attentions.
… At the most fateful moment of white-on-black violence in US history, in fact, the national government deemed the threat to African Americans a relatively minor item of public safety, unworthy of federal military protection; by contrast, it deemed the threat to employers from striking workers an public emergency, worthy of federal military protection.
Indeed, the ability of the U.S. to retain control over the South
always butted against a broad front of resistance that ranged from political
opposition through rapidly “redeemed” formal institutions in Virginia to the
highly paramilitarized environs of Louisiana. To the North and border states,
the most essential and broadly accepted objective of the war was preserving the
Union. Abolition was, among other things, an instrument towards that end. A
broader program of equality was unnecessary or even abhorrent to those who
merely sought to destroy the slaveholding South because it imperiled the country’s
In a previous post, I noted how Reconstruction-era tolerance of anti-black violence shared some characteristics with Libya’s relatively laissez faire approach towards militias that were desecrating Sufi shrines, Western graveyards, and harassing, attacking, and then killing diplomats. The messy process of state-building could make room, or at least time, for this, but not for trying to bring to heel well-armed and organized militias with strong ideological objections to Libya’s nominal civil authorities. Libya’s new government limped along, not much a Mogadishu on the Mediterranean, nor one, even in moments of triumph, effective in Hobbesian terms. While Libyan militias and militants intervene in political processes, they do not, for the most part, appear to seek regime change, but rather to augment their political clout within the bounds of the new system through violence and intimidation.
Similarly, in American Reconstruction, paramilitary groups neither themselves seized governments (although similar paramilitary groups did throw a coup in Wilmington, NC in 1898) nor created a real counter-state, but provided a specific political class with the means to win control of existing institutions - state and local governments - without attempting to recapitulate the goals or overall method of the original rebellion.
While many Redeemer militias
acted as the conservative wing of the Democratic party, these ought be
considered distinct from the groups which were insurgents from the start of the
war. Bushwhacker militias, such as the James-Younger Gang, went from
participants in the civil wars within the civil war in the border states and
West to criminal organizations which used attitudinal affinities to bolster
their strength. Notably, in the case of the James-Younger Gang, another
non-state entity, the Pinkertons, joined in a manhunt operation. Silas Woodson,
the Democratic Missouri governor, secured pay to contract detectives, and tried
(but failed) to fund a militia to assist in the hunt. As Robin pointed out,
government responses varied with reference to the political interests. Federal,
state, local, and private forces would continue to intervene in issues of outlawry
and labor strife, but conceded, in ugly compromise, rights for blacks and
patronage networks (the position of Postmaster General, for example) to their
If we take up Tilly’s model of state-building as organized crime, we note most criminal organizations cannot kill off every single competitor. Legitimate actors and trust networks integrate into the criminal enterprise, and even with rivals, cutting deals is often more appealing than cutting throats. In state-building, too, cooperating with illegal, extralegal, and paramilitary groups lends advantages to fruitless or premature pursuit of total primacy. For many political communities, non-state groups provide instruments of governance by other means.
As the Reconstruction example shows, paramilitarism, though obviously antithetical to democratic values, is complementary to democratic systems. In Colombia’s bloody internal conflict, paramilitaries became significant players in the Colombian democratic system, bolstering the candidacies of friendly politicians with funds and coercive influence. As Giustozzi notes in his excellent book, The Art of Coercion, irregular groups often provide highly beneficial roles, particularly when options for bureaucratization and institutionalization of a professional army are limited. Indeed, in some cases a weak bureaucratized, centralized army may be insufficient or an inferior alternative for local and regional elites who prefer decentralized security provision accountable to their interests and persistent at a local level. Of course, tolerance of and cooperation with these forces allowed counterinsurgents to engage in assassination, massacres, and enrich local elites. Yet the point remains that irregular groups, within limits, provide a force multiplier to state prerogatives. Ceding autonomy and some authority to paramilitary groups such as the AUC And Los PEPES empowers extralegal or illegal entities the state prefers to negotiate and collaborate with to destroy ones it considers more threatening.
In Brazil, too, the rolling back traditional drug trafficking organizations relied not simply on special tactics units and community policing, but tacit or explicit sanctioning of paramilitary units occupying and extracting rents from neighborhoods. Indeed, the very political pressures that encouraged the Brazilian government to crack down on drug trafficking organizations with state force created power vacuums for militia groups to expand their reach within cities such as Rio de Janeiro. In all of the aforementioned cases, paramilitary groups have exploited cleavages in the interests of political assemblages, providing a tool to advance interests of actors participating within the state without breaking the state itself – and, indeed, feeding off the cooperation of state institutions. Indeed, if, as Javier Osorio notes in his excellently titled dissertation, “Hobbes on Drugs,” weaker criminal actors have incentives to step up violence against groups targeted by security services, emergent non-state actors have strong structural incentives to muscle in on the state’s foes, providing an unscrupulous government an opportunity to cut a deal.
