Rethinking the DOD’s Foreign Area Officer Program – Redux

As I may have said once or twice before, since the end of World War II, our nation’s military has won almost all the battles while not really winning any wars. This suggests that it is high time to consider new strategies, even different tactics, techniques, and procedures. We are a nation at war whether the media and shielded portions of the country (almost all of us) admit it or not. Whatever we call this conflict [WWIII, IV, Global War on Terror/Islamo-Fascism, etc.] we are in it. And we need to decide to be “in it to win it”. This must be an “all in” commitment by our citizens and politicians, not just another forgotten police action fought by our soldiers and Marines.

That said, The US alone cannot win this war at a reasonable cost. We are going to have to develop non-traditional allies, particularly allies located along the fault lines of where civilizations clash. I originally described this program as active in Latin America and/or the Middle East. Those are still major areas of concern. As new perspectives, alliances, concerns and priorities have emerged – and old ones reasserted themselves – a slightly different route to the objective may prove useful.

Let’s look at this challenge in terms of the “5 W’s”: “When?” “Who?” “What?” “Where?” and “Why?”, plus an “H” (for Home Front) Answering the first of these is, sadly, with 20/20 hindsight: “Yesterday”. Bureaucracies being what they are, ASAP will have to do. “Who?” may surprise some of you. The old picture of the foreign area officers (FAOs) as brainy guys/gals in cubicles, wearing ear-buds that fill their heads with [insert any foreign language here], as they write furiously and think even faster – speaking English to each other at lunch – has got to go. Instead, say hello to the new kids on the block: the WP FAOs.

These next-gen “WP” FAOs are organized within each partner nation similarly to an infantry platoon reinforced. Platoon commander (O-5), platoon sergeant (E-8), corpsman, radio telephone operator (RTOs), squad leaders (O-4), fire team leaders (O-3), and grunts (enlisted advisers). The total number of individuals deployed in WP units will be country and situational dependent, but assume a cadre of 20-30 deploying in-country for 7-13 months with the reinforcements being individuals lacking language and cultural expertise but bringing specific skill sets to bear in particular places for specific periods of time.

These FAOs may be from any branch of service as long as they are willing to eat and sleep with the rubes, that is – locals – that they are working with, and possess street smarts, people skills, and “feel” for the environment versus an advanced degree in political science. Their training is focused on language (minimum Defense Language Proficiency Test score of 3/2+), history, partner nation military and paramilitary organization and leadership, geography, demography, economics, culture and religion, political and foreign affairs, Country Team structure, Foreign Internal Defense, and COIN [counter-insurgency] operations.

Now, we’ve arrived at our next question: What? The mission is paramilitary by design. However, The DOD has to do this because State, CIA, DEA, USAID, etc., don’t have – and will not ever have – the institutional knowledge and skill sets required to train and equip the Partner Nations to conduct Foreign Internal Defense (FID) or even give reliable advice to the DOD on issues of FID or national defense. Our WP advisers will work in the field with Partner Nation (PN) military and/or paramilitary units and focus on improving their ability to sustain themselves in the field. WP’s primary focus is on developing PN’s intel, supply, maintenance, and logistics capabilities, including measures to prevent Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs) from engaging in illegal fund raising and/or transferring of funds. These tasks illustrate the “move” and “communicate” portions of the “Move. Shoot. Communicate.” dictum. Special Forces have got the shooting covered. Which brings us to: “Where?”

When I mentioned alternate routes to the objective, I had in mind a WP pilot program to be fielded in Mexico. By beta-testing in Mexico, we begin in a relatively benign environment; stop and then reverse the death spiral in which Mexico finds herself, while proving the concept with the shortest of possible communication and supply lines. Additional benefits of starting in Mexico is that it reduces the program’s vulnerability to “war on Islam” attacks, and has a slightly better chance of winning the support inevitably required from the Department of State and CIA. Those agencies’ roles are indispensable in getting foreign governments to accept the program, supporting force protection measures, and identifying the organizations and their leaders that need to be taken down. The Mexican pilot program is to be the first and perhaps the longest running of these programs. The threat of the Mexican situation to our nation has been downplayed for far too long. Advocating for a program such as this may force politicians to address our responsibility in the chaos occurring in Mexico and support the fix. In helping Mexico, we help ourselves; and, test the practicality of the Winning the Peace program before fielding this in Africa and/or Asia. (Could a Europe increasingly-unrecognizable to many of her citizens benefit from this strategic tool, with similar parameters, as well?)

You may be thinking, “Great, ST, but you haven’t mentioned the home front.” Glad you asked! Energy-independence for the US is pivotal for many reasons. Not least of which is to disrupt the transfer of funds, via the purchase of petroleum products, to the Salifists that are killing us. Politicians need to explain to the environmentalists that we can longer afford to buy billions of dollars worth of oil and natural gas products from countries that are financial centers funding terrorists’ groups. We should increase diversification of fuels, sources of supply, and transit routes.

Cannot an argument be made that the “house of war” is at particular risk only if and when the “house of peace” is financially prosperous? If that is the case, then shouldn’t our federal government’s strategy be to starve the Islamic supremacists of petrodollars? Delightful side effects might be even greater instability in Muslim nations if their rulers were to find themselves unable to maintain social tranquility by means of free bread and circuses for the masses.

Could we not win the peace by becoming the world’s greatest exporter of energy – of any and all types? What do we have to lose? Energy independence should be our strategic goal and would also inhibit Russia’s ability to export mischief. If our nation’s leaders could actually think outside of the box and play hardball too, then we could probably also slap China back into line at the same time. Win – Win – Win.

As to “Why?” Although we’re on more of a “guns and butter” or “new normal” footing than I’d like to see right now, we have a window of opportunity with the current administration that needs to be exploited and activated. I am particularly hopeful about the ability of the leadership at DOD, DOS, and NSC to think unconventionally, to reinvigorate prior alliances, and conduct other relationships on terms more beneficial to our interests. In light of this change from a reactive to a proactive posture at home and overseas, I see implementation of my ‘Winning the Peace” [WP] program of cultural/linguistic/civil affairs engagement from the bottom up – and from the inside out – as a way to begin our return to “life before 9/11” – and so truly honor the sacrifices of the fallen.


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