The Directive

9. The Directive

Nagl and Kilcullen got back to the Pentagon from Basin Harbor with an overwhelming sense of urgency and mission. Nagl’s boss, Paul Wolfowitz, had resigned the week before to become president of the World Bank. His replacement, Gordon England, had a background in management, not policy, in keeping with the style and responsibilities of most deputy secretaries of defense. (He’d been an executive vice president at General Dynamics, followed by a stint as secretary of the Navy.) This left Nagl with a little more time for roaming the corridors, seeking allies for his cause, and helping Kilcullen with the latest drafts of the Quadrennial Defense Review’s irregular-warfare section, which was meeting resistance from the uniformed services and from some of Rumsfeld’s civilian aides.

Late that summer, Nagl’s book, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, came out in paperback, opening up new pathways of influence. For one thing, it retailed for just $17, one-fifth the price of the Praeger hardcover. For another, it included a new foreword by General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff.

How Schoomaker came to write the foreword was a typical tale of Nagl’s brazenness. While in Iraq, Nagl had heard from friends in the Pentagon that Schoomaker kept a stack of the books in his office—the hardcover edition—and that he was handing them out to every four-star who dropped by. One day, not long after Nagl started working in the Pentagon himself, he saw Schoomaker sitting outside Wolfowitz’s office, waiting for a meeting to begin. The lieutenant colonel approached the four-star general, introduced himself, said that his book was coming out in paperback soon, and asked if he would be so gracious as to write the foreword. Schoomaker, who always liked bold young officers, said he’d be happy to.

The general went all out, hailing Nagl’s book as “especially relevant today, and one that military leaders and interested citizens at all levels should read”—an endorsement that gave it an air of credibility in national-security circles and a guaranteed place on bookshelves throughout the Pentagon.

One official who kept a copy prominently on his shelf was Eric Edelman, a career diplomat who, in early August, had replaced Doug Feith, a key member of Rumsfeld’s inner circle (many had called him Rumsfeld’s henchman), as undersecretary of defense for policy. Edelman was no less hawkish than Feith—he’d signed the neocon petitions calling for regime-change in Iraq, and he’d been Vice President Cheney’s deputy national security adviser in the first two years of the Bush administration—but he was a more critical thinker. He was a friend of Eliot Cohen and Andrew Krepinevich (he’d later go work for both) and, like them, was well versed in the history of the Vietnam War. In his new job, he read up on counter-insurgency, and, after Nagl’s paperback came out, he, too, bought a stack of copies and handed them out to everyone he worked with in the Pentagon and the White House.

Edelman had once been a Rumsfeld-admirer but soon realized that the secretary had lost all interest in Iraq—a lapse, he felt, that both reflected and accentuated the aimlessness of US strategy and the looming collapse of the whole war effort.

A few weeks into his new job, Edelman handed Rumsfeld a copy of Nagl’s book and told him that its author happened to be working just a few steps down the hall; he should call him in for a chat.

Yes, I’ve heard that, Rumsfeld replied.

Rumsfeld never called Nagl. The two never exchanged a word.

Edelman, however, did have Nagl into his office, several times, and Kilcullen, too.

•  •  •

For much of the previous year, a handful of Pentagon officials had been drafting, and trying to rally support for, a directive ordering the military to spend more money, train more personnel, and develop new doctrine on “stability operations”—the phase of the war after the tanks and artillery have defeated the enemy’s army and overthrown the dictator, the phase that involved reconstruction, governance, and nation-building: the phase, in other words, that the American commanders were fumbling at the moment in Iraq.

The effort had begun in August 2004, when a task force of the Defense Science Board, one of several Pentagon advisory panels, completed a 199-page report titled Transition to and from Hostilities. It concluded, “Stability and reconstruction missions must become a core competency of both the Departments of Defense and State,” and training for those missions must be treated “as seriously as we treat learning combat skills.” The report concluded with an unusually blunt coda: “We urge greater than usual speed in implementing the recommendations of our study. The nation’s security demands it.”

The chairman of the task force was Craig Fields, a former director of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and a friend of Rumsfeld’s for twenty years. Fields briefed the report to Rumsfeld personally. Its premise and conclusion cut against Rumsfeld’s grain, but he was reluctantly coming to realize that wars like the one in Iraq had an unavoidable political dimension, which needed to be addressed with political as well as military means. After the briefing, Rumsfeld told his staff to work up a Defense Department directive that put the report’s recommendations into effect.

The task was turned over to Jeffrey “Jeb” Nadaner, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations. But Rumsfeld never got actively behind it, resistance throughout the Pentagon mounted, and soon the effort stalled.

A lawyer and former State Department official who’d worked on issues related to Iraq and counterterrorism, Nadaner knew something about counterinsurgency. He’d studied the Vietnam War as a student at Duke University and had interviewed Robert Komer for a research paper about the CORDS project. Like Edelman, he delved more deeply into the COIN literature once he arrived at the Pentagon, discovered Nagl’s book when it came out in paperback, realized that the author was working in the building, and sought him out. Nagl, in turn, introduced him to Kilcullen.

