National Security

The Case for a Politically Correct Pentagon

Why we need to move from Air-Sea Battle to Air-Sea Operations.

As readers of Foreign Policy understand quite well, a popular concept in planning circles at the Pentagon today, especially within the U.S. Air Force and Navy, is Air-Sea Battle, a doctrine that focuses on preserving and protecting U.S. and allied access to the maritime commons around Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and other areas such as the South China Sea. This approach to future war is in part a response to the march of technology. It is also in part a response, surely, to the rise of China -- a country bent on establishing greater control and influence over waterways to its east and complicating American efforts to dominate the seas the way it has for more than a half century. Although Iran and one or two other states provide some of the impetus for Air-Sea Battle doctrine, China is overwhelmingly the country with the resources and aspirations that has provoked this new American military doctrine.

Much of the thinking behind Air-Sea Battle is understandable, even desirable. Just as we should not be too surprised that China is developing advanced submarines, precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles, and other capabilities to prevent the United States from treating the Western Pacific like the American lake it largely was in recent decades, China should understand our response. American access to the Western Pacific remains crucial for undergirding key alliances there and requires improvements in missile defense, antisubmarine warfare, communications system resiliencies, and other capabilities that better integration between the U.S. Air Force and Navy can help provide. Moreover, Air-Sea Battle is not unduly provocative in most of its substance, in that it is not associated with purchases of new types of strike systems, major weapons platforms, nuclear weapons systems or the like. Associated with America's "re-balancing" toward Asia, now, it is actually intended more to preserve access and protect capabilities for the Asia-Pacific region from budget cuts than to present new offensive options for Pentagon planners.

There is however at least one way in which American doctrine can usefully change -- starting perhaps with Secretary Panetta's visit to the region this week. The concept of Air-Sea Battle, while largely sound on military terms and understandable as a way of ensuring important U.S. access to international waterways and areas around key allies, has become central enough in U.S. defense planning that it needs a more accurate and less provocative name.

It may seem curious to worry about semantics and political correctness when talking about military systems or plans for war. But in Asia, semantics count a great deal; on a recent trip there, I heard lots of complaints about America's perceived efforts to contain China, with frequent reference to the so-called re-balancing strategy as well as Air-Sea Battle doctrine. And in dealing with a doctrine that many (rightly) see as spurred on by China's rise, despite Pentagon protestations to the contrary, we should be sensitive about not treating military planning for Asia like preparation for the next Desert Storm. Unlike Iraq under Saddam, or the Taliban government of Afghanistan, China is not an enemy. Nor are we trying to contain China the way we sought to contain the Soviet Union, including through a doctrine of Air-Land Battle in the latter Cold War years -- but the parallels in phrasing are unambiguous and for China, surely, foreboding.

While warfighting capability is naturally integral to any military operational concept, the phrase Air-Sea Battle emphasizes unduly the prospect of war. But to the extent it is a central organizing paradigm for U.S. military planning for the Asia-Pacific, it has other goals besides preparation for war -- indeed, its very purpose is to help prevent war.

Rather than Air-Sea Battle, Air-Sea Operations would be a much better, more strategically sound, and more diplomatically fruitful name for the doctrine. That would encompass planning for war, to be sure, but would also include normal peacetime presence missions, posturing for deterrence, exercising with allies, positioning for crisis response, and indeed even cooperating with China in some activities. Put differently, our central paradigm for future force planning for Asia needs to have a name that we can expect China to accept, even welcome. Air-Sea Operations accomplishes this in a way that Air-Sea Battle cannot. Such a shift in terminology will also allow U.S. military officials and diplomats to acknowledge what is already obvious to the Chinese, yet often denied by Americans -- that in fact Air-Sea Operations is largely designed to deal with the PRC's rise, but in a way designed less to prepare for conflict than to reinforce regional stability.

Two more modifications are also in order. First, Air-Sea Operations should not be interpreted to presume a preemptive or even early campaign against targets on the Chinese mainland in the event of war. The logic of Air-Sea Battle, with its focus on preserving access, can and does lead military planners to think about attacking the bases from which China's military could challenge and threaten American assets in nearby waters. This is a delicate line to walk, because the worthy and important goal of preserving access to international air and maritime domains near China's shores will not be achievable if the Chinese mainland is indefinitely granted sanctuary in a future conflict. But at the same time, rapid escalation to include attacks against such targets risks general war and is far riskier than some have recognized to date. The right answer is not to ask U.S. and allied military forces to operate in harm's way without defending themselves, but instead to look for indirect or asymmetric ways of responding to possible Chinese aggression that lowers the risks of such escalatory dynamics while still ensuring protection of core American interests.

The other change is this: Air-Sea Operations needs to move beyond a strictly Air Force and Navy concept. As these two services watched the Army and Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, they rightly looked for a new concept of operations for the Asia-Pacific, but whatever the bureaucratic and historical origins of the idea, it is time to broaden it. This is not necessary simply to be ecumenical, or politically correct, by including the U.S. Marine Corps and Army (and possibly the Coast Guard too). Rather, it is because the other services have important contributions to make. No Army plan to spearhead an invasion of mainland Asia is needed or appropriate. But one set of smart changes would entail asking the Marine Corps, with its naval affiliations and expeditionary traditions, to prepare for possible defense of Navy and Air Force assets and installations in the broader Asia-Pacific region. Perhaps it will be necessary, in a future conflict, to help establish and secure protect bases in the Indonesian or Philippine archipelagos, or to help defend existing bases on Okinawa and Guam against special forces attack from a hostile adversary. Creating such a ring of military capabilities in defense of national territory and the territories of friends and allies, may be the wisest long-term response to a China that becomes hostile someday. And there is no reason to believe that isolated bases of the necessary type will be granted sanctuary or spared from attack by hostile forces under such circumstances.

As the Pentagon looks ahead to a new Quadrennial Defense Review in 2013, it needs a concept of strategy and a name for that strategy that works with rather than against the central goals of U.S. global security policy. Air-Sea Operations fits that bill.

Adam K. Thomas/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Argument

Keep on Tweetin'

The embassy debacle shouldn't end 21st-century #diplomacy.

The notorious tweet reaffirming a statement that condemned "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims" has been deleted by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but the incident raises a question that lingers: Is blasting out 140-character messages on Twitter a good way to conduct diplomacy, given the political, and even mortal, risks?

As the official who led the State Department's venture into social media toward the end of President George W. Bush's administration, I am certain the answer is yes. In fact, my worry is that the Cairo tweeting affair will make already risk-averse diplomats even more gun-shy. That would be a shame. U.S. officials need more autonomy to use social media, not less.

In the past four years, the number of Facebook accounts worldwide has increased sevenfold, but growth has been much greater in countries critical to U.S. security. In Egypt, there were 800,000 Facebook accounts in mid-2008; today, there are 12 million. In Pakistan, the increase has been from 250,000 to 7 million; in Turkey, from 3 million to 31 million. Twitter, which barely existed in 2008, is growing even faster.

The objective of U.S. public diplomacy is to influence foreign audiences in order to advance U.S. foreign-policy objectives, and to that end, no one has ever invented a better tool. Through social media, it's possible to get access to the public largely without government or media filters (which, in places like China, amount to the same thing).

Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, can communicate directly with millions of Russians on social media. Anti-American media can't block him out or distort what he's saying, and the fact that the Russians have been chasing Voice of America off their airwaves doesn't deter him.

Some of McFaul's messages seem trivial. On Saturday, Sept. 15, he tweeted: "Stanford football plays its biggest game of the season today against USC. Debating whether to get up at 330 am to watch." But on that same day, he linked to the poignant three-minute video that Christopher Stevens posted on YouTube when he became ambassador to Libya. It has 100,000 views. Earlier this year, after McFaul gave a critical speech, the Russian Foreign Ministry blasted the ambassador with nine tweets in an hour, called him "unprofessional," and said he was spreading "blatant falsehoods." McFaul gave as good as he got on Twitter.

McFaul, who came to Barack Obama's administration, as his football taste shows, from the heart of Silicon Valley, knows how to use social media and, as a scholar of Russian politics, understands the nuances of communicating with an idiosyncratic audience. So does another prolific tweeter, Ivo Daalder, U.S. ambassador to NATO and a former think-tank scholar and writer. But what about other diplomats? Is letting them use a Twitter account in a volatile world like handing a kid a loaded gun?

Since this administration took office, the State Department has sent more than 100,000 tweets from more than 200 accounts; almost every embassy has at least one. The guidelines for clearing tweets are the same as for clearing a written communication. The ambassador is ultimately the responsible party, and he or she defines the local clearance process, usually with another embassy official making the conventional decisions. Tweets can't question or contradict U.S. policy, and, if an issue is especially sensitive, the embassy is supposed to get clearance from Washington.

