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December 17, 2007

Rice on a Civilian Reconstruction Corps
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Perhaps spurned (or shamed) by several recent speeches by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the need for greater investment in civilian instruments of statecraft, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice co-authored a piece with Senator Richard Lugar in today's Washington Post arguing in favor of the Civilian Reserve Corps that President Bush mentioned in the last state of the union.

The proposed corps would consist of three elements:

"First, it calls for a 250-person active-duty corps of Foreign Service professionals from State and USAID, trained with the military and ready to deploy to conflict zones.

Second, it would establish a roster of 2,000 other federal volunteers with language and technical skills to stand by as a ready reserve.

Third, it would create the Civilian Reserve Corps the president called for, a group of 500 Americans from around the country with expertise in such areas as engineering, medicine and policing, to be tapped for specific deployments. The corps could be deployed globally wherever America's interests lie, to help nations emerging from civil war, for instance, or to mitigate circumstances in failed states that endanger our security."

This idea has a long lineage and broad bipartisan support. And while I applaud both the idea and the argument, I am very concerned with two elements of the Rice/Lugar argument.

First, they argue that the military has performed reconstruction missions "admirably, but it is a task that others can and should take up. The primary responsibility for post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction should not fall to our fighting men and women but to volunteer, civilian experts." This is a noble sentiment, but the reality is that an organization with a grand total of 2,750 people (less than a single Army brigade) will not nearly meet the demand. Moreover, the military will have to protect these people in non-permissive or even semi-permissive environments.

Second, Lugar and Rice argue that "It would be penny-wise but pound-foolish to continue to overburden our military with reconstruction duties." Again, this is a noble sentiment and I entirely agree. But we need to be careful how we talk about these types of missions. The military in general does not like these missions at all, and if given the opportunity would gladly get out of the reconstruction business entirely. Civilians will be able to share some of the burden by creating this small, but significant, civilian cadre. But this should not and can not replace the active involvement of the military in these critical missions. Policymakers in this and the next administration need to ensure that the military is organized, trained, and equipped for what many (including Rice and Bush) used to dismissively refer to as "nation building."


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The US military is enlarging its ground forces while it is withdrawing from Iraq. Obviously the government has other conquests in mind. The problem in Iraq has been the slow conversion from the destroyed (by sanctions and war) state infrastructure to the privately-owned sectors, primarily energy, manufacturing and transportation favored by the new colonialists.

The idea is the US would not only have the best capability in the world for pre-emptive destruction, but also the only capability in the world for perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction of the damage done by the US military. "We used to have vulgar colonialism," says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. "Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'" Naomi Klein calls it "Disaster Capitalism". The teams will have "pre-completed" contracts to rebuild countries that are not yet broken (but will be).

The proposed Civilian Reconstruction Corps would be a fleshing out of the "Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS)" established in 2004 to "enhance our nation's institutional capacity to respond to crises involving failing, failed, and post-conflict states and complex emergencies." The corps would have a mandate, according to Klein, not to rebuild any old states but to create "democratic and market-oriented" ones. So, for instance reconstructors might help sell off "state-owned enterprises that created a nonviable economy."

With the sell-off of enterprises, if the Iraqi oil refineries and shipyards are a guide, would come the banning of labor activities and the lowering of wages. In Basra, Iraq, this has led to worker riots and support from US labor. US labor opposition to the occupation had grown so strong that two of the AFL-CIO's largest unions, the Service Employees (SEIU) and the State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) passed resolutions calling for withdrawal of US troops and respect for the rights of Iraqi workers.

Sophisticated colonialism.

I tend toward opposition to these sorts of proposals. The US government does not need more tools in its foreign intervention tool kit. It needs a smaller tool kit so that it becomes less inclined to throw tools around the world. And as an internationalist, I have a further concern: providing these tools to the US government for the defense of its own narrow interests will diminish the incentive to build more effecting international institutions wielding similar tools on behalf of the global interest. Generally speaking, I prefer a contraction of the US presence around the world, and replacing some of that withdrawn power by much more effective instruments of international governance and policing.

think about what was dismantled in the "Peace Dividend"--some of those capabilities within USAID (and USIA, for