Particularly as the U.S. and other countries turn towards SFA and FID to offset its diminishing will and capacity to take the lead in counterinsurgency operations overseas, and as states such as Syria the dynamics of paramilitarism ought register highly in importance for policymakers and academics alike. Although paramilitary groups are of most interest in instances of state failure and civil war, to dismiss them as mere warlordism ignores how paramilitarism may grow in prevalence even during periods of democratization and state consolidation. Similarly, without recognizing when and how elites will seek to decentralize the state’s use of force, attempts to build partner state capacity or engage in security-sector reform will likely fall flat. Finally, examining paramilitarism shines a light on the state as more than a mere set of institutions and bureaucracies, but as an assembly of actors with political interests that do not always overlap, nor see bureaucratization and institutionalization as the most natural or efficient manner of bolstering state capacity or instituting control. Not only do paramilitaries illuminate an ugly side of state behavior, but they also help reveal why successful states and elite coalitions, though they may be failed Hobbesians, remain so persistent despite their flaws.Read more »
Thus far, the intervention in Mali seems, at least initially, a banner standard for the practice, insofar as Washington is concerned. A coalition of African and European forces, with France taking the lead in the air and with crack troops on the ground, is sending AQIM and fellow travelers and cobelligerents such as Ansar Dine and MUJAO packing from the cities of Gao and Timbuktu*. The U.S. role appears for now limited to the provision of airlift, refueling, and ISR, a far less costly task than firing barrages of Tomahawk missiles and airstrikes to dismantle its air defenses and the rest of the regime with it.
The debate about the role toppling Gaddafi played in Mali’s current crisis still rages. Algeria’s government, which appears a great deal more sympathetic to the latter position, forced a bloody end to a retaliatory hostage-taking and siege in its own territory, killing foreign citizens along with the terrorists who seized the gas field. As for America’s limited role in the operation, Philip Carter rightly pointed out that even extremely limited role in the U.S. intervention comes at a price, and one perhaps too high.
If the war in Mali is – for now – the best Washington can hope for in an intervention, then the flaws it presents are worth paying attention to, for they’ll arguably be the hardest to eliminate. At the largest level, and perhaps applicable to the widest number of future crises, is the issue Carter highlights – the broken system of burden sharing. I disagree with Anne Applebaum when she posits this intervention as proof of a new European superpower. For one, let’s not give “Europe,” or even the majority of countries in it, so much credit. France is leading Operation Serval, neither the EU nor NATO are in control. That other countries are providing ancillary support is well and good, but French troops are the only Europeans openly committing to combat operations.
Not only that, but France and an assortment of other countries conducting a limited war in Europe’s historical backyard does not a superpower make. Operation Épervier, France’s long-running intervention in Chad, along with many other French operations, long demonstrated Paris’s ability to conduct military operations across northern and western Africa. Nobody ought to question that when French troops arrive in theater, they are extremely competent, and the record of French troops after Algeria and Indochina affirms this. However, that European states lack the willpower or capability to muster sufficient airlift and refueling assets for a small-scale operation in Mali, just as many ran low on munitions in Libya, is a warning sign for future planners, and an obvious red flags for any hasty claims to superpower status (not even de Gaulle was so grandiose).
If one of our most militarily capable allies cannot confidently act unilaterally in its own historical sphere of influence, or requires significant subsidization to do so, the U.S. ought question the incentives it is perpetuating for the supposed major stakeholders in its emergent security policies. Without allied capability to independently project power, burden-sharing could mean the U.S. getting locked into wars primarily of interest to its allies, while its allies will have less to offer in return during U.S.-led war efforts, which frequently require much longer logistical tails. The next war European states want American assistance in may come at a time when U.S. forces are more overdrawn and the conflict in question is more difficult, while the next theater of war America may ask European aid in may be even harder to operate in without the U.S. paying for an increasing share of the power projection.
Beyond issues of power-projection, the interaction of issues of counterterrorism, regime change, and rebellion in Libya and Mali still demand attention. Even assuming forgoing intervention in Libya would have led to the exact same outcome in Mali, resources are finite. Those engaged in toppling Gaddafi and now dealing with the aftermath of Libya might have been better spent in contingencies to limit the spillover of a longer-running civil war or surviving Gaddafi regime. Particularly since the Algerian gas field siege demonstrates that even the most successful interventions face the potential for expansion, escalation, or blowback, saving energy and assets for dealing with the vicissitudes of fog, friction, and fate is particularly prudent, especially when the next crisis presents a more direct threat.
