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TO: Editor, American Diplomacy

SUBJECT: Diplomacy for Irregular Warfare

In “Diplomacy in the Age of Terror,” Ambassador Chas W. Freeman describes our failures to use diplomacy properly since 2001. While some of his discussion rings true, some of it is problematic. He finds fault with the decision to destroy the Saddam regime in Iraq rather than to eliminate al-Qaeda. He says we need to “devise a cohesive strategy,” yet the four actions he mentions are not a strategy for irregular warfare — the primary conflict in the “Age of Terror.” He fails to mention the importance of strategic communications — the center of gravity in the “Age of Terror.” He does not distinguish strategy from implementation (methods and tactics). He fails to provide a way to eliminate the “amateurism in diplomacy” he condemns, or a way to coordinate all U.S. government agencies involved in foreign affairs (State, Defense, CIA, etc.) during policy formulation and implementation.

His statement that the United States has used “diplomacy-free foreign policy that relies almost exclusively on military means” is questionable. No doubt Freeman disagrees with the diplomacy used and how our armed forces were used. However, since September 11, 2001, diplomats have worked very hard, displayed great intelligence, and used appropriate tact to advance U.S. national interests. Also, U.S. armed forces have only been used after diplomacy was attempted, and our leaders decided that diplomacy was not going to achieve our aims.

Ambassador Freeman correctly notes that our enemies “have a strategy,” and he identifies the key part of that strategy: to expel us (including western influence) from the Middle East so that they can overthrow regimes they regard as corrupt. If successful the “near enemy” would be eliminated. But the second part of their strategy is to establish a Great Caliphate from Morocco to Indonesia that would then be able to convert the rest of the world to “the way of the Prophet.” The goal of this messianic aspect of their strategy is to eliminate the “far enemy.” His reference to al-Qaeda, and cavemen in Waziristan, suggests that he does not accept that our enemies are more than al-Qaeda. Our enemies include all of those that support, directly or indirectly, the global Muslim revivalist movement.

Freeman is clearly thinking of armed forces in conventional war when he states, “Armed forces specialize in killing and capturing the enemy.” But this is inaccurate even for war fighting forces during conventional war. In both conventional war (between the armed forces of states) and irregular warfare (between insurgents and those in authority) the aim is to destroy the will of the enemy to fight. Today, the U.S. armed forces have the capability to do this in both war and warfare. In fact, our armed forces are the only organizations capable of implementing the full range of operations to achieve and maintain stability in irregular warfare. The State Department has no such capability.

Where is the evidence to Freeman’s claim that since the Cold War the United States has reverted to “ineffectual unilateralism” compounded with “militarism, swagger, self-righteousness, and complacent ignorance?” The United States has used diplomacy in repeated attempts to build the required coalition of the willing. The global Muslim revivalist movement we face is composed of non-state actors of various sizes and with various tactical agendas. The UN and international law are appropriate for negotiations to resolve disputes between states, but are ineffective during irregular warfare. To rely solely on the UN and international law would not give preeminence to U.S. national interests. And here is the basic flaw in Ambassador Freeman’s argument. He seems to give priority to world interests over U.S. national interests and to international organizations over U.S. organizations.

Any strategy for the “Age of Terror” requires clarity of U.S. national interests. National interests provide the guides used by those responsible for the implementation of our strategy, and the basis on which diplomats negotiate agreements. Clearly stated, national interests make unity of effort possible. Otherwise there is an “Uncertain Trumpet.”

We need foreign policies that unite the enemies of our enemies with our allies and friends into an alliance of the willing capable of achieving the neutralization of the global Muslim revivalist movement. We need to give credit to those in the arena that make decisions under conditions of uncertainty and often make mistakes; we should not glorify the critics that can after the fact point out how those in the arena might have done better.

Col. Sam C. Holliday, Ph.D.
U.S. Army, retired

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