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26 December 2008


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Col. Lang:

This sounds like a rational consequnce of the vacuum that was created by the failure of the State Department to do its job.

Hasn't this approach, i.e. the pulling together of information from a variety of disciplines so as to provide the US with what it needs to know in order to understand how best to interact with other countries throughout the world traditionally been a State Department job?

Haven't Obama's people been focusing on restoring this function to State with the understanding that other cabinet level departments would be contributing their expertise using State as the lead?

Doesn't this approach by DOD also reinforce the idea most recently promulgated by Rumsfeld that by virtue of its de facto presence in a foriegn country that therefore de jure that the military is the best agent for engaging in diplomacy?

I'm not questioning the need for the information HTS is generating. I am, however, questioning how it shoud be controlled. This may also have something to do with the reluctance you report of the social sciences to participate.

At another more whimsical level it reminds me of the dispute between the Air Force and the Army as to which service should be in charge of things that fly.

Patrick Lang


The State Department is in charge of diplomacy, not analysis of foreign cultures. They also have consular functions. So far as I know the SD has never had a function of advising the military in the way that we are talking about here. They provide what are called "Political Advisers" to commands headed by 4 star officers, but not even they take those guys seriously. Most of their people are addicted to the same Political Science induced aversion to local culture that one found throughout the government until recently.

The intelligence community, specifically thas national agencies do the kind of analysis that you are talking about.

The State Department would be aghast at the idea of providing people to serve with the infantry. Where could one get a good "latte" in such circumstances. pl

R Whitman

Sounds like the old Soviet Political Commisar(sp?) Program to me.

Patrick Lang

R Whitman

If that sounds like political commissar to you then you are probably too ignorant to grasp the idea that political officers in Communist armies were there to keep the communist soldiers under control. The HTS people have no function whatever of that kind. pl


All of these various intellectual underpinnings gloss over the (obvious) central theme: it's all about controlling an occupied population in one regard or another. Sure, candy-coat all this with "hearts-and-mind" jargoneering and warmed-over CORDS business from Vietnam, but it all comes down to the VERY basic issue of bending a local population to accept the views of a foreign power. Any way you slice it, COIN means beating down a significant segment of "the enemy" to conform to the US paradigm of "good government". Whether it's aggregating various and sundry warlords in Afghanistan to "see our vision", to Predator raids over FATA, the effect is simple imperialism, full stop. Spare me the GWOT rhetoric, please; too many geopolitical issues have been caught up and subsumed in the "war on terror" rubric for any of this to suffice as an overall strategic plan for securing so-called "US interests". Obama has an extraordinary opportunity to break through the blinders of self-defeating US policy of the past 8-12 years; will he seize the moment is the question of the day.


Colonel: This is fascinating to me, as I have several friends in both worlds, the State department and a few SF officers. Many liters of Bourbon have been sacrificed on the alter of some mutuality of interst.

My connection to them is largely long ago college or post grad association, but time and tide has resulted in them being fairly high ranking in their fields.

Until very recently, the SF officer recommending "non-kinetic" means was considered a, well... not a warrior, and the SD guy was trained that a resort to force was the very definition of failure.

Yet, even Ghandi knew that backing his non violent revolt lay the threat of a violent revolt.

With some notable exceptions, including the new Africa Command, and pretty clearly Petraeus's fundamental ideas in Iraq, we simply do not have the Latte Battalion of educated, culturally aware folks, willing to get dirty, to which the government can rely t0 mae policy.

We need a military wiling to admit that diplomacy is important. But more importantly, they need to realize that the two are not exclusive.



your -- The State Department would be aghast at the idea of providing people to serve with the infantry. Where could one get a good "latte" in such circumstances. pl

state weenies need to educated do like what many have done in the past -- open up their coffee packet, turn it up and empty its contents into one's cheek -- yummm..... and there you are, a 'walking latte machine' in action. :)


It seems to me that Army Special Forces were the version 1.0 (Mark I, Mod 0) of this concept in that they took the time to learn the local language and customs before deploying into an area and working with the local people. Fifty years later and the Army is figuring out that the way to win hearts and minds is to understand those hearts and minds and work with them, not to pound on them until they agree to comply.

