“The Mission” by Dana Priest

Dana Priest is (was?) a reporter for the Washington Post; I understand that she was the military and intelligence reporter for that paper. In “The Mission” she details several recent military missions from Kosovo to Kandahar, gives biographies on military personnel from top General officers to infantry grunts, and describes the daily lives of soldiers and special forces operators while in training and while in the field.

Among other things, she points out that the State Department has (de facto) abdicated to the military much of State’s responsibility for creating and communicating foreign policy. Military personnel are used as ambassadors and diplomats, and are given broad authority to accomplish ill-defined non-military goals.

I have heard her speak via C-SPAN and other programs; her stand appears to be that we need a civilian “nation-building” (or “re-building”) department to help nations get back on their feet after our military goes in (for whatever reason, from peacekeeping in Bosnia to ouster in Iraq). She believes that the military is not suited for what are essentially civilian tasks: policing, hospital building, water supply, electricity production, economic invigoration, and so on. We must remember that the military is a tool for destruction, and ever more for selective and precise destruction, not for construction. For example, see her chapters on the soldier who murdered an 11-year-old Albanian girl; it is a true story, and while representative of a vanishingly small minority of military personnel, it serves well as analogy as to why military training and culture (which is good and necessary for military purposes) do not translate well into civilian activities under military sponsorship.

I find that I agree with Ms Priest. In a way, her work ties in nicely with Thomas Barnett’s NewRuleSets ideas: the military needs to be able to kill people and destroy materiel, but then we need a civilian counterpart corps to rebuild what earlier tyrants have destroyed or prevented from being built in the first place.

Note: The idea of having this rebuilding corps is **not** a way of saying “the US needs to fix what it breaks after invasion” (even though we do). For example, don’t tell me that the USA decimated Iraq as a whole, because it’s not true; Saddam did more to damage the people of that country in 30 years than we are capable of conceiving. This hypothetical civilian rebuilding corps would help get the people on their feet (after we militarily remove the tyrants who drove the people down) by building or improving existing institutions and organzations and services.

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1 thought on ““The Mission” by Dana Priest”

  1. Something *our* father told me in the sixth grade–“Militaries aren’t meant to be fair. They’re meant to be effective.” He never said it again, but it always stuck with me.

    I agree with the basic idea. However, implementation of said “great idea” is hard to imagine. I doubt the “bring the boys home” posse would abide government-organized-civilians in turbulent, war-torn regions.

    Anyhow, I’ll check out the book.

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