Why have Afghanistan and Iraq been so difficult?

Military historians will likely say things like “the enemy always gets a vote”, and “wars almost always are punctuated by mistakes”. Both very true, but I have concluded that all of the NATO militaries need new missions and thus new structures. I believe that Tom Barnett got it about right in The Pentagon’s New Map — that to help the remaining “Gap” countries to join the globalized “Core” we need a structure that would substitute the “SysAdmin” force for very roughly half of traditional military spending.

For example, when the next generation of historians write objective histories of Afghanistan and Iraq, I speculate that they will argue that much of the the Bush Administration’s supposed ineptness is due to a nearly complete absence of SysAdmin-type nation-building forces. In the existing, traditional structure the SysAdmin function is supposed to be performed by the Department of State. Anyone following closely the post 9/11 efforts will have noted that “State” failed to show up for duty. Fortunately the U.S. military has learned and adapted to pick up some of State’s responsibility — else both Afghanistan and Iraq would have no chance of long-term success. But funding, training and promotion-incentives have all worked against that transition — so even after five years of learning the actual SysAdmin capability is much weaker than required.

For more, see this 2006 post, and these posts and articles on the SysAdmin function. For a short summary of the critical importance of this “Unified Action” concept, see this post on Austin Bay’s interview with Rumsfeld — excerpt:

…Undeterred, I decided to ask a question that goes to the heart of America’s ability (or inability) to win long-term, multidimensional 21st century wars.

My question: “Mr. Secretary, based on our experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the limited interagency and non-governmental organization (NGO) participation in that operation, how do you see ‘Unified Action’ evolving for future conflicts?”

Forgive the military jargon — at one time I was Col. Bay — but the question is essential. It also altered the luncheon ambiance. As I asked it, I saw our very steady chairman of the joint chiefs, Gen. Peter Pace, pass Rumsfeld a careful stare.

“I’ll tell you we’re better at it now than we were five years ago,” Rumsfeld replied. He acknowledged that “challenges remain” in achieving Unified Action and that effective Unified Action is critical to winning 21st century wars.

He’s right — we are better at it than we were. However, I know we aren’t as good at it as we need to be.

The politically deft SecDef finessed the question — and it was finesse, not dodge. The military jargon masked a heavy political hand grenade I was rolling toward the Beltway. You think Harry Reid’s land deal or Mark Foley’s messages are big stories? How about a stinging pre-election turf battle between Defense and the departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Commerce and Agriculture, complete with zinger accusations of who is or isn’t contributing to the war effort?

I know, that’s quite a claim, which is why I need to translate the mil-speak: Unified Action means coordinating and synchronizing every “tool of power” America possesses to achieve a political end — like winning a global war for national survival against terrorists who hijack economically and politically fragile nations and provinces.

People understand the role of soldiers and cops in a war, but in 21st century wars where economic and political development are determinative, an arborist at the Department of Agriculture and a Commerce Department trade consultant can be powerful contributors to “Unified Action.”