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August 22, 2007

Edwards Reengages in Search of a Doctrine
Posted by Ari Melber

The September issue of Foreign Affairs hits newsstands today, featuring a 5,700-word article with John Edwards’ most detailed foreign policy vision to date, under the internationalist headline “Reengaging With the World.”  Of all the prominent presidential candidates, Edwards has staked out the most comprehensive challenge to the Bush Doctrine of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).  Top Republicans have promised to continue most of Bush’s foreign policies – or “double” them, as Mitt Romney pledged for Gitmo – while leading Democrats have largely operated within Bush’s framework. Democrats tend to criticize the Iraq war’s execution while crediting GWOT for improving national security (Clinton); or to oppose the war while endorsing variations of preemption (Obama); or to call for multilateral diplomacy while supporting unilateral plans to partition Iraq along sectarian lines (Biden).  Only Edwards completely rejected the failed GWOT framework, which has anchored U.S. policy for six years, and fully confronted the Bush administration’s reckless exploitation of terrorism for domestic political aims – an important critique that has been unthinkable for Obama and Clinton because of their bipartisan instincts.  This record makes Edwards’ new article more relevant than the typical campaign white paper, and though his provocative criticisms are enumerated in detail, some of the proposed alternatives are wanting.

Edwards advocates American power guided by “moral leadership,” deployed in concert with a reengaged set of allies, and bolstered with new assistance for the developing world on par with the Marshall Plan.

“We need to place ‘smart power’ at the center of our national security policy,” he writes, picking up on Suzanne Nossel’s essay in the same journal three years ago.  To Edwards, smart power begins by weighing the externalities of hard power that the administration has ignored.  Thus, even setting aside moral and constitutional concerns, Gitmo is a counterproductive exercise in hard power, Edwards concludes, because it created the “recruitment poster al Qaeda wanted.”  Endorsing the arguments of Richard Holbrooke and Anthony Zinni, Edwards laments that approaching the fight against today’s terrorists and tomorrow’s extremists in strictly hard power terms, as a global war, has actually minimized “the challenge we face by suggesting that the fight against Islamist extremism can be won on the battlefield alone.”   

Instead, a smart power approach means taking proactive action to “stabilize weak and failed states” before they become terrorist havens; spending more on development, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and “universal primary education” (with a sixfold budget boost for schools in “countries with a history of violent extremism”); creating a new cabinet-level position to direct global development policies; and, in a thorny but intriguing proposal, altering the typical force structure of our foreign operations by establishing a new, non-military corps of civilian reserves.  These 10,000 “civilian experts” could deploy for humanitarian and reconstruction missions, which would otherwise be staffed by soldiers, potentially reducing both mission creep for the Defense Department and our military footprint in volatile areas.  The article does not specify where this corps would report in the government.  A campaign policy aide told me the idea is to place them in the State Department, where they could presumably tackle more logistical and practical operations than diplomatic foreign service officers.  One potential problem is that many of the priority missions for such a corps occur in dangerous areas, and the President would be wary of deploying thousands of Americans without some military protection.  Yet if the corps were deployed with soldier escorts, it’s not clear why such a split operation would be superior to deploying trained military personnel to run the entire mission, since they have the ability (and authority) to defend themselves.

The most significant shortcoming in Edwards’ article is that he does not say precisely when he would use force as President.  The emphasis on “smart power” is a welcome acknowledgment that the administration’s crabbed vision of American power has made our country less safe, just as its myopic devaluation of traditional diplomacy has diminished our leverage in foreign affairs.  But Edwards does not provide a metric, let alone a doctrine, for when to use military force.  Instead, he issues a sweeping promise, more fit for a campaign ad than a policy journal:

As commander in chief, I will never hesitate to apply the full extent of our security apparatus to protect our vital interest, take measures to root out terrorist cells, and strike swiftly and forcefully against those who seek to harm us. 

This is actually less specific than Bush, who definitively lowered the threshold for the threat required to legitimize force, via the preemption doctrine, and announced an unrealistically long list of enemies that must be destroyed before the long war ever ends -- literally “every terrorist group of global reach,” as he told Congress in 2001.  (To be fair, it’s not a clean comparison. Bush’s metrics are from presidential pronouncements, while candidate Bush vaguely promised a “humble” approach to foreign affairs.) 