This program is a good idea; I hope the Army figures out how to make it work better and doesn't let some guy who's trying to shape an area according to his own tactical ideas come along and kill it. (And protect those HTS specialists - they are high value targets for the enemy and it takes a lot of time to acquire replacements for those that are lost.)

Patrick Lang


Army special forces were never intended to be interpreters of local culture to conventional commanders, and they never werfe. They study local culture because they train and lead local troops.

As for the risk to the HTS people, well they have to take the risks if they want to do the work. pl

Patrick Lang


It sounds like you have a problem with the US finding an effective eay to do business. pl

Cold War Zoomie

The State Department would be aghast at the idea of providing people to serve with the infantry. Where could one get a good "latte" in such circumstances.


Some of you may remember (for some odd reason) that I used to work for that glorious institution and I have made my thoughts clear here before about what I think of the average Foreign Service Officer, as well as the culture of the DoS as a whole.

Even I, however, will admit that some FSOs - most likely prior military - do some hardship style tours, even though "hardship" for them is probably still pretty posh compared to infantry. And ole Joe Wilson doesn't strike me as a latte drinking wimp if the public accounts are to be believed. (I tend not to mix in such circles and can't say for sure!)

FSOs do tend to live in a cocoon while overseas, though, partly due to the stupid security requirements. In Honduras, I lived in the "off limits" part of Tegucigalpa across the river in Comayagüela. I'm not even sure DoS employees could visit my neighborhood during daylight hours, much less at night. (BTW - I was a DoD contractor in Hondoland, not a DoS guy, so I didn't have to listen to the Embassy security folks which they didn't seem to like much.) All the DoS employees lived in "better" areas of town in little enclaves authorized by the local embassy's security staff. While their homes and cars were getting burgled right and left, I never had one problem for the 13 months I lived in the dangerous part of town! And it's not like I stuck out or anything - a lily white, blond haired, blue eyed, 6' 3", 230 lb Gringo lumbering around in a sea of latinos! (El Gringo Rubio!)

Why didn't I have any problems? I'm guessing because I got along well with my landlady, who came from a pretty powerful family as far as I know. I think the word on the street was don't mess with Doña Alma's Gringo tenant.

What was my point again in this rambling?

Oh, not all DoS folks live in bubbles overseas. There are a few adventurous ones. And sometimes the bubbles are imposed by security requirements. Sadly, I don't think it's the majority, though.

Sidney O. Smith III

Being a content civilian, it seems to me that the way to make your way around the human terrain of another culture is twofold and really not that complicated. One, respect the other culture. Two, from a man’s perspective, don’t try to play Rambo with the aim of picking up some woman of the other culture. Create a brotherhood first. Create a brotherhood and then people will start giving info.

The “hunt” for Eric Roberts in Western North Carolina may provide a civilian analogy. Eric Roberts, to refresh the memory, ultimately was the primary suspect following the Atlanta Olympic bombing, among other terrorist acts.

The feds, in my opinion, did much wrong and it all originates out of some type of arrogance. In an attempt to use military vernacular, perhaps they failed to understand the "human terrain" of western North Carolina.

Number one, the feds refused to listen to some top notch GBI (Ga. Bureau of Inv.) investigators who were adamant that Richard Jewell (the bubba bomber, for those who recall) had nothing to do with the Olympic bombing. The GBI warned the feds time and time again but to no avail, as apparently the GBI advice was “beneath them”. The US Attorney in Atlanta then publicly played it all wrong because he refused to emphasize that Jewell was merely a suspect, not a convicted terrorist, only confirming the arrogance of the feds.

