Obama and the Counterinsurgency Era
Early signals indicate that United States President Barack Obama will continue driving the "counter-insurgency era" that began under his predecessor George W Bush.
Less than one month into his administration, the most significant indicators that Obama will continue implementing a foreign policy transformation that began under the Bush administration may be found in and around his National Security appointments. Strikingly, the very rhetoric that is being used to signify change is representative of this continuity.
The first key signal came on December 1, when Obama confirmed that he would continue with Robert M Gates as secretary of defense. That day, Obama also announced that (retired) marine general James L Jones would become his national security advisor, and that Hillary Clinton would be secretary of state.
Subsequent appointments, including (retired) navy admiral Dennis Blair to director of national intelligence, and Michele Flournoy as under secretary of defense for policy, along with keeping Michael Vickers on at under secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, are all linked to Obama's assurances that "irregular warfare" will remain at the forefront of US policy, strategy and operations for the foreseeable future.
To help solidify matters, on December 1, Gates quietly signed Department of Defense
Directive (DoDD) 3000.07, establishing the policy that "irregular warfare is as strategically important as traditional warfare". 
According to the directive, irregular warfare (IW) encompasses "Counter-terrorism operations, foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency, and stability operations".
Under 3000.07, Vickers, a former special forces and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative who is considered one of the key architects behind the CIA's covert war with the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, becomes Gates' "principal advisor" on irregular warfare and the person who will provide "overall policy oversight" to ensure the US military establishment is transformed to be "as effective in IW as it is in traditional warfare".
Directive 3000.07 builds on a post-9/11 foreign policy establishment transformation that began with the Bush Administration's National Security Strategy of 2002. According to counter-insurgency theorist (retired) colonel Thomas Baltazar and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Elisabeth Kvitashvili, the NSS of 2002 "emphasized a 'whole-of-government' approach to the war on terrorism". 
"Whole of government" is a key term that has stuck, and is increasingly being used by the Pentagon and the counter-insurgency community.
The Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review Report, released by the Department of Defense in January 2009, calls for "a better balance between our Nation's hard and soft power", a shift which "requires exploring whole-of-government approaches for meeting complex security challenges". 
Directive 3000.07 also built on former president George W Bush's National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 44 and secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld's DoDD 3000.05, both issued in late 2005. These directives had already placed Stability Operations on par with traditional operations. Likewise, the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2006, and the publication and mass promotion of the US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) also demonstrated an increasing emphasis on IW.  
Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen (at the time, a key State Department advisor) said in a speech at the US Government Counter-insurgency Conference in September 2006, "True enough, the words 'insurgency', 'insurgent' or 'counterinsurgency' do not appear in NSPD 44, but it clearly envisages the need to deploy integrated whole-of-government capabilities in hostile environments."
Other key, IW-related developments during the Bush administration included former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's "transformational diplomacy" initiative. Announced in January 2006, it called for "a more cooperative working relationship between American diplomats and the US military".  An equally seminal moment took place in November of 2007, when Gates delivered the Landon Lecture, during which he made the "case for strengthening our capacity to use 'soft' power and for better integrating it with 'hard' power." 
The integration of "soft" and "hard" power is known as "smart power", a concept that is generally credited to Joseph Nye, a member of the US foreign policy elite, and former official under presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. But it is the 2006 CSIS Commission on Smart Power report, which Nye co-chaired, that is more likely the source for the shift in rhetoric that would be introduced by Gates and then used by the Obama administration. 
The fundamental argument of the report was that "the most important mandate" for the next administration would be to re-brand the US image in order that the dwindling Empire might "move from eliciting fear and anger to inspiring optimism and hope".
Optimism and hope, under the overarching if nebulous theme of "change" were key messages of Obama's presidential campaign. Among the major goals laid out by the report is "to prolong and preserve American pre-eminence as an agent for good".
The report asserts that the US "cannot abandon" its military, but that it needs to strengthen the tools of soft power, which include diplomacy and development aid. The report acknowledges that the shift to "smart power" had already begun under Bush, writing: "Some elements of this approach are already occurring in the conduct of ongoing counter-insurgency, nation building, and counter-terrorism operations - tasks that depend critically but only partially on hard power."
As with many soul-searching debates into the strategic countenance of the US over the years, this one hinges on questions of legitimacy and "credibility". For the authors, it is not the formulation of the war on terror itself that is problematic in so much as "strik[ing] a balance between the use of force against irreconcilable extremists ... and other means of countering terrorism."
While the "war on terror" is seen as "likely to be with us for decades", the next administration needed to find "a new central premise for US foreign policy to replace the war on terror".
The new "central premise" appears to have already emerged. On February 6, the Pakistani press reported that Senator John Kerry, the new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, bristled at the "the use of the term 'war on terror'". Rather, according to Kerry, "What we are doing is conducting global counter-insurgency." 
One of the key "guiding principles" that the CSIS commission suggested to the incoming administration was to "elevate and integrate ... development, diplomacy and public diplomacy into unified whole".
The shift to an emphasis on "whole of government" capabilities (sometimes referred to as "inter-agency", or "three-D" capabilities) is highlighted in other emerging policies and key reports.
In July 2008, the USAID released its "Civilian-Military Cooperation Policy". Therein, USAID describes itself as being "designed to facilitate a whole-of-government approach in which US government agencies work ... to provide a coordinated, consistent response in pursuit of shared policy goals." USAID also notes in the policy how its efforts are "a key element of any successful ... counter-insurgency effort". 
