Winning the battle of ideas against terrorist groups such as al-Qaida is necessary to preserve and promote the interests of the U.S. at home and abroad. To win, theater combatant commanders and the State Department must play critical roles in crafting a positive U.S. perception.
Arguably, the combatant command with the greatest need to present a positive perception is Central Command. Concurrently, U.S. embassies in the CentCom theater strive to promote a favorable image of the U.S. CentCom and State have limited resources and growing missions that necessitate closer cooperation and coordination.
This article proposes a model that integrates, aligns and prioritizes CentCom and State initiatives to create a more favorable U.S. perception from a subregional perspective. Prioritizing tasks and initiatives from this perspective has many benefits, such as providing greater visibility of available funding, competing interests and authorities, and insight into other programs and activities, e.g., non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The initiatives to be prioritized include humanitarian assistance, nation-building efforts and selected programs from the combatant commander’s Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) plan.
The CentCom mission is to conduct operations to attack, disrupt and defeat terrorism; deter and defeat adversaries; deny access to weapons of mass destruction; assure regional access; strengthen regional stability; build the self-reliance of partner nations’ security forces; and protect the vital interests of the U.S. within the area of responsibility. The broad and complex mission is directly linked to the president’s National Security Strategy and is executed via the TSC plan. The major TSC programs that allow the commander to engage regional partners include combined military exercises, foreign military financing/foreign military sales and international military education and training.
In addition to traditional staff elements (i.e., J codes), the CentCom commander has key support personnel to build and execute the TSC plan. A political adviser assigned by the State Department advises the commander on political issues. The combatant command has a Joint Interagency Coordination Group (JIACG) that establishes operational connections between civilian and military departments and agencies to improve planning and coordination within the government and the combatant command.
State’s mission is to create a more secure, democratic and prosperous world to benefit the American people and the international community. State’s mission is coupled with the National Security Plan and implemented at the local level through the ambassador’s mission performance plan. Each ambassador is the president’s personal representative and senior U.S. official in the country, and also has a communication path to the combatant commander. The ambassadors are responsible for implementing U.S. government strategy for that country set forth in the mission performance plan prepared annually by the embassy’s country team.
Within most embassies resides the Offices of Defense Cooperation (ODC) and a U.S. Defense Attaché Office (DAO). The ODC implements and manages all security assistance activities of the Defense Department and Defense Security Cooperation Agency for the State Department under the sponsorship of the combatant command. The ODC manages a number of security assistance programs, such as foreign military financing/sales and international military education and training, and humanitarian assistance programs.
The DAO is the primary contact for all joint U.S. and host-country military activities and communication on defense matters between the U.S. government and the host government. The ODC and DAO serve as the day-to-day connections to the local militaries and can be an invaluable means of communication to the military and political leadership in the various countries.
SOLDIER AND DIPLOMAT Although the CentCom mission heavily involves military operations, there is some overlap with the State Department on certain issues. For example, combatant commanders operate in a different environment today than in years past. Commanders are being asked to carry out more and more diplomatic missions, such as negotiating disarmament agreements and military cease-fires between faction leaders, resettling refugees and establishing judiciary committees.
The TSC plan represents another area of overlap. The State Department funds the foreign military financing/sales and international military education and training programs, and CentCom executes them. The major TSC programs are important for several reasons. First, TSC programs help create a positive perception by encouraging military professionalization and fostering personal relationships between U.S. military personnel and their foreign counterparts. Second, the nature of the mission overlap requires a closer coordination effort between CentCom and State. Third, working together permits the U.S. to leverage additional elements of national power in pursuit of common goals.
The current organizational relationship between CentCom and State has functional and structural seams that hamper alignment and prioritization efforts from a subregional perspective. Functionally, the State Department has an interest in the TSC plan because it funds some of the selected programs. As previously indicated, the programs are powerful shaping tools and vital to the success of creating a favorable perception. Unfortunately, State’s budget is significantly smaller than the Defense Department’s and contributes a minuscule amount to this critical capability. Structurally, the CentCom-State relationship is fractured and disjointed on many levels. The fractures are a direct result of a lack of unity of effort. Joint Publication 0-2, “Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF),” characterizes unity of effort as requiring “coordination among government departments and agencies within the executive branch, between the executive and legislative branches, with nongovernmental organizations, international organizations (IOs), and among nations in any alliance or coalition.”