Number two, when Roberts became the prime suspect and the search began in western North Carolina, the feds alienated the local culture. It was beyond belief. They came swarming in on helicopters and what not, with enough technology to pick up the sound of a leaf falling in China. And, from what I can glean, some of the feds did some serious swaggering as they were walking around the small towns.

It would have much more efficient if some fed had simply driven into Murphy or Andrews NC in a beat up pick up and had coffee with the locals. Respect the local culture. Create a brotherhood, don’t try to score with the waitress cause you have convinced yourself you are some damn Hollywood star in some insipid melodrama.

If the feds had not alienated the locals, then people would have talked. Instead no one would talk.

Now, all feds did not act arrogantly. No way. But little doubt that someone, somewhere botched the search for this suspected terrorist in the remote mountains, and I just don’t see how the mistakes did not arise out of some type of hubris.

Of course, Eric Roberts was captured after the feds left the scene. Ultimately some local deputy saw Roberts rummaging around a trash bin. I am sure the feds would have not given that local deputy the time of day when they were running the show.

If the search for Eric Roberts is apropos, then the HTS may help.

Sidney O. Smith III


Eric Rudolph not Roberts. I sure do miss my legal assistant who use to review my dictations and so forth. She saved me innumerable times.

G Hazeltine

Col. Lang - I wonder if the critical and perhaps under appreciated problem here is not language. I think you had some comments recently on that subject in regards to intelligence gathering. And in the field, who will interpret the interpreters, so to speak?



Dear Sir, you recently responded to a writer that you suspected he had a problem with the US finding an effective way to do business. I think that our country is actually finding it difficult to determine in what business we should be involved. Are we in the business of promoting democracy? Are we in the business of safe borders? Are we the economic saviors or economic shmucks of the world? Israel is pumping up something fierce with attacks in Gaza and threats of inflicting high civilian losses in Lebanon. How are we going to define our roles in that part of world for the next four years so that it relects an effective way to conduct our business?

Patrick Lang

G. Hazeltine

The language is important as part of the culture. It filters their thought. To understand the locals you have to understand the way that filter works. The actual communication in Arabic, French, etc is less important but obviously necessary. pl


It's not just filter, it's the little engine that construct cultural reality and world view. (Where I am from, Why I am here, what I am doing now, where I am going to be)

Most of higher up, think the afganis are either stupid or insane. Until several round of battles on their turf, then people start to see why people behave the way they do.

Not in some high level metaphysical way, but basic daily behavior. How one trade goods, village support each others, conflict resolution, logistic, transportation, how favors being exchanged ... (in short, how the average people live and interact, given the environment)

Why taliban can spread is not just because they are culturally & religiously compatible. But they fill government vacuum. They provide basic security, semblance of basic legal structure, protection, education, put men on the ground, etc.


another basic illogical thing. That Palestinian/Israel conflict + GWOT + Islam must be evil? Well, even peasants and villagers can see what the game is about. This is the globalization, those firebrand mullah in Pakistan are connected. All they have to say is "those infidels are killing our brothers and religion" . And just like any conflict that has degenerated into primordial social drives, i works.

Taliban maybe consisted of peasants and warlords, but we supplied the operational structure via ISI in the beginning. They also won psychological war against the soviet. They know what guerilla war is about. They know the basic tricks an how things work.


With Pakistan continue to implode, world economy sliding, and Palestine/Israel (Iran/Syria) conflict getting nastier, everybody will have to hedge their bet.

Iran, Syria, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, China all are going to make sure their interest come out ahead. (just watch, by late January, everybody here can predict general event outline until mid 2010 or so. The basic narratives seems to form.)

Charles I

Rummy et al militarized foreign policy while conducting a marginalizing war against the State Dept under Powell then Rice, neither a match.

Anval, surely the vacuum is largely a function of budgets, which are themselves functions of policy. A comparison between State and Defense budgets, as well as of their respective personnel numbers says it all. After all, there are no fat corporations producing diplomacy material though war is supposed to be the last resort. And their sinecures can't be beat.