Likewise, the touchstone US Government Counter-insurgency Guide had its signing ceremony on January 13. The three signatories were USAID administrator Henrietta Fore, Secretary of Defense Gates, and outgoing secretary of state
Rice. In the Guide's preface, State Department Counselor, and Project for a New American Century signatory Eliot A Cohen asserts that "insurgency will be a large and growing element of the security challenges faced by the Unites States in the 21st century". The COIN Guide is to prepare key government agencies for the "near certainty" that the US will be engaged in COIN [counter-insurgency] operations "during the decades to come". 
Other key responsibilities under DoDD 3000.07 were given to the undersecretary for defense policy (USD-P), a position that is now held by Michele A Flournoy, the former president of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think-tank. When it was announced that Flournoy would become USD-P, the Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman referred to her appointment as "a victory for the coterie of counter-insurgency thinkers that the think-tank employs and champions". 
In addition to heading CNAS, Flournoy was, together with Jones, Blair, and Nye, a member of the "Guiding Coalition" of another key think-tank close to the Obama administration, the Project for National Security Reform (PNSR).
At the December 1 event announcing his appointment, Jones stressed how "National Security in the 21st century comprises a portfolio which includes all elements of national power and influence working in coordination and harmony towards the desired goal of keeping our nation safe."
This statement echoed recommendations that would be made only two days later by the PNSR in its bi-partisan report, "Forging a New Shield". The report's main recommendation is that "a new national security system in which agencies work together on joint assignments and policy implementation in responding to crises and managing day-to-day national security affairs".
Modeled on and led by one of key architects of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which restructured the US military bringing all of the forces under one umbrella for the first time, the PNSR seeks to similarly alter the national security apparatus of the US in order that the "whole of government" can more cohesively wage global counter-insurgency.
The PNSR grew out of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, the same agency that coordinated the Iraq Study Group and the lower-profile Afghanistan Study Group. The latter was headed by Jones. One of its key recommendations, that the US increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, began to be adopted by the Bush administration and was a key foreign policy plank of Obama's electoral campaign. Upon taking office, Obama quickly implemented another ASG recommendation by naming Richard Holbrooke as his special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan. 
On January 13, 2009, PNSR announced that they had received $4 million from Congress via the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Department of Defense. Both ODNI, led by former PNSR co-chair Dennis Blair, and the DoD "will oversee execution of the agreement". 
The close proximity of the PNSR to the new administration is instructive for another important reason.
In 2006, army General David Petraeus and Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis established the Counter-insurgency (COIN) Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, "to facilitate the development of a culture that enables us to more effectively adapt as a whole government when called upon to deal with future COIN or COIN-like threats". 
According to the COIN Center's official pamphlet, its purpose is "to better educate and train all US ground forces on the principles and practices of counter-insurgency, and to better integrate COIN efforts among the services".
Among members of the COIN Center's "community of interest" listed on its website, is the PNSR. Additionally, in its pamphlet, the COIN Center lists both a current program and a "near term initiative" that it is collaborating on with the PNSR. It remains to be seen what role exactly the PNSR will play with the COIN Center. One clue is found in the COIN Center pamphlet which states:
The analytical construct the COIN Center uses for continued analysis of distributed responsibility for issues in a COIN environment is the acronym "DDD" or the "3Ds": Diplomacy (State); Development (USAID); and Defense (DoD)."  That PNSR has a shared emphasis on the interagency, or 3D, process, which may be an indication of collaborative efforts to watch for.
One reason to be wary of the commitment to "irregular warfare" is that it reflects a warning issued recently by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, that US foreign policy is "too militarized". Although the lip service paid to "smart power" might be seen to indicate a balancing effect toward civilian influence over foreign policy, the appointment of retired military
and intelligence figures to key civilian posts calls this into question. 
Since the Obama administration campaigned on the continuity of counter-insurgency and irregular war as key elements of US power projection under his administration, it is likely that these policies will attain a level of popular support not experienced by the Bush administration, and will see little critical scrutiny by the media. The challenge will be to shed light on and critically examine these policies as they manifest in any number of settings around the world in the days to come.
1. Department of Defense directive number 3000.07, December 1, 2008.
2 . Baltazar, Colonel Thomas and Elisabeth Kvitashvili, "The Role of USAID and Development Assistance in Combatting Terrorism," Military Review, March-April 2007, pp. 38-40.
3. Pentagon Recommends 'Whole-of-Government' National Security Plans by Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, Monday, February 2, 2009.
4. National Security Presidential directive NSPD-44 December 7, 2005.
5. DoD directive 3000.05 November 28, 2005.
6. Better Jointness Needed Between Military and Diplomats , Rice Says By Steven Donald Smith. American Forces Press Service, January 18, 2006.
8. CSIS Commission on Smart Power.
9. Kerry says Pakistan aid bill to be passed shortly, APP Feb 6.
10. Civilian-military cooperation policy July 2008.
11. US government counterinsurgency guide
12.Obama's Pentagon Subcabinet Officials: Lynn, Flournoy by Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, 1/8/09.
13. Afghanistan Study Group report
14.PNSR Hails Appointment of Guiding Coalition Members to Obama Administration
15.COIN Center Community Of Interest
17. Foreign Policy Beyond the Pentagon by Walter Pincus The Washington Post, February 9, 2009.
Anthony Fenton is an independent researcher and journalist based near Vancouver, Canada. He is currently co-writing a book on Canadian-US post-9/11 foreign policy integration and transformation, and can be reached at email@example.com.