BUREAUS AND CHOKE POINTS A closer examination of the organizational relationship reveals that horizontal and vertical coordination is awkward. The lateral relationship between CentCom and State is inefficient because the coordination exists at two choke points: commander to ambassador and JIACG/political adviser to country teams. The choke points are problematic for the commander and his JIACG staff. Attaining unity of effort at this level is complex because his staff has to individually synchronize with 22 ambassadors and country teams, each with their own priorities and all competing against one another for the same resources. The vertical relationship reveals that the Defense Department command-and-control lines are direct. In contrast, the State Department’s command-and-control lines are less direct, requiring ambassadors operating within CentCom’s theater to report to one of three regional bureaus in Washington.
The manner in which the CentCom and State areas of responsibility were drawn requires the former to work with no less than three regional bureaus — e.g., African Affairs, Near Eastern Affairs and South and Central Asian Affairs — and a number of departmental offices. Realizing agreement between CentCom and the bureaus is tenuous because of competing and differing priorities among the latter. In a perfect world, aligning a single regional bureau with CentCom’s theater simplifies the command-and-control challenges and is ideal for achieving consensus.
Nevertheless, even with this model alignment, seams would persist for two reasons. First, a single bureau, if it were to prioritize tasks from a subregional perspective, has to consolidate and prioritize all the country-specific mission performance plans into a single comprehensive plan. This is no trivial task because the degree of prioritization required is nonexistent. With the current model, ambassadors network with the appropriate regional bureau and combatant command when it is advantageous to them. To each ambassador, his country-specific priorities are the most important in the region. The drawback to this approach is obvious: The most influential and skillful ambassadors are successful promoting their mission performance plans regardless of the effect it has on creating a favorable U.S. perception. Second, assuming a single regional bureau was created, a process would have to be developed to integrate, align and prioritize CentCom’s TSC plan with the regional bureau’s comprehensive plan. Without this step, unity of effort is compromised because there is no mechanism for coordination and consensus at the highest levels, e.g., CentCom and the State Department’s regional bureaus.
One solution for improving the seams is to create a single regional bureau to coordinate directly with CentCom staff. This model uses the current lateral relationships to help facilitate informal communication between the commander and ambassadors and political adviser/JIACG and embassy country teams. Next, a modification to the existing State Department process requires each ambassador to submit his mission performance plan to the appropriate regional bureau for consolidation and prioritization into a single comprehensive plan. The process would continue to be driven by the National Security Plan and each regional bureau’s long-term initiatives, resulting in a distinct set of prioritized objectives. Finally, a new process would be created to allow for centralized planning that integrates, aligns and prioritizes CentCom and regional bureau objectives from a subregional perspective. This approach to planning connects CentCom’s TSC plan with the bureau’s single comprehensive plan at logical points, e.g., humanitarian assistance/nation-building efforts and foreign military financing/sales and international military education and training programs, to ensure unity of effort.
The proposed model is achievable because the critical pieces already exist. The JIACG is the logical nexus between CentCom and the regional bureau’s action officers. The JIACG and action officers ensure the integration and alignment of the TSC plan with the bureau’s single comprehensive plan and make level of effort recommendations for selected initiatives. An executive steering group consisting of military and civilian decision-makers provides oversight and direction to facilitate guidance, planning and alignment. To guarantee the process is successful and has the required resources, the steering group’s membership has to include the CentCom deputy commander and senior leadership from each bureau.
Winning the battle of ideas is imperative if the U.S. wishes to secure its interests at home and abroad. Because of limited resources and an increased workload, CentCom and the State Department must work more closely to avoid duplication of effort, to de-conflict actions and better position themselves to win the battle of ideas. As former CentCom chief Gen. Anthony Zinni observed, a natural relationship and much overlap exists between each organization. To strengthen the relationship, this article proposed a model that allows Defense and State to address structural and functional seams. By addressing each seam, both organizations can align and prioritize initiatives from a subregional perspective. By doing this, CentCom and State could develop more relevant and meaningful priorities. Failure to address these seams could result in pitfalls that would lead to an unfavorable world perception. Zinni best described some of these pitfalls when he commented, “I found on my journeys that our commitment to stability in the region was widely appreciated, but our policies and priorities were sometimes questioned.”