Pat, it seems to me that diplomacy absent "analysis of foreign cultures" is precisely how we got here.

But it has been shown the knowledge was there, urgently delivered to policy makers and then not heeded. State and Defense are competing, stove-piped beasts harnessed to the GWOT. Sidney O. Smith gives us the FBI vs the GBI. So if HTS can fill that sometimes intentional void, then all to the good I suppose, wherever I think the function, or the authority at least, should be more properly exercised. Especially if these units become as normal as a complement of latrines, and are in place where/when the rubber hits the road regardless of policy. An ounce of prevention, etc.

I think for now its still make it up as you go as along. The official Tribalization of the Afghan war should be interesting. Canada has come out against it. As long as the GWOT is the whole context, and no matter what happens in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and all of the Central Asian Republics are failing societies wide open to Islamist influence and material in the real world, but mere pipieline routes in The Great Game. The turn to Iraq after the defeat of the Taliban, the failure to saturate the area with money and diplomacy, to really export democracy to a crucial at risk-area over a couple of decades in favour of an illegal folly of dubious provenance - told Musharraf, the ISI, Karzai and the Islamists all they needed to know. And one hundred poppies bloomed. . .

Patrick Lang

You don’t get it. Stop trying to sound clever and try to learn something.

The SD does analysis for themselves but not for the government as a whole except as a participant in the nation al estimative process. It is not their function to advise army tactical commanders. Can you really imagine some striped foreign service type out in the field with the infantry. Get real. pl



I'm not so sure if it is a good idea to directly involve soc sci associations into HTS-type developments. Social sciences have tried to make themselves increasingly abstract, in the manner of pure mathematics or physics, while pretending that it is still directly relevant to real life, in the manner of engineering. In so doing, it became neither, and has been too keen to make arguments akin to "flight is impossible because of the theory of gravity" or "the possibility of flight disproves gravity." (To be fair, I'd been told it is something claimed by 19th century physicists--or perhaps that was a joke and I have no sense of humor.) Personally, I am not opposed to social sciences becoming more abstract--it helps see beyond the obvious, but it does so by making itself less directly relevant to the "real life." I think social sciences need something analogous to engineering sciences--focused on applying lessons of social sciences to real life problems (the airplane, say), rather than the abstract (the theory of gravity, for example). I don't think there's anything really like HTS even in civilian academia--perhaps the civilian world could learn something from the efforts and get serious behind an "engineering" version of social sciences.

Mike Martin, Yorktown, VA

HTS sounds like a long overdue good idea, couched in common sense.

But unless it can be shown to programatically support the Army's Future Combat System, I wouldn't bet money on its longevity.



It sounds like you have a problem with the US finding an effective eay to do business. pl

Well, sir, you may well have a point here. Because "doing business" ALWAYS presumes some sort of modus operandi best suited for manipulating a foreign population or government to conform to US "interests". And these "interests" usually can be re-interpreted as having "national security implications" or "concerns", which naturally have led to military intervention to protect same, and then the inevitable task of - yes...bending local, refractory segments of the target society to accept the Weltanschauung offered up by US policy, and as imposed by US military commanders/proconsuls. It won't succeed in Iraq, it most certainly will fail in Afghanistan, and we've seen the half-arsed attempts at manipulating Pakistani politics lead to now pure chaos in that benighted country.
These COIN theories in their various guises you must admit are relics from the Cold War, which now have been "up-dated" and tarted-up to reflect a "GWOT" sensibility, but the intent always remains the same: "our side=good guys"/"their side=bad guys". And whether it's a "culturally sensitised" military, or a multi-lingual/multi-cultural State Department civic-action corps, the point remains: what happens when US "interests" collide with those of a sovereign state, "failed" or otherwise? Surely there is ample grounds for introducing an international perspective to deal with local/regional crises, for solutions not wholly predicated upon serving US "national security concerns" (which are almost infinite in their breadth and reach, as US elites define them), and don't involve first destroying a society, then rebuilding with a "hearts-and-minds" construct to sort of excuse the excesses that preceded the "outreach".