Now, France is outlining plans to halt, or at the very least suspend, its offensive into central Mali, and let other forces take on the brunt of the ground fighting. As limited warfare in practice, France’s model initially has much to recommend it. Jason Fritz, when assessing the merit of airpower in support of unconventional warfare, suggested a rebel force unworthy of ground support might also be unworthy of air support. In Mali, France identified a threat urgent enough to merit a ground deployment and interests constrained enough to sketch a plan for that deployment to be responsible.
Ultimately, France’s ability to contemplate restrained interests relies on the political context of its intervention. It fights at the request of the local government rather than to unseat it. It fights broadly on the side of tradition against Islamist groups perceived to be foreign in origin, intolerable in behavior and alien in ideology. It fights more to restore a status quo rather than revolutionize a region.
Of course, it is far too early to tell if Mali’s war will end up being so amenable to French and broader international interests as it is now. Trying to understand the local context that will ultimately decide so, however, is more a job for analysts such as Andrew Lebovich, Alex Thurston, Hannah Armstrong, along with journalists such as Peter Tinti and Joe Penney, who have regional experience or, in the case of the last three, are in Mali now. Ultimately, while it is useful to consider at the macro-level where Mali fits into understanding of how interventions succeed and fail, the more vital questions about Mali itself can’t be answered at this level of analysis. Hopefully, though, a better conception of what interests are worth fighting for and how best for the U.S. to advance them will, even if it cannot prevent such a tumult from reoccurring elsewhere, clarify if and how the use of force can ameliorate its consequences.
* I also wanted to highlight an amazing story about the preservationists and other residents of Timbuktu, who saved the majority of the city’s collections of historic manuscripts – documents important not simply to locals but to the world’s posterity – from destruction at the hands of retreating Islamist militants. Although initial reporting suggested arson destroyed most of the records, it appears preservationists had left enough in museums to prevent militants from catching on, and sequestered the rest in safe houses. Despite the recent retreat, the location of historical materials remains guarded, in case those who tried to destroy them have a chance to return.Read more »
[ by Charles Cameron -- wondering whether it can ever be possible to expect the unexpected, and if so, what exactly that might mean? Libya & Mali ] . . Alex Thurston at Sahel Blog: Covering Politics and Religion in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa posted Libya and Mali, Part I today. The [...] Read more »
Academi (formerly Blackwater) and other military contractors received an early Christmas present on the 20th: a windfall in future profits from diplomatic security:
[B]oth the influential independent commission on the September attacks in Benghazi and a Senate hearing on Thursday pointed to flooding the State Department’s security corps with money. And one of the key post-Benghazi decisions the next secretary of state will make is whether to continue spending that cash on hired guards or to bolster the ranks of State Department employees that protect diplomats themselves. The Benghazi commission, run by former Amb. Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, recommended spending an additional $2.2 billion over the next decade on “construction of new facilities in high risk, high threat areas.” It also urged using emergency war funding to finance “respond[ing] to emerging security threats and vulnerabilities and operational requirements” in dangerous postings. Ironically, even while the commission blasted the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for inadequately protecting the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, its recommendations will line the bureau’s coffers.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my Twitter and Facebook streams. Articles were posted and resposted warning that diplomacy is inherently dangerous, a fortress mentality would only prevent diplomats from doing their jobs, and that the new contracts would lead to a return to the low points of Iraq War military contracting. Certainly, returning to the era of "Big Boy Rules" (if that is what this means, which is by no means self-evident) would be a net loss for American national power. But just like my blogmate Dan's UAV-loathing nemeses, the cottage industry of contractor-haters tends to ignore the real problem at hand while focusing their ire on a handy external object. However, frantically attacking a goateed, black polo'd voodoo doll will not make policymakers stop using private military contractors--the fault lies in larger questions of statecraft.
Diplomacy is indeed inherently a dangerous business. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and other environments of transitional authority, State Department employees have risked their lives alongside general-purpose forces, special operations forces, and CIA agents and tactical operators. But there is a crucial difference between a diplomat and a soldier, a difference that has been unintentionally obfuscated by ten years of "civilian surge"-ing. As Steven Metz noted, only DoD has the redundancy and capacity to deploy, equip, feed, and protect large numbers of Kevlar-clad men in places where many residents with guns aren't Americans trying to get out. Diplomatic risk is unavoidable, but without something akin to the British imperial civil service there is a limit to the level of risk an under-resourced organization like State can bear.
It is easy to criticize the State Department's tendency towards bunkering in Iraq only if one forgets that the United Nations, which lacked proper security, was attacked with significant loss of life. Sérgio Vieira de Mello is evidence of the unfortunate fact that credible influence has costs. Many non-governmental organizations are now agonizing over whether or not to use private military contractors themselves. Much of the world is in the middle of political transitions, many states have not established full control, and local political factions don't always see foreigners with good intentions as a boon. In fact, stability and the rule of law can actually upset the informal arrangements that undergird many political systems. In Haiti, cracking down on gangs robbed established politicians of their enforcer cadres.
