I’ve had opportunity to work overseas with many of Uncle Sam’s alphabet soup agencies (DEA, CIA, DOS, USAID, etc.) and have generally been underwhelmed by their lack of foreign language skills and understanding of the local culture. On the other hand they are filled with lot of really intelligent people with advanced degrees who speak and write English extremely well but seem to have little familiarity with making stuff happen. Nothing wrong with advanced degrees and such, but sometimes speaking fluent Spanish is more helpful in understanding why a Bolivian coca grower is not so keen on the alternative crop program. Maybe if our people understood the realities of his world, they would know that the buyers of coca leaves will ship his product to market. Potato buyers don’t.
Yes, even in Latin America our government representatives often fail to communicate – sometimes with horrendous results. An example of this resulted in a Cessna with U.S. missionaries on board being shot down in Peru in 2001 killing the mother and her baby daughter. (News article here: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/cia-lies-led-death-american-mother-baby-daughter/story?id=12058432) From a State Department report of this incident: The language limitations of Peruvian and American participants – particularly under stress – played a role in reducing the timely flow of information, and comprehension of decisive messages related to the April 20 interception of OB-1408.
Back to the present, why are we transferring state of the art airplanes and tanks to Egypt? What is the threat that Egypt must defend herself from? Expert advice on this transfer should have been provided by Foreign Area Officers (FAO), who are (supposed to be) country/regional experts with a high level of foreign language proficiency in their target language. Maybe senior leaders received sound and expert recommendations from FAOs regarding this transfer and ignored it, or maybe not.
Albert Einstein is credited as having said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Our strategy to win the Global War on Terror appears to have gone at least partially mad. Not evolutionary but revolutionary change in how we combat Islamic supremacism is long past due, and leaders must also be able describe what winning the peace actually should look like in order to accomplish the mission. No nation can long project power without a super-powered economy; and with the continuing deterioration of our economy, Department of Defense had better develop a sense of urgency in stopping the tide of Salafism while we still have the economic engine to fight back.
There is a “weapon” in woefully short supply that wielded properly in coordination with border security and energy independence should knock the Salafists back on their heels. The weapon needed is authentic Foreign Area Officers (FAO) in the “field of combat” vice those currently doing not so hazardous wine and dine duty in the world’s capitals. Given our nation’s security and fiscal crises, the current FAO program is under strength with a training and education program never up to the task, and too expensive and inefficient to be justified. FAO training and education needs to be divorced from the academic environment and wedded to a blue collar focus. The ineffectiveness of the current program is significantly due to the fact that few senior military leaders speak a foreign language fluently or have lived overseas outside the cocoon of American education and military systems; and therefore, have little if any practical knowledge of how to train FAOs, their full potential, or how to effectively utilize them.
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 ruling class admit it or not. If our FAOs were properly trained and organized they might be able develop and implement a strategy designed to win. In the absence of a coherent strategy, recommend retool the FAOs’ training and task them to develop strategies, guide the use of lethal and non-lethal operations through victory and beyond, and describe what the peace looks like.