State may have asked itself the same. Secretary Hilary Rodham Clinton’s Quadrennial Diplomatic and Development Review, unveiled in December 2010, included a goal of “improving the department’s ability to defuse crises before they explode.” That’s USIP’s mission.
The agency “is an independent institution established and funded by Congress to promote research, education and training on the peaceful prevention, management and resolution of international conflicts,” says its Web site. Officers and staff come from the foreign service, academia and the military. Some go the other way, such as Executive VP Sonenshine, picked by the White House to be the next undersecretary of State for public diplomacy.
USIP facilitated the work of the Iraq Study Group. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) promoted formation of the bi-partisan panel in 2006 to recommend alternatives to the Bush administration’s failing Iraq war strategy. Wolf asserted that the institute provided “the only place I could bring together” Republicans and Democrats and that would be “an honest broker, [allowing] everything on the table.”
Off-the-mark as it may be on Arab-Israeli contention and Islamic triumphalism, the institute entices official Washington and the news media. National Journal magazine lauded USIP several years back as “amazingly effective” in a host of foreign crises, including in southern Sudan. A senior U.N. official said “you would have thought that because it is funded by Congress, it is seen as just supporting U.S. policy, but that is not my sense at all …. They come across as very credibly non-partisan, non-ideological, and respected, world-wide.”
Gen. David H. Petraeus, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, now CIA director, praised USIP’s involvement in Iraq’s “triangle of death.” Sonenshine recalled that “Mahmoudiya was a highly conflicted region …. It was clear that part of the problem was the relationship between the U.S. military, foreign organizations and Iraqi organizations. We played a bridging function to get people with their own turf concerns around a table.”
The intent was “to introduce an independent, neutral organization without a clear agenda, to get people talking to each other.” U.S. provincial reconstruction teams, civilian organizations and Iraqis “created a compact in which local stakeholders and leaders were able to sign their own vision statement for how they wanted to govern their part of Iraq …. We were able to bridge that.”
“In the Balkans [was] where we did the most operational work … getting Bosnians and Serbs to talk to each other,” Sonenshine said. After the State Department mediated the 1995 Dayton Accords that formally ended a three and a-half year war, USIP “did 10 years of civil society building …. all the stuff you don’t see when the cameras go away.”
Author Ralph Peters (Lt. Col., U.S. Army, Ret.) has written that “the most troubling aspect of international security for the United States is not the killing power of our immediate enemies, which remains modest in historical terms, but our increasingly effete view of warfare. …[H]ad we been ruthless in the use of our overwhelming power in the early days of conflict in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the ultimate human toll — on all sides — would have been far lower.”
USIP staffer Mike Dziedzic (Col., USAF, Ret.) doubts Peters’ critique applies to threats against a great power not primarily from another power but from places of “state weakness” and “state failure” like Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. For Dziedzic, one of the institute’s proper concerns is “how to make a failed state work.” Otherwise, “they’re ripe to be exploited by the Islamists …. As an institute, we bridge the civil-military gap.”
In the 1940s and 1950s the United States helped conquer, occupy, and rebuild Germany and Japan. Despite the thousands of GIs killed and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade, Washington appears unable to devise or sustain equivalent strategies for victory in either country or for deterence of larger, threatening neighbors like Pakistan and Iran.
If the institute’s budget survives a potential Republican majority in both chambers of Congress, closer scrutiny as part of planning to identify and secure national interests in an era of Islamic triumphalism, Arab upheaval, Chinese expansionism and Russian trouble-making will be mandatory.
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