The solution to what ails America

June 6, 2011

Major General John Batiste, U.S. Army (ret.), is currently president and CEO of Klein Steel Service.

This piece is part of a roundtable with Post columnist Steve Pearlstein and four of our On Leadership expert contributors about the leadership questions surrounding Gen. Cartwright’s pass-over for promotion to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

With the president’s recent decision to nominate Gen. Martin Dempsey as next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we now see a fuller picture of the new national security lineup taking shape as we approach the 10-year anniversary of 9-11. This leadership team in Washington, D.C., will shoulder an enormous burden. America has now been at war longer than any period in our history. There is no end in sight, and the level of frustration is building. Marty is a combat veteran with the right perspective, moral courage and intellectual capacity to advise the president and secretary of defense through today’s wars. But no single adviser, however well chosen, can fix America’s current strategic ailments.

As the old saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. This has been our problem since the response to 9-11. At no point, then or now, has our executive branch developed a national strategy with interagency buy-in and support to deal with global Islamic extremism. At no point since 9-11 have the major departments and agencies of the executive branch participated in a process to deliberately develop a strategy based on planning guidance from the chief executive. At no point did planners from every department and agency study and understand the totality of the Al Qaeda threat in every corner of the world. At no point did interagency planners develop several courses of action to deal with the threat. At no point were courses of action evaluated and debated within the entire interagency framework. At no point did all the departments and agencies, with clarity and unity of purpose, issue orders to the executive branch. And at no point were the ends and means clearly defined and in balance.

The truth is that our government is now too cumbersome to be effective without a defined and deliberate interagency strategic planning process. A strategy developed by staffers in the National Security Council or by the president’s personal staff lacks the creative power, cross-functional depth, buy-in and commitment of all the departments and agencies of the U.S. government. Rest assured that the Department of Defense has a strategy to deal with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this is totally insufficient without the full participation of the entire government. Our troops in contact with the enemy deserve and expect this rigor before the first shot is fired.

On each anniversary of 9-11, we experience mixed emotions. On the one hand, we remember those who died in the cowardly attacks and our troops who have since given their last full measure in both wars. We remember and grieve with their families and loved ones. We are incredibly proud of our troops and grateful for their unimaginable sacrifices. We remain resolute. On the other hand, none of us feels any safer. The notion that the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan are over, or even close to being over, is fundamentally wrong. We wonder where this is all going and how both wars fit within the context of a global strategy. We have lost confidence in our elected leaders.

In his address to the nation on August 31, 2010, President Obama rightly acknowledged that we must use all elements of our national power--that military force alone is insufficient. He is correct, but the truth is that our government lacks the process and discipline even to develop a strategy for synchronizing these elements of power the president described. In this most critical function of strategic planning, our government has no coherent organization, effective process and unity of purpose.

The root cause for the disconnected ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our failure now to properly care for our veterans returning from war, is that America went to war in 2001 lacking a national strategy with clearly defined ends and means to deal with global Islamic extremism. Such a strategy still does not exist today. Either the president needs to fix his executive branch problem, or Congress needs to enact legislation as a matter of priority to force upon the entire executive branch what the Goldwater Nichols Act did for the Department of Defense in 1986. Congress can compel the administration to organize for success with clearly defined responsibilities and a strategic planning process with trained planners in every department and agency.

We expect and deserve a government that is capable of developing and executing a national strategy. Short of this, we will continue to spin our wheels in responding to natural disasters, leaking oil wells, financial crisis, border control and global extremism. Gen. Martin Dempsey is one of several new voices that can compel us to deal with our shortcomings. Thank God that America is resilient, but let’s not confuse resiliency with purposeful action.

 
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