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Counterinsurgency: Political troops, energy and action

This is the third in a series.

U.S. Army and Iraqi National Police on patrol, March 2007. Defense Department photo.

Our elected officials must be political organizers, recruiters, and educators. If they’re not going to be, then their legacy will be one of massive failure and eight years of President Barack Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the national level. Illinois Republican elected officials have already provided an assist to Democratic Party control by their inaction.

The “Counterinsurgency” field manual co-written by General David Petraeus includes these lines (emphasis added):

“A counterinsurgency campaign is, as described in this manual, a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations conducted along multiple lines of operations. It requires Soldiers and Marines to employ a mix of familiar combat tasks and skills more often associated with nonmilitary agencies.

The balance between them depends on the local situation. Achieving this balance is not easy. It requires leaders at all levels to adjust their approach constantly.

The difference between our military leaders and our political leaders is easy to see. Soldiers and Marines deal in life and death and are of course take their jobs seriously. The metric for our political leaders and their hired minions is not how much policy reform can they accomplish but how many times can they get reelected. In other words, not how they can fulfill the purpose of their job but how long can they avoid being fired.

Today’s Republican elected officials and candidates are scared to death of bad headlines, angry constituents and refuse to reach out to and work with groups ready to work with them. Our Soldiers and Marines have to be—

—”ready to be greeted with either a handshake or a hand grenade while taking on missions only infrequently practiced until recently at our combat training centers. Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation builders as well as warriors.”

In a better world, our troops would never have to play the role of nation building like they did in Japan or Germany following World War II. We’d all like nations to build themselves. Petraeus, however, lives in and writes about the real world.

“[Soldiers and Marines] must be prepared to help reestablish institutions and local security forces and assist in rebuilding infrastructure and basic services. They must be able to facilitate establishing local governance and the rule of law.”

James Glassman, who was sworn in last month as under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, recently wrote this:

“[My job], as the interagency leader for the war of ideas, is to mobilize every possible American asset—public and private, human and technological—in the effort.”

Say Illinois state senate minority leader Frank Watson wanted to win some seats this November and took James Glassman’s sentiment to heart. If Frank actually believed that the bipartisan fiscal disaster that is Illinois should finally be addressed he’d get his caucus in motion. He’d get himself and his 21 colleagues out on the stump around the state in town hall meetings and every other useful venue.

U.S. Army soldiers on way to next objective, July 2008. Defense Department photo.

In case none of our Republican state senators realize it, it still is possible to get media attention—especially if you have a good story to tell. They’d need to get creative, work as a team, and be tenacious. Surely it’s clear to everyone that the “blame the Democrats for everything” message doesn’t work. They’re going to have to be honest about Republican failures and have a plan.

Of course it goes without saying that what they offer is going to have to be credible. In other words, it shouldn’t be some loopy massive expansion of gambling aimed at creating yet another “revenue stream.”

Say our Illinois Republican Congressional delegation wanted to help Steve Greenberg break through the informational haze up in the 8th Congressional District. It’s not hard to figure that three or four or five Illinois members of the U.S. House could make news on a sustained basis if they were serious about advancing a reform agenda. Such an effort would be helpful, since most Illinois voters still don’t see the reason why they should elect Republicans to any office.

From the manual (emphasis added):

“The list of such tasks is long; performing them involves extensive coordination and cooperation with many intergovernmental, host-nation, and international agencies. Indeed, the responsibilities of leaders in a counterinsurgency campaign are daunting; however, the discussions in this manual alert leaders to the challenges of such campaigns and suggest general approaches for grappling with those challenges.”

The list of grassroots and communications work needed from Republicans is also long, and the bad news is that the Democrats and left wing interest groups have a huge head start. For GOP principles to advance it’s going to require not only extensive coordination and cooperation between a lot of center-right groups and elected officials, it’s going to take a much higher caliber of leadership to accomplish it successfully.

“Conducting a successful counterinsurgency campaign requires a flexible, adaptive force led by agile, well-informed, culturally astute leaders. It is our hope that this manual provides the guidelines needed to succeed in operations that are exceedingly difficult and complex. Our Soldiers and Marines deserve nothing less.”

Again the difference between our military and GOP leadership is found in the words flexible, adaptive, well-informed, and culturally astute.

Americans might get the government they deserve, but future generations deserve more from us and our current crop of Republican leaders.

Up next: Resurgence is possible with new generals and an updated field manual.

©2008 John Francis Biver

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