Past being prologue, it is not likely that either the Department of State or CIA is going to beat back the onslaught of Salafism. The intent here is to provide leadership with a notion of the type of Foreign Area Officer (FAO) required to develop and implement strategy. The current “strategy,” whatever it may be, is not a strategy in the traditional sense of the word – that is an idea or set of ideas for employing national power in a synchronized and integrated manner that concludes in our side winning the peace. Our current “strategy” seems to be designed to make Iraq a vassal state of Iran while spending over a trillion dollars to improve the infrastructure in Afghanistan before turning it back over to the Taliban.
Winning the peace begins with completely overhauling the training and development programs for FAOs, and reconsidering their roles and missions. Their current foreign language training is probably great if we want our FAOs sitting inside nondescript buildings all day everyday listening to foreign language radio and governmental intercepts for clues as to the order of battle of the Soviet military; however, it is inadequate to the task of developing reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills that allow a FAO to operate unilaterally in foreign nations.
If a FAO and his counterpart routinely speak English (a practice that is all too common) to each other, then be assured that the FAO’s foreign language skills are worse than the English skills of the foreign national. Let me say this in another way, if the counterpart’s English is barely intelligible to you, then be assured that the FAO’s command of his target foreign language is even worse; because if not, they would both be speaking that (foreign) language. In this case the counterpart is not practicing his English, he is simply trying to facilitate communication. On the other hand, if the FAO is speaking his counterpart’s language and the counterpart is responding in fluent English and there appears to be a fluid conversation taking place, our FAO is probably fluent. In too many cases FAOs’ language skills are inadequate for the current mission, let alone an expanded mission that may actually support strategy development, implementation, and victory.