For the past decade, I’ve thought that America’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere would cause us to fundamentally re-appraise our presence in the world and realign our priorities to reflect modern-day threats. Some hopeful signs of change exist, especially among military professionals who have first hand experience. They understand more than anybody the limits of force and the need for other strategies — like helping people build resilience.
The Need for Resilience
Resilience is a word that you’re going to hear a lot in the wake of Tuesday’s awful episode in Libya. Think of resilience as a broadly inclusive and “bottom up” ability to adapt, persevere and prosper in an uncertain world. It’s what leaders in the military are pursuing for both the United States and for Afghanistan. It’s the concept at the heart of much of Hillary Clinton’s leadership at the State Department. I’m pretty certain it was also the long term goal of our murdered Americans and their Libyan security colleagues in Benghazi.
The key to successful resilience is local community strength and being prepared. These are tricky qualities for a U.S. national security policy that remains stuck somewhere between the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the 2006 Youtube IPO.
The violent action in Libya on 9/11 and the inflamed masses that continue to congregate at U.S. Embassies across the region illuminates just how complex the world has become over the past 20 years.
It is important to distinguish between the contagious infuriated protests about an Islam-slandering video and the murder of our Ambassador and his colleagues. As of today, evidence points to the Benghazi consulate attack being the result of a group skilled in lethal coordination.
Use of Force Must Become Less Important
If you are paying attention to any campaign-related talking points about this incident, do yourself a favor and turn the volume down. The truth is, we are in an era where we need to figure out a better risk management strategy for our national security. This will involve thoughtful leadership and tradeoffs. The use of force will remain important, but must be moved to the margin.
Unfortunately, the political fight over budget sequestration is vintage 1985 on the Right. The Ryan/Romney position is to pit American domestic resilience against their vision of national security, i.e. a world where a combination of bullying and hardware equals safety. President Obama’s positions are more modern and more subtle, yet even this administration’s signature platform is the drone strike.
Neither of these positions is adequate in today’s world. You can’t meet the demandsof distributed power with distributed violence. It is not sustainable in the long run. In a world of individuals who have been led to believe they are our peers (by our own insistence), “do what I say” is an insult and “I’m going to kill you” is not an effective argument. Today, our credibility matters. It builds our social capital with the relationships that matter — the masses. Carefully stockpiling it is a wise move.
Retaliation over what happened might be a necessary response to armed militias who attacked our diplomatic corps. But we must have an eye to the future where the Libyans themselves control this matter. Persuading millions of demonstrating Arabs and Muslims about the benefits of open society is another challenge altogether.
Egyptian President Morsi called on U.S. officials to prosecute the producers of the slanderous video. People who have lived under dictatorships assume that the government controls such things. The Bill of Rights is unfamiliar to the millions of people we need on ourside in that part of the world. We would have to rent space from Canada if we were to prosecute everyone who posted an idiotic rant online.
AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.
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