April 5, 2013

David Ignatius wrote [“Can the U.S. rely on SOF power?” op-ed, March 31] about the ascendancy of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), becoming what some believe to be “America’s best weapon against extremists.” He was wise to end his column on a cautionary note, saying that special-operations forces can’t do the job of the State Department.

The “military liaison elements” Mr. Ignatius mentioned were the precursor of this strategy, and it didn’t go well. In Paraguay in 2004, two undercover soldiers were involved in a deadly incident, and it turned out that the ambassador did not know of their mission — or even that they were in the country. Since then, ambassadors must be informed of special-operations activities, but they do not necessarily have veto power over those missions.

Adm. William H. McRaven, as the head of SOCOM, asked Congress for greatly enhanced authority last year. His request would have increased SOCOM’s ability to act without some of the checks that are now in place. The House and Senate, in their wisdom, said no — for now.

The application of military force is the most sensitive instrument we have in our diplomacy toolbox. To allow the Special Operations Command to work even further outside the State Department’s influence is a disaster waiting to happen.

George Withers, Greenbelt

The writer is a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. The views expressed here are his own.