…between the roles of State and Defense and how those roles should be carried out. The misunderstanding is illustrated in (though it’s not the primary subject of) a Friday Wall Street Journal piece by Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib.
President Donald Trump is (very properly) backing away from a Lyndon Johnson- or Barack Obama-esque micromanagement of what the military is permitted to do, including target selection, timing of engagement, and weapons permitted to be used on those targets. Instead, he’s encouraging DoD to have its commanders on-scene to exercise more initiative, with less mother-may-I delay waiting for permission from the White House (and notice that use of the chain of command from the top down, too). From that, as illustrated by General John Nicholson’s decision to drop a MOAB on his own initiative on a Daesh network of tunnels and caves in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, we’re seeing a more aggressive military with more timely activities.
This has led to the misunderstanding.
The firmer military stance has fueled growing concerns among State Department officials working on Middle East policy that the Trump administration is giving short shrift to the diplomatic tools the Obama administration favored. Removing the carrot from the traditional carrot-and-stick approach, some State Department officials warn, could hamper the pursuit of long-term strategies needed to prevent volatile conflicts from reigniting once the shooting stops.
No, he’s not. What’s being given short shrift is diplomatic dithering. There’s not just a new sheriff in town, there’s a new pace in town, too: State Department officials working on Middle East policy—along with the rest of State below Secretary Rex Tillerson’s immediate staff—need to push their own pace, too. A faster diplomatic pace isn’t just a matter of keeping up with the military; State still should lead, for the most part, and the military still should follow State’s lead, for the most part. There is, though, no need for the slow pace they’ve been accepting. Our diplomats need to push the pace—they always have needed to do so, even if they’ve not—and put the onus on other nations to respond, to keep up. Especially regarding our enemies and those nations that support our enemies or host nodes of terrorist network entities like the Daesh or al Qaeda.
Nor has any carrot been removed from the traditional, yet useful, carrot-and-stick technique of pushing, prodding, cajoling, pressuring. The carrots have merely been pushed farther forward in time: no more slowness.
Contra those State officials, all that has changed are two items: on-scene commanders are being restored to their jobs and initiative (which is not a matter about which State need concern itself), and the pace of development is being accelerated. The speed of diplomacy should no longer be a good approximation of glacial.