Wartime Interagency Collaboration: A Tale of Two Articles

US soldiers in AfghanistanIn a new post on the Stimson Center’s blog the Will and the Wallet, Matthew Hoh – director of the Afghanistan Study Group and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy – talks about his time served as a junior Marine office on the personal staff of the Secretary of Navy. From 2002 to 2004 he was part of the Secretary’s Action Team (SAT), which he compares to an “internal think tank.” He describes his experience, as part of his service, drafting an article that went largely ignored, but that acknowledged how the lack of coordination and clear lines of authority could contribute to the overall success of a mission. Hoh writes, “Looking back at my involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq, both in those countries and in Washington DC, the absence of formalized relationships and structures for both planning and operational purposes across agency lines has been a constant inhibitor of success.” He goes on to describe the fractured system he witnessed while serving at the embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s clear from this guest blog post is that the need to establish clear lines of authority and provide for greater interagency coordination is a point of reform across the US government.

Read the full piece here and see excerpts below:

“The second SAT article was to have addressed the lack of unity of command and unity of effort among U.S. government agencies at strategic, operational, and tactical levels worldwide (to include the lack of an effective inter-agency planning process in Washington).  This article was clearly not in the spirit of Pentagon leadership.  To the contrary, many defense leaders noted that the seeming triumph in 2003 had been achieved without interagency cooperation.  This article, therefore, was not pursued.

Yet the lack of coordination and cooperation among U.S. government agencies has arguably contributed as much to the dysfunction, myopia, and counterproductive nature of our strategies and policies in Afghanistan and Iraq as any other single factor.”

“This lack of cooperation and coordination is especially prominent in DC, which I observed while serving as a consultant on Iraq policy at the State Department (2005-6) and then with DOD (2008-9).  It occurs at all levels and is endemic to the point of being cancerous.  Petty political and bureaucratic concerns preclude the sharing of information or resources, limit effective decision making by senior leaders and, in turn, prohibit the creation of sound policy and strategy.  In some cases, this can prohibit decision making altogether.”

“Currently, there is little formal or legislative requirement to integrate and assimilate US government foreign policy planning and implementation across agency lines from top to bottom.  Until such a requirement becomes law, something akin to the Goldwater-Nichols Act that forced cooperation and coordination within the Department of Defense in the 1980s, the U.S. will continue to plan and conduct foreign policy in a manner that provides short-term accomplishment to individual agencies, but hinders long term benefit to the U.S.’ overall interest.”

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