Cold War Zoomie

G. Hazeltine,

Thanks so much for linking to that video of our soldiers operating in Afghanistan. It highlights the need for HST so much, and the problems our men and women face.

That video was such a catalyst for so many ideas, I could write for hours. I'll spare us from that.

My view is that the primary problem for Sgt Adams is convincing the Elder that we will be a good long-term partner in the same sense that Sidney speaks of in his post. Those elders have already seen one foreign superpower replaced by the Taliban. Why should they think it will be any different this time around? Plus, who knows how many different US soldiers these elders have worked with over the last six years? Most likely, Sgt Adams is one among many due to troop rotations. Sgt Adams obviously understands the problem but is at an impasse. My feeling is that he has tried every negotiation skill he knows to find a solution.

These aren't criticisms as much as a recognition of the factors that must be considered in this complex problem.

Looking at that video, I sympathize with both the Elder and Sgt Adams. Both men are behaving as expected in that situation (maybe the word "context" is better). I don't fault either one. The context in which we are working with the Elders needs to be changed by tweaking the tactics from top down. Someone way above Sgt Adam's pay grade needs to provide that change.

Maybe this is where Green Berets come in as Col Lang has been advocating for so long - establishing very long term, personal relationships in the field. Where we live with them as partners against the Taliban, and the "brotherhood" that Sidney speaks of is built. Where there is a well coordinated transition between US teams to keep the brotherhood intact.

If that is not possible, then the HST can provide Sgt Adams, and his replacements, the tools needed to break the impasse by helping change the context.

This is going to be a very long-term endeavor, but I think we can do it. The great strength of our military is the flexibility most of our officers (sadly, not all) give to our NCOs. And that's not just me saying that - the Soviet military recognized that, too. We typically allow the people doing the heavy lifting, like Sgt Adams and other NCOs, help find solutions. Give them time and they will.

William R. Cumming

Understand the posting but not many of the comments. Probably above my head. First bureaucracies do what they are funded to do. If they are not so funded they do not do them. So here is the issue to me, these advisors are necessary and required to have a mere chance of success. How much funding for them has been asked for by DOD or by State or whatever organization? The lack of almost 3 decades of competent oversight means that if the Executive Branch does not ask, rarely will the Congress self-initiate a somewhat novel if necessary program, function or activity. PL you have identified a major success and deficiency at the same time. Wish you were at OMB reviewing the entirety of the O50 functional account (s). When will the OMB failures and lack of accountablity be discussed or examined.
A complete review of the entirety of the O50 function by a public commission would be a great idea? If you think this is not important, FEMA is largely funded as an 045 state and local support function (there is no domestic crisis management code), while DHS does not even have an integrated HS functional code but manages many different activities with Secret Service still being part of 800 General Government. WOW! Is our government and DOD and warfighting preparedness and conduct out of date! How have we managed to accomplish so much with so much ignorance? Are we just brave and lucky? PL hope you dissect more good and bad in doctrine on this blog! Another great area of concern to me is military support to civil authorities! Hope lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan are not translated as proper for domestic consumption. Given the rash of 4 star appointments active or retired by Obama is there really civilian control or is it just a fiction?


These things are hit or miss, strongly dependent on funding and the individual expertise of the civilian recruits.

Having deployed as a civilian, I will tell you it is a very rare civilian expert that will want to deploy for a lengthy period to a war zone.

The HTS personnel are soft targets; they will take casualties.

I know there are equipping problems, training problems, integration problems. Some of these will be resolved over time, but civilians in war zones are always "others".

Personally, I do not see the program lasting. A platypus that will disappear once the HTS teams start taking casualties.

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