Yet if Edwards’ smart power plan raises the threshold for using force, he doesn’t directly say so, nor does he explain exactly how he will determine which “vital interests” are worth fighting to protect.


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Funny, Mitt Romney already said the same thing in June. The bullet points:

- Focused On Locally-Targeted Efforts To Win Support In The Community While Identifying, Isolating And Eliminating Terrorist Elements.
- Highly Integrated And Able To Mobilize All Elements Of National Power, Including Humanitarian And Development Assistance And Rule Of Law Capacity Building.
- Closely Coordinated In Partnership With Local Governments.
- Intelligence Driven.
- Agile And Flexible In Its Operations.
- A Sustainable Effort In Contested Areas And Sanctuaries Of Jihadist Groups. (

Edwards is borrowing heavily from Romney's playbook. First he nearly quotes Romney:

"Edwards is also careful to temper his progressivism with more centrist positions. Speaking to Rolling Stone, Edwards refused to rule out recommitting U.S. forces to Iraq to halt a genocide, and he even demonized single-payer health care: "Do you think the American people want the same people who responded to Hurricane Katrina to run their health-care system?" (Rolling Stone Magazine, August 10, 2007.)

"Amid a tour of southern New Hampshire, Romney contrasted the private-based universal health care system he created as governor in Massachusetts with government health expansions advocated by some Democrats, saying to laughter, "The last thing I want is the guys managing the Katrina cleanup managing my health care system."

(Fox News, August 1, 2007)

Edwards is, what? A leader, a visionary, a fake, a follower, a copycat...?

Thanks for summarizing the piece.

I'd say there's several good reasons for implementing the 10,000 experts under civil agencies.

1) DoD is always the 800 pound gorilla in U.S. crisis management because it's deployable. Sec. Rice's attempts to put Foreign Service agents in the field to a greater extent is a step in this direction, but not as great a step as a new 10,000 person corps.
2) The military is not the only government group able to use force. Check out Robert Perito's "Where is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him?" on foreign constabulary forces (and domestic ones like the Texas Rangers). Obviously, constables aren't soldiers, but they would be able to handle themselves in in troublesome security conditions short of war.
3) Bureaucratic politics. The DoD approaches problems with a military mindset. Its job is to fight and win America's wars (obviously parts of the military are better at stability ops, e.g. reservists, special forces, and military police). If you want America to actually use the full range of its tools, than you need to give a boost to those with a bureaucratic incentive to use non-military tools to manage crises.

But Edwards does not provide a metric, let alone a doctrine, for when to use military force.

What is it about you people on this site are so hung up about the use of force?

What is it about you people on this site are so hung up about the use of force?

What is it about people like you that are not so hung up about the use of force?

I can't say I have been terribly enthusiastic about the calls for a "Marshall Corps", or whatever we are now calling the various proposed reconstruction and stabilization forces. These proposals generally sound quite half-baked to me, Edwards's proposal included.

First, it just seems wrong to say that the reconstruction and stabilization tasks Edwards seems to have in mind have been defaulted to the military in the recent past. We just had a whole war in which the major stabilization and reconstruction tasks were assigned to a variety of civilian contractors - with bad results. Now Edwards says the Marshall Corps will consist of civilian "experts" rather than contractors, and I guess that is supposed to reflect the difference between the Democratic and Republican approach to these things: a government agency rather than a pool of private contractors. But how different will it really be?

But what exactly is this non-military corps for? How and when is it to be used? Is it for stabilization? Well, then that is a military function, since instability usually means people engaged in military or paramilitary violence. Or is it just supposed to go into a country after the stabilization has already occurred?

Frankly, I'm a bit chary of putting a reconstruction force in the hands of a President, mainly because I worry that having such a reconstruction force at hand will make those Presidents much more ready to use their old-fashioned de-struction forces. I worry about some future Democratic president saying "invading Iraq (or Iran, or Somalia, or Columbia) will go perfectly well this time, because I now have my magical new Marshall Corps to put all the pieces back together again after I smash them up. I won't make the same sort of mess out of it that Bush did!"

The fact that the Edward's team doesn't even know what department this force is supposed to be part of is no small matter. That suggests to me that he doesn't really know what the Marshall Corps is supposed to be.