Nadaner was relieved to find them both. Like Nagl in his first few months on the job, he had roamed the Pentagon’s corridors in search of possible allies outside the handful of analysts on his staff. To his astonishment, Nagl and Kilcullen were the only ones he found who knew much of anything about the subject.

It also turned out that Nagl and Kilcullen had already met most of his staff. Janine Davidson had been at the Basin Harbor conference. (She and Kilcullen became especially close friends and eventually got married.) Another staffer, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Lacquement Jr., who’d recently worked as special assistant to David Petraeus in Mosul, had been, several years earlier, one of Nagl’s faculty colleagues in the Sosh department at West Point.

Rumsfeld had said, after Fields’s briefing, that he wanted a directive written within sixty days. But nearly a year had passed, nothing had come of it, and no one at the top, least of all Rumsfeld, was complaining. The project was plagued with delays from the outset. Not until midfall of 2004, two months after Fields’s briefing, did the order to write a directive land on Nadaner’s desk, along with instructions to get endorsements from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the relevant assistant secretaries—always a recipe for gridlock.

Nadaner’s staff wrote and circulated a rough ten-page draft capturing the study’s main recommendations. At subsequent meetings, senior officers, ranging in rank from colonel to three-star general, filed adamant objections to every point. The draft noted that in stability operations, intelligence agencies should acquire information about not just the enemy’s military order of battle but also the country’s social structure and culture—a key point in Fields’s study. The officer representing the Army’s intelligence command crossed out that line, saying the task didn’t fall under his statutory responsibilities. Similarly, the draft stated that stability operations should be given the same priority as combat operations—the Fields study’s central conclusion. An officer from the vice chief of staff’s office objected that this notion violated the fundamentals of Army doctrine going back to the Second World War. Indeed it did. That was the premise of the report: that the military hadn’t been paying enough attention to a war’s post-battlefield phase.

When Rumsfeld heard about the stalling, he called his old friend Martin Hoffman, who had been secretary of the Army in the mid-1970s during Rumsfeld’s first tour as defense secretary in the Ford administration. Hoffman had set up an office in the Pentagon to persuade retired business executives to come help out in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a volunteer effort, and Hoffman had recruited some distinguished citizens. He also knew something about counterinsurgency, having been an Army officer in Vietnam.

At first Nadaner took Hoffman’s involvement as a hopeful sign, but soon realized he’d been mistaken. Hoffman rewrote the document completely, undoing some compromises that had been hammered out with the services, putting the Army in charge of all operations and insisting on policy changes that far exceeded the scope and purview of any DoD directive ever issued. Because Hoffman was Rumsfeld’s friend, everyone involved assumed he was reflecting the secretary’s views, and this stiffened resistance still further.

Rumsfeld was brought in to break the deadlock, an unusual step at this stage of a draft, but there was no choice. The meeting took place on July 25, a few weeks short of a year since he’d ordered the directive to be written within sixty days. Rumsfeld spoke via videoconference from his Pentagon plane, seated next to General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld skimmed through Hoffman’s revised draft and agreed with Nadaner: it was unacceptable; the Army couldn’t be left in control of this policy; that was the job of the secretary of defense or his undersecretary for policy, working with all the services, to ensure civil-military cohesion. He threw out his friend’s work.

Nadaner, watching Rumsfeld on a video monitor in a Pentagon office, suggested that an outside commission review the pre-Hoffman draft and report on how to go forward. Rumsfeld gave his go-ahead.

To make sure that this outside commission had authority, Nadaner asked Nagl to get his boss, Gordon England, the deputy secretary of defense, to issue the formal document creating it. England did that on August 10. Craig Fields, who’d signed the original Defense Science Board report, agreed to chair the panel. Fields held hearings, with testimony from some of the experts who’d worked on the original study. On September 15, he signed a follow-on report, affirming the urgency of the problem and endorsing the draft that Nadaner and his staff had written just before the Hoffman fiasco, with only a few minor changes.

Then another obstacle dropped from the sky. Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr. had just been named vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His previous job was head of Joint Forces Command, where he’d written several essays and memos about stability operations and reconstruction. He decided to take a crack at the draft and rewrote it still again, with an emphasis on enlarging the State Department’s role in these matters so that the Pentagon wouldn’t have to do much at all. Nadaner, who’d worked in the State Department, disagreed, not on principle but because State simply lacked the capacity and resources to take the lead, especially in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan, where a war was still going on.

Finally, in mid-October, a compromise was fashioned. The title of the directive would be changed to “Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations.” SSTR was a phrase that came out of the State Department’s handbook on this subject; one could, therefore, infer that State would be involved, although nothing in the document said so explicitly. It was a finesse, which everyone was willing to accept.

In this brief window of bureaucratic harmony, Nagl brought the draft to his boss (DoD directives were generally signed by the deputy secretary of defense). England signed it on November 28, 2005, fifteen months after Rumsfeld had nudged the process into motion.