But this does not answer the question of why diplomacy is a dangerous business for Americans. Whether or not you damn or praise America with the ideologically charged term "empire," the growth of a network of contractual relationships is the most tangible legacy of our centuries-long climb to global preeminence. Great powers contract out security, logistics, and economic commitments to trusted agents. But those agents must struggle to legitimate said commitments to domestic audiences. Libya's largely pro-American populace did not produce or sanction the Benghazi attack. But there were still men with guns who did, and the government will not act against them.
The principal-agent problem arises when trusted agents in places like Libya are unwilling or unable to fulfill their contracts. Diverting resources to benefit a distant power, stepping on local interests, and risking being damned as the pawn of foreigners is costly. Withdrawing from contracts is not. The patron needs the client, and failures to complete the contract are often unpunished. This is why Pakistan can funnel money, arms, and even operational direction to those who kill Americans and Afghans with impunity. To make matters worse, the nature of strategic geography often dictates that clients are sought in some of the world's most unstable locales. Every administration since Carter has the same Persian Gulf security policy, and that policy involves cozying up to repressive states. The logistics tail of the Afghan war proved beneficial for many a Central Asian autocrat.
Unfortunately, contractual relationships have a nasty way of enmeshing the US in local political disputes, because our support makes us an actor in other states' domestic politics. Americans--diplomats, soldiers, or otherwise--are thus targets to any faction with a grievance or a desire to position themselves in the political arena. Counting on the locals to respect a little thing called the Vienna Convention is a fool's errand, and the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis should have signaled loud and clear that norms of diplomatic conduct are just scraps of paper to armed "students," terrorists, and militiamen.
Increased security, private or governmental, is a ready solution when trusted agents cannot or will not protect Americans from those who seek to do them harm. The Libyan government cannot properly protect the American consulate, does not exert effort to capture those responsible, and does not even provide security for American law enforcement to investigate the attack. So if the host nation cannot do the job, why blame the State Department for turning to those who can? Blackwater, for all of its lethal flaws, never lost a principal.
Note too, as Dan and Jason Fritz have, that Benghazi is also a symbol of how light-footprint interventions magnify the consequences of the principal-agent problem. The US was willing to overthrow Gaddafi but preferred exerting influence rather than control over the turbulent post-conflict environment. The fact that the Benghazi consulate's security was contracted to an unreliable militia is a potent symbol of how trying to avoid the costs inherent in the exercise of power can sometimes lead to disaster. This is not to argue that a large American occupation force was the answer. But as Fritz observes, the reluctance to pay the cost afterwards to advance American political goals should have been a deciding factor in the intervention itself.
The real problem with PMC diplo-security is that it only accentuates the fundamental problem--unreliable client governments offloading costs onto the United States. By waging air war on Pakistan's proxies instead of holding Islamabad to account for its misdeeds, we become the focus of the Pakistani public's rage. Meanwhile, Islamabad keeps on providing the material support that keeps terrorists and insurgents in the field after our platforms return to base. Similarly, responding to Benghazis by bulking up on security entails assuming responsibility for what the Libyan government should be doing.
For better or worse, superpower status means that we will have to deal with the tough reality of trying to maintain a set of hierarchal relationships for the foreseeable future. We will struggle to manage complex security, logistical, and economic relationships in unstable places with often unreliable partners. And we will create new relationships through interventions that entail lengthy post-conflict assistance. Raging at the Blackwaters of the world is unproductive, and the consequences of Benghazi should highlight precisely why. PMCs are market-oriented institutions and no demand that is worth paying large sums to satisfy will go unmet.
Benghazi's partisan nastiness will fade as we enter 2013. But its consequences for American diplomacy are enormous. Fortress security may prevent future Benghazis, but at a high cost that we bear alone. We would do better by trying, through a mixture of various forms of national power, to incentivize the governments we rely on to actually fulfill their most basic of responsibilities: protecting the men and women we send into harm's way to advance our interests.Read more »
ASP ICYMI - Read about #AsiaPivot, #ClimateChange, #Egypt, #Yemen, #Iran, #SouthKorea, #EuropeanDefense, and much more! Read more »
The deceptive multi-aliased filmmaker behind the shlocky Islamophobic movie "Innocence of Muslims" is even sneakier than we thought. His 17th alias has been uncovered, along with the filmmaker's history as a one-time salesman of drug paraphernalia. Read more »
[ by Charles Cameron -- keeping up with Aaron Zelin on a good day can be quite a feat -- this post has taken me a few days to write! ] . Let’s start with this avatar business. I picked it up from Gregory Johnsen, who applied the term in a tweet a few days [...] Read more »