I am personally very interested in building up the international capacity, organization and decision structures needed for humanitarian and stabilization missions, and would like to see the US commit to promoting those international goals. I suspect a US move, however, to seize leadership and control of these sorts of operations will further undermine internationalist aspirations along the same lines. I wonder if the supporters of this proposal for a US corps are really persuaded this is what the world needs, or if they just think it is a keen idea for bringing glory to the realm.

There doesn't seem to be anything terribly interesting or original in Edwards's view of the world. I feel like I've been reading different proposals along the same lines for three of four years now. His people seem to read all the major policy proposals, cull from them the ones they like best, and assemble them into a list of talking points. All the common Democratic themes are there: being friendlier with our allies; being smarter with our power; being more generous to our veterans; rebuilding the various things that are broken; working to make everyone love us again, etc.

While Edwards makes a point of supposedly rejecting the War on Terror framework, it seems more like just a rhetorical flourish. I'm not sure I see in concrete terms what that rejection amounts to. Is it just a semantic change, or something more substantive? How will it actually affect ongoing anti-terrorism operations around the world?

This is what victory in Iraq will look like:

When enough Iraqi children die from suicide, low birth weight, starvation, complications from malnutrition, exposure, lack of potable water, diseases associated with poor sanitary conditions, absence of medical care and medicine, mental illness, civil war, crime, terrorism, and collateral damage that there will not be enough of them who will survive to replace the current insurgents.

Dan Kerick:
Fair points. I'd say there are a few differences between having a corps and having a bunch of civilian contractors:
1) Organization. The corps would report to its own chain of command rather than through the military one. This would mean people with reconstruction expertise would be able to make the assignments. Moreover, even with the use of contractors the military regularly complained that it couldn't get state department people to fill key spots in provincial reconstruction teams and the like.
2) Accountability. No contractors have been charged for anything they've done in Iraq. The military justice system, and the civilian side one, both would have serious weakness, but there'd at least be some disciplinary procedures.
3) Rapid deployability. Stability/reconstruction require acting fast, particularly in disaster situations. You don't get that with contractors.
4) Organization clout. Contractors and foreign civilian forces don't have that much influence over the U.S. government. A Department of State (or some other civilian Department) capable of putting 10,000 people in the field would have a good bit more influence. You can also bet that they'd try to steer policy towards disaster relief or interventions at behest of a willing populace because that's where they could be most effective. In addition, building up international capacity, particularly for the Organization of African Unity is a great idea.

Also, we have in many ways been willing to build international capacity. Particularly for the Organizations of African Unity. But also even the Bush administration is try to train the world, ex. the Philippines, in counter-insurgency. We consistently prefer to hand these tasks off to someone else, see Kosovo and Afghanistan. But you're of course right that we want to take the lead when we're in charge.

Anyways my argument in short. Civilian corps will lead to better done interventions and a different focus in interventions (towards more disaster relief a la Tsunami and ones that don't involve invasions). I don't believe it will involve more interventions, frankly we could use well more than 10,000 for what we're already doing even if you exclude Iraq. They'll do this because of bureaucratic politics: right now State is almost always going to lose because they can't put people in the field with great effectiveness. This force won't have equal pull as the military, but they'll have much more than we have now.

None of this is to argue against your push for more international capacity including being willing to cede a leadership role when appropriate. I'm just saying that they're different issues. 10,000 people doesn't make the need for foreign capacity go away, particularly in areas like Sudan where the OAU is trusted far more than a direct U.S. intervention.

Instead, I'd encourage to think of this issue as one of where the U.S. puts its capacity. I like Obama, but I think his proposal to expand our military end-strength is far inferior to this proposal.


What exactly is it that the Marshall Corps is supposed to do?

Would the corps have military capabilities? If so, how can it be a part of the Department of State?

Under what conditions would it be deployed? Could it be deployed without an invitation from the country in which it is deployed?

I figure there are three basic ways this could play out:
1) An outright constabulary force that's fairly consistently armed but has strict rules of engagement.
2) A largely unarmed or minimally armed grouped with constabulary support.
3) A largely unarmed group with minimal if any armed support.

Obviously I don't speak for Edwards and his speech is fairly vague. So I'll take my best guess based on what's in his speech:

"The Marshall Corps, patterned after the military reserves, will consist of at least 10,000 civilian experts who could be deployed abroad to serve in reconstruction, stabilization, and humanitarian missions."