•  •  •

On paper, Defense Department Directive 3000.05 was a remarkable document, more radical in its implications than even the Defense Science Board had recommended. The key passage read:

Stability operations are a core US military mission that the Department of Defense shall be prepared to conduct and support. They shall be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all DoD activities including doctrine, organization, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning.

The definitions and elaborations were straight out of classic counterinsurgency literature. The immediate goal of stability operations, the document noted, “is to provide the local populace with security, restore essential services, and meet humanitarian needs,” adding, “US military forces shall be prepared to perform all tasks necessary to establish or maintain order when civilians cannot do so.” These tasks might include “ensuring security, developing local governance structures, promoting bottom-up economic activity, rebuilding infrastructure, and building indigenous capacity for such tasks.”

If put into effect, this would be a very big deal, not just for the war strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, but for the way the Pentagon did business generally. It could mean a real transformation in the American way of war, a declaration—with changes in the budget, organization, and institutional culture to match—that Phase IV, nation-building, COIN, call it what you will, was just as much a “core US military mission” as combat. It would mean that the kinds of conflicts once derided as Military Operations Other Than War (“Real men don’t do moot-wah”) were, in fact, wars after all.

The trick, of course, was putting the directive into effect. Far-reaching as its guidelines seemed, they were mere guidelines. The document put forth no timetables, targets, or benchmarks for progress, no specific goals, no express authority for officials to take many of the recommended actions—only orders that certain officials should consider whether and how to do so. It would take an active and committed secretary of defense to push his subordinates to ensure that decisions were made and actions were taken. Rumsfeld was not that secretary of defense.

•  •  •

If Rumsfeld were that secretary, the Quadrennial Defense Review would have been the forum in which to do those things. But Rumsfeld resisted all such pressures and traps there as well.

Kilcullen, Nagl, and the rest of Jim Thomas’s crew were crafting and polishing the QDR at the same time that Nadaner and Nagl were pushing Directive 3000.05 through its final obstacles. The QDR had four sections—on beefing up homeland defense, countering weapons of mass destruction (especially those that might be built by Iran and North Korea), dealing with the potentially emerging threat from China, and rebuilding a capability for irregular warfare—but only the last was a new element, the section that set this QDR apart from earlier editions.

Irregular warfare was the topic that Thomas highlighted in the document’s introduction, knowing that it would be the only part of the ninety-eight-page booklet that many officials would read. His opening sentence stressed that the context of this year’s QDR was the “long war”—the war on terrorism—“a war that is irregular in its nature.” A major purpose of the review, he asserted, had been to place “greater emphasis” on “irregular warfare activities,” including “counterinsurgency and military support for stabilization and reconstruction efforts.”

The body of the report, too, stressed repeatedly the need for more resources to “conduct a large-scale potentially long-duration irregular warfare campaign,” such as those that the United States was presently waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it emphasized the need to recruit, train, and equip “a new breed of warrior” who was “as proficient in irregular operations, including counterinsurgency and stabilization operations,” as in high-intensity combat.

In this sense, the introduction stressed, this QDR was prescribing a “new direction” for the entire US armed forces.

But Rumsfeld blunted this theme by writing a “preface,” which, in the published document, appeared before Thomas’s “introduction,” and which said, up front: “There is a tendency to want to suggest that documents such as this represent a ‘new beginning.’ Manifestly, this document is not a ‘new beginning.’”

Rather, Rumsfeld emphasized at the end of his five-page preemption: “it is important to note” that this QDR “is part of the continuum of transformation” laid out in the edition four-and-a-half years earlier—the edition that had touted the revolution in military affairs.

There was no indication that the preface and the introduction had been written by two different people with two different agendas. (Rumsfeld’s was the only signature that appeared in the document.) But word got around the building that this was the case—that Rumsfeld was in effect nullifying the more radical sections of the report. This came as reassurance to many uniformed officers, who had no desire to go down the road that Thomas, Kilcullen, and their comrades were trying to pave. For those who didn’t get the message, the effect was merely confusing; the secretary’s intent, what it was that he wanted the military to do, came off as muddled. And that was just how Rumsfeld wanted it to be.

•  •  •

Still, the QDR and Directive 3000.05 were useful as tools of bureaucratic politics. Both documents contained enough verbal endorsement of COIN principles to provide cover for officials and commanders who, in the absence of an overriding strategy, wanted to pursue that approach. They could now do so without prompting accusations of violating Army doctrine or flouting the secretary’s orders; they could cite chapter and verse of these two policy statements, which had been signed by the Defense Department’s top civilian authorities.

The commander who invoked this cover most shrewdly was Lieutenant General David Petraeus, who, in October 2005, just as both documents were nearing completion, came home from Iraq with the firm intention of fulfilling a thirty-year ambition to push COIN into the mainstream of Army doctrine and culture.

In a brief conversation with Petraeus soon after his return, Nadaner told him about the directive and all the obstacles he was navigating to get the language just right.

Petraeus told him not to worry so much about the details. The important thing was to get the basic principles up front and the directive signed. That, he said, would serve as his “sword and shield.” The rest, leave to him.

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