Thursday, March 18, 2010

The First Civilian Surge and a Lesson from History

James Traub writing in Foreign Policy on America’s nation-building efforts says “let’s face it, America isn’t very good at nation-building,” (see Surge Incapacity | FP | March 8, 2010):  Excerpt: 

The United States' first "civilian surge" took place in August 1901, when 500 teachers disembarked from the USS Thomas, a converted cattle ship, in Manila Bay -- "the men wearing straw boaters and blazers," according to journalist and historian Stanley Karnow, "the women in long skirts and large flowery hats. Like vacationers, they carried baseball bats, tennis rackets, musical instruments, cameras and binoculars." America's colonial enterprise was new: Only a few months had passed since the Army had subdued a fierce insurgency and commenced governing the Philippines. The Thomasites, as this proto-Peace Corps came to be known, had responded to an advertisement placed in newspapers across the United States.

The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) no longer have to put ads in the papers to assemble a civilian force for the state-building effort now under way in Afghanistan, but it's remarkable how haphazard, and almost frantic, the system remains. "It's a numbers game," a USAID official told me, "a body game." Only a few of the 400-odd civilians USAID has hired so far have either language or technical skills; most are either eager youngsters or post-career officials from the military, State, or USAID. Jack Lew, the deputy secretary of state who is overseeing the process, says that "it's proved incredibly difficult to take on such an urgent challenge when you don't have a deep enough bench."
The fiasco in Iraq demonstrated even to the ideologues that you couldn't win the war unless you won the postwar as well; and the postwar required civilian capacity. In April 2004, the National Security Council established the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization to orchestrate postwar operations. Carlos Pascual, the first director (and now ambassador to Mexico) drew up a plan to field a rapid deployment force of civilian specialists backed by a pool of 3,000 reservists. The cost of building the quick force and deploying it for three months would be a paltry $350 million a year. The money was put in the State Department's budget, and then cut by the White House. As Pascual explained to me several years later, the Pentagon believed in the new force, but the civilian agencies, ironically, did not. The civilian force died yet another death.

Read the whole thing here.

What Mr. Traub did not include in his piece is that although the first “civilian surge” occurred in August 1901, the United States did not recognize the independence of the Philippines and relinquish American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands until July 4, 1946.  A good 45 years after the initial civilian surge. 

Clark Air Base was in operation from 1903 to 1991. Subic Naval Base was in operation from 1899-1992. The Philippine Senate in 1991 finally rejected the extension of the Military Bases Agreement of 1947 during the post-Marcos era. According to its Wikipedia entry, “on November 24, 1992, the American Flag was lowered in Subic for the last time and the last 1,416 Sailors and Marines at Subic Bay Naval Base left by plane from NAS Cubi Point and by the USS Belleau Wood. This withdrawal marked the first time since the 16th Century that no foreign military forces were present in the Philippines.”

Something else here from the pages of history:

One of the US bases negotiators during the Marcos regime was the youngest Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs.  That man is no other than the current S/SRAP Richard Holbrooke who was A/S for the EAP Bureau under president Carter from 1977-1981.  See  Waltzing with a Dictator -Marcos (must-read chapters #9 on Bases and #10 on Visitors to Manila): 
"I made Philippine policy," says Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke. It is a boast, but it is not an exaggeration.[...] In the Philippines Holbrooke joined Landsdale and Byroade in the exclusive club of individuals who had a singular impact on the policy and the country (p.172).
“In Washington […] December 1978 was a time for rejoicing for Holbrooke and his staff. “We are euphoric,” Holbrooke recalled. “We’d had a hell of a December.” The bases negotiations were completed, and something else Holbrooke cared about, and had played a role in achieving, had come to fruition: Carter announced on December 16 that US-China relations would be normalized.” (p.254, Waltzing with a Dictator, Raymond Bonner).  
I don't know the answer to this -- I'm just thinking out loud..  If we take these pages from history on the Philippines, might the United States still be in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2050 if it’s deemed to be in the national interest? It was communism then, it is terrorism now ....

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