Given the inclusion of stabilization, I'd suspect it would be somewhere between options two and three. However, the civilian expert description seems to exclude option one.

What exactly is it that the Marshall Corps is supposed to do?
Specifically, based on past U.S. policy, I'd say they would handle aid distribution, get infrastructure up and running, pick which local projects to support, manage refugees, provide financial support and technical guidance for local projects, and the like. There's are best practices available on how to best let community members drive these projects, but Edward's isn't providing that level of detail yet, so my doing so would be over-reaching.

If we're going with option two we'd probably have training and support for local police and also some crowd control and direct policing for refugee camps.

Would the corps have military capabilities? If so, how can it be a part of the Department of State?
Given the use of the word "stabilization" I'd suspect that yes, they would have the capability to use force. That said, I do not think they would have "military" capabilities as such nor would they primarily be a constabulary force. Edward's hasn't talked about them doing policing, so I'd suspect any armed personnel would be there for force protection, policing refugee camps, training local police, or the like. I'd suspect the heaviest equipment they'd have would be helicopters or APCs, no artillery, jets, tanks, that sort of thing. I'd suspect they'd also have to have some independent logistical support capability. The further we move towards option three the less weaponry.

As for how it could be under State? Admittedly, most constabulary forces (French Gendarmerie, Italian Carabinieri, Netherlands Royal Marechaussee, do report to their Ministries of Defense. One exception is the Argentine National Gendarmerie which reports to the Department of the Interior and has served in Angola, Guatemala, Lebanon, Rwanda, Hait, and Bosnia. (Source: Perito's "Where is the Lone Ranger When we Need Him?")

However, as I said, I think this Marshall Corps would only have a secondary capability regarding Constabulary forces. If we're going with option three it might just be a beefed up Diplomatic Security Service or the like.

Under what conditions would it be deployed? Could it be deployed without an invitation from the country in which it is deployed?

At no point could I see them going in without an invitation outside the aegis of a conventional U.S./Nato/UN force. Moreover, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, or God helps us counter-narcotic weren't directly on the list. An option 1 constabulary force could theoretically be deployed as a follow-on to an invasion but 2 and 3 need a more permissive environment. I'd suspect a #2 style force could be deployed in Kurdistan and most of Afghanistan. An option #3 force could do select parts of Afghanistan or participate in military provincial reconstruction teams.


I'm reading these words, and sentence by sentence I seem to understand them, but ultimately I feel like I am completely in the dark. I appear to be missing the big picture here. Why does the US need a constabulary force, or a reconstruction force with a constabulary force attached, or whatever it is? This is something I am assuming we have not had in the previous 231 years of our history. So why do we suddenly need one now? Is this mainly supposed to be some kind of war mop-up and clean-up team? Is it a kind of Peace Corps with guns? Or something else? You say its purpose is "better interventions". What interventions? For what purposes? And does Edwards really think that at this awkward and overextended point in US history, what the American public wants is "better interventions"?

And giving rival government agencies the capacity to "put people in the field" so they can better compete with each other for turf and influence doesn't sound like a sensible way to run a government. Under what kind of constitutional authority does the State Department get to deploy some sort of "force" abroad? Should the Commerce Department have its own special quasi-military forces too, so they can go into other people's countries and build ports, banks and stock markets?

Okay, big picture argument.

Why does the US need a constabulary force, or a reconstruction force with a constabulary force attached, or whatever it is?

When we occupied Japan and Germany we had constabulary forces in essence. However, the Japanese force was deployed to hold off the North Korean army and was creamed despite valiant efforts. Our National Guard/reserves and MPs can perform that function to a degree. In our various occupations we tend to muck around with not having forces, develop them at the end, then fore swear such wars only to quickly involve ourselves in them again.

Better interventions for what purpose?
I believe the American public is still largely behind the war in Afghanistan. That's an area where we need the mix. Even our special forces have been too trigger happy and have been asked to leave some British controlled provinces. Similarly for those that support humanitarian intervention (note: a necessary condition of a humanitarian intervention is that the vast majority of the populace (not expats) in the area you're intervening (if not the country at large) wants it. Iraq isn't humanitarian by any stretch).

So, if you disapprove of Afghanistan and humanitarian interventions (I don't actually support putting U.S. ground troops in Darfur but I was generally supportive of Kosovo) then I got nothing for you.

