Page 1 of 2 Obama and the counter-insurgency era
By Anthony Fenton
Early signals indicate that United States President Barack Obama will continue
driving the "counter-insurgency era" that began under his predecessor George W
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
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
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