As Adam mentioned earlier, two New York Times reporters revealed some new information today about the construction of secret prisons for detainees, one of the most controversial aspects of Bush's global war on terrorism. Back then, the U.S. was trying to eradicate terrorism in all parts of the globe. The strategy was misguided, to say the least, given the nature of the enemy, which constantly formed different alliances and cells in various countries. This was all compounded by the fact that even the designation of who was an enemy was steadily shifting, according to whether the U.S. government considered a particular group to be a terrorist organization.
But now the bar may be higher. The global goodness campaign is underway, with American soldiers, particularly those in special operations, trying to make the world a better place -- “Peace Corps workers with guns,” as they are sometimes called. “Our foreseeable future will be one of persistent conflict involving Third World countries, insurgencies and terrorist organizations. It will be fueled by poverty, illiteracy, injustice, expanding Islamic extremism, and competition for energy, food, water and other resources,” wrote Brigadier General Bennet Sacolick in Special Warfare magazine, explaining that “our soldiers, our warrior diplomats” are out in the field and developing relationships with people in countries around the world. These soldiers are highly professional and prepared for almost any mission, as I learned while watching a group of them train this week in the forests near Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And, as Sacolick wrote, “It is the ability to understand the balance between the two opposite notions of diplomacy and force that makes our Soldiers so remarkably valuable.”
The soldiers are an impressive bunch. But, on a broader scale, the military may have stepped too far into the field of diplomacy. Matt Armstrong, an adjunct staffer at RAND, wrote about the Defense Department’s “mission creep,” describing the controversy about the department's role. There was a time, of course, when U.S. diplomats handled diplomacy. Under Bush, however, special operations in the military were expanded, as well as other aspects of the Defense Department, and the State Department was sidelined.
In a somewhat different way, this approach to the bureaucracy has continued under Obama. Today, the military is the leading force in the new counterinsurgency campaigns, providing the bulk of its personnel, and represents a new form of global engagement that seems honorable and is based on good intentions but is no less ambitious or sweeping than the former war against terrorism. As in the past, it is difficult to measure progress in these efforts, let alone victory.