Global Outreach: Speaking to the Awakening World
As a former State Department appointee said to me, it is ironically the Department of Defense—long seen as a more conservative arm of government—that is the most progressive in this regard. The Marines recognized the growing complexity of the world and the importance of individuals more than a decade ago and started to remake themselves. General Charles Krulak wrote in his 1999 article, “The Strategic Corporal,” in Marines magazine:
The inescapable lesson of Somalia and of other recent operations, whether humanitarian assistance, peace-keeping, or traditional warfighting, is that their outcome may hinge on decisions made by small unit leaders, and by actions taken at the lowest level….[T]oday’s Marines will often operate far “from the flagpole” without the direct supervision of senior leadership….Most importantly, these missions will require them to confidently make well-reasoned and independent decisions under extreme stress—decisions that will likely be subject to the harsh scrutiny of both the media and the court of public opinion. In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests—the Strategic Corporal.
In order to empower a 25-year-old junior officer to make crucial strategic decisions on the fly at his level of command, the Pentagon has been turning its entire organization on its head, with all power, equipment, and education flowing down. Young leaders are being taught to become moral decision-makers and are given more latitude and authority. While hidebound bureaucracies still characterize some parts of the military and defense-contracting sector, these organizational changes have revolutionized war-fighting commands. In Iraq, junior officers have served as town mayors, while in far-flung forward-operating bases in Afghanistan, they are allocating funds, determining strategy, and executing tactics with immense discretion, operating as the CEOs of their units.
Paradoxically, the State Department—generally beloved by progressives—is among the agencies that has had more difficulty adapting to this new world. While its leaders struggle to help it change (the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review offers an excellent blueprint), too many in the workforce are mired in old ways, reinforcing a hierarchical bureaucracy that sees value only in high-level relations.
Making these changes is difficult. The risk and fallout from mistakes are real, as the fate of U.S. soldier and alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning has shown. But in the DoD, the risk is literally life and death—and they have found a way to make the transition, because the costs of not changing are even greater. Failing to adapt to a world of empowered individuals means failing to win wars. It means missing looming threats. And it means consigning America to a reactive role, unable to get ahead of events.
It is easy for Washington to convince its elite that they are more important than civil-society protesters and developing-world movements. Yet failing to change is far more dangerous when those protesters topple governments and become presidents, or profoundly disrupt the foreign policies of vast states with a few clicks of a mouse.
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