State would certainly need statutory authority. It's up to Congress to organize armed forces, military, constabulary, or just the odd civilian with guns. The organization of departments isn't specified in the Constitution. So Edwards would certainly need a law to get a corps with any real use of force authority.

So, lets get to the bigger issue. Let's say you generally don't want interventions. At that point, you need a candidate that's actually willing to make massive military cut backs. None of the big three are doing that. If you want that, that's cool, I can see the argument and it's not something I really feel like debating.

But so long as our military remains effectively a hyper-power as the French put it, we're going to continue to intervene. Reagan's plethora of interventions came not that long after Vietnam was over. Hopefully we'll be better at avoiding the worst of them, I know I've substantially tightened my criteria and am trying to do my part against any action on Iran.

So if we're going to intervene, I'd like more capacity to build and police and less emphasis on blowing stuff up at a distance. Of the big three Democratic candidates, Edwards is the only one offering that. I don't think this would actually drive more interventions because we really seem to base our interventions on our most experience rather than our actual capacity. Having a constabulary force is not going to suddenly make counter-insurgency easy. The Brits and such had them and still lost their empire. What it will do is help us maintain support when the locals think we have some legitimacy to start with.

Greg, you say that you don't think the existence of this force would actually drive more interventions, but I don't think the actual historical experience with government bureaucracies and their built-in institutional imperatives to maintain and increase funding lends support to that prediction. If you have an an air force, that air force is going periodically to advocate bombing things from the air in order to justify its continued existence. If you have an infantry, that infantry is going periodically to advocate land operations to justify its continued existence. The Marshall Corps will surely generate its own set of bureaucratic pressures in favor of periodic deployment in the field. If there are no pressing jobs to do, they will find some job to do. And my sense is that the chief backers of these sorts of reconstruction and stabilization forces over the past several years have been precisely those people who have been advocating more US interventions, more US nation building, expanded US power projection and a larger overall US military.

I agree that the phenomenon you're talking about certainly exist. Here's the thing, it's a matter of scale. At the moment, DoD trumps State by an order of magnitude. There's 2 million people if you count all the civilian side, around half that if we're talking straight military.

Let's say the Marshall Corps gets a veteran bureaucratic infighter and gets the corps bumped up to 50,000.

That's still 1 million to 50,000. And you can trust that those soldiers are going to have more expensive equipment per person.

So I think if they increase the number of interventions, I think the increase would probably be in at the statistical noise level.

Now, there's a bit of a contradiction here with my past argument. If DoD is still overwhelming State, why is State's position going to improve enough to shift things to the humanitarian and non-invasive side?

Two phenomenon:
1) DoD isn't fond of many of these tasks. They'll be fairly happy to unload them. Any invasions will obviously still be in DoD territory, but they'd often prefer to hand-off the non-violent stuff. My evidence is their willingness to transfer funds $200 million to State to build up State's operational capability.
2) If the Marshall corps really wants to shine, justify their own funding, and run the show, they'll need to deploy at the request of host governments/the U.N. DoD will be willing to give State operational space, but I'd expect the military will still be running the show in most cases (sure there's exceptions like Paul Bremer, but I don't think anyone is eager to repeat that debacle.) The only way their people will be the top people in country is if they're deploying without the military. And there's no way to run a U.S. occupation without the military.
3) There's a lot of U.N. operations out there these days. I'd suggest that there's more than enough to keep my theoretically expanded corps of 50,000 busy for some time to come without raising the number of interventions.

As for your sense, you're probably right. But our present military spending level is probably going to be cut back dramatically (billions a month in Iraq and all that). Even if we kill some of the major new systems coming down the pipe, we still have a lot of equipment to fix or upgrade. Edwards has a lot of priorities, he can't afford to both do his Marshall Corps and up military numbers. Obama has proposed upping the numbers directly. I'm not sure about Sen. Clinton, although by default I assume she's going to be the most hawkish of the three.

Anyhow, I don't think Edwards is going to win the nomination, but I'm hoping that he'll be able to pull Obama to from military to civilian on this one.

Anyhow, this has been fun debate but it only makes sense to keep a thread going for so long. If you have a follow-up I'll gladly reply to it. You're welcome to have the last word after that. :P

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