The problem is that tweets aren't the same as news releases. The medium really is the message, and, to be effective, a tweet needs to have a spontaneous, personal, and witty cast to it. In fact, it's hard to think of two forms of expression more different than a diplomatic communiqué edited to within an inch of its life and a breezy tweet.

On the other hand, tweeting is precisely what diplomats should be doing. Tweets put American ideas smack into the center of a neutral, unmediated conversation -- the best environment for persuasion in an age in which audiences are skeptical of official pronouncements and hard to fool. Less substantive tweets and other social media messaging -- like McFaul's football comments -- can humanize diplomats and lay the groundwork for more substantive efforts at influence.

To be effective, social media require more personal authority and less bureaucratic oversight. Yes, the State Department should restrict who can tweet and absolutely stick to a rule of no freelancing on policy. Your job as a tweeter is the same as your day job: promoting America's interests as the president sees them. But, except in the case of truly sensitive matters, clearance should not be necessary. If someone screws up, fix it afterward -- and quickly -- and hold the messenger responsible.

The problem at the State Department has been not too much talk, but too little. My predecessor, Karen Hughes, tried to encourage ambassadors to communicate by sending a talking-points email daily, with quotes from the president and the secretary. The message was, "If they can say it, you can -- and you should." That has continued, but there's still reticence. What I saw at the State Department was a deep fear that a single misstep -- just one -- will stop your career in its tracks.

In 2010, two of the State Department's best young officials, Alec Ross, the technology guru, and Jared Cohen, a Bush appointee with whom I worked to set up a network of online anti-violence groups now called Movements.org, traveled to Syria with a group of Silicon Valley executives. Ross and Cohen tweeted on the trip about buying American-style ice coffee at a university near Damascus and challenging a Syrian minister to a cake-eating contest. The New York Times said that these casual tweets "raised hackles on Capitol Hill." But instead of criticizing Ross, who is still at the State Department, and Cohen, now a Google executive, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised them for symbolizing the drive to "21st-century statecraft."

She was right. It would be unfortunate if the reaction to the Cairo tweet further inhibited most diplomats' inclination to risk aversion.

That tweet, according to reporting by Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin, appears to have been an outlier. It began life as a news release from the embassy, issued at 12:18 p.m. Cairo time on Tuesday, Sept. 11 -- about four hours before demonstrations began and six hours before attackers breached the embassy's walls. The problem was that, even after the breach, the embassy continued to stand by the original theme. A tweet at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, since deleted, stated, "This morning's condemnation (issued before protests began) still stands. As does condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy." The storming of the embassy was treated almost as an afterthought.

A State Department official told Rogin that the original statement was sent to Washington for clearance before posting and the Cairo embassy was told not to send it without changes, but Cairo put it out anyway. Rogin quoted the unnamed official as saying, "People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content.… Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone-deaf. It didn't provide adequate balance."

The top communications official in Cairo is Larry Schwartz, whom I knew at the State Department as one of the best in the business. He was the top public affairs officer in both India and Pakistan and had just left Washington, where he was running the Public Diplomacy Office of Policy Planning and Resources. Schwartz is outspoken, smart, and a bit rough around the edges -- which makes him both a rarity at the State Department and just the kind of person who should be using social media. His shop has been extremely active in Twitter and recently got into a nasty little colloquial spat with the Muslim Brotherhood that deployed the tool just right.

Clearly, if the unnamed State Department official is telling a straight story, Schwartz, who also vetted the original statement with his deputy chief of mission (the ambassador was in Washington at the time), should have made changes. Even if he sent out the first message too hastily, there was plenty of time to fix it. That's the thing with tweeting -- you can make corrections in real time.

A bigger problem, however, is that I suspect the Obama administration did not have a clear policy on how to handle scurrilous videos, cartoons, and the like. The rioting that followed the Danish cartoon controversy in 2005 caused Bush officials, me included, to work hard preparing for another such event. We were sure it would happen again.

The right response today, I believe, has three parts, and the order is important: 1) violence is never acceptable, and America will take strong action if its people and property are attacked, 2) we believe in the principle of free speech, and 3) all religions deserve respect.

Effective public diplomacy begins with clear ends (which, as an aside, I am not so sure the United States has in Egypt or other parts of the Middle East), and leaders have the responsibility to communicate up and down the line both those ends and the right messages to achieve them. Get that right, and then liberated diplomats on the ground can use the amazing tool of social media -- a gift, really -- to powerful effect.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images