For years, officials in the Democratic and Republican administrations have treated the phrase “all government” as an object of reverence. By that, they meant that several federal government agencies would work together to address a given challenge or concern. In the field of national security, the term has generally connoted close cooperation and coordination, especially between state, defense and homeland security departments, intelligence agencies and the Development Agency. international (AID). Although the term has been used consistently, certainly since the 9/11 Commission report blatantly underlining the lack of intra-governmental coordination, it has become more of a buzzword than a description of the practice. actual government.
Interagency cooperation, if it has taken place, has normally manifested itself at the cabinet level. Over the past several decades, the George HW Bush team of Brent Scowcroft on the National Security Council (NSC), James Baker in State, and Dick Cheney in Defense provide arguably the best example of close interagency coordination. Condoleezza Rice, when Secretary of State, Bob Gates, when he became Secretary of Defense, and Steven Hadley, who succeeded Rice at the NSC are other examples. Indeed, all three formed a consultation group after leaving the public service.
Nonetheless, “the whole government” has been honored more in the breach, especially at the level of senior and junior bureaucrats, and sometimes, lower-level political appointments as well. The chaos in Kabul is a good example. Whether or not President Joe Biden was right in setting a firm date for the departure of all US troops from Afghanistan, it is widely believed that the execution of this policy has been nothing short of a disaster. And one of the main reasons for the mess that engulfed Americans, Allies and Afghans as Washington ends its Twenty Year War is the lack of coordination between state, Defense and AID in particular.
It is true that numerous public servants dedicated to all three agencies, whether at headquarters in Washington or in the field at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and whether they were politicians or senior civilian and military officials, worked overtime to do the job. do everything possible to enable all those who wish to leave Afghanistan to do so. Additionally, many of these same officials contacted multiple agencies to coordinate their efforts as best they could.
Unfortunately, these officials may well be in the minority. With the state taking care of all the paperwork needed to get people into the airport, and military personnel keeping the “thread” to let people in, there has been more snafus than ever before. . And the the price was paid in particular by Afghans who had risked their lives – and that of their families – by allying with the United States over the past two decades.
Things have reportedly improved over the past day as more people are transported out of Afghanistan. Still conditions inside the airport remain horrible. Far too many women and children often have no shelter, food or water in the sweltering heat as they wait hours to board a plane. Conditions at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where the United States brought refugees before advancing them, are considerably worse.
These heroic officials on the ground who try to help them do so at their own pace, which is called a “collateral” activity in addition to their usual duties. There is little evidence that any particular agency takes responsibility for this situation, let alone work with sister agencies to do so. The humanitarian mess has not yet been cleaned up, and there is only A few days before Biden’s curtain falls on all who wish to leave, forcing them to face the tender mercies of the Taliban.
Many lessons will have to be learned once the crisis at the airport, in Kabul, and even elsewhere in Afghanistan has passed, with, hopefully, all those who have sought to leave this once-darkened country in a position to do so. . One of those crucial lessons should be that “all of government” can no longer be just a buzzword. It is absolutely necessary that for the United States to respond more coherently to crises such as the one that has materialized since the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, their lead agencies, and not just the leaders of agencies, but in all ranks, stop treating their counterparts with distrust or even disdain, and work to exploit for the betterment of those who pay their wages, namely, American citizens.
Dov S. Zakheim was Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer of the United States Department of Defense from 2001-2004 and Assistant Under Secretary of Defense (Planning and Resources) from 1985 to 1987. He was also Civilian coordinator of the DoD for Afghan reconstruction from 2002 to 2004. He is vice-president of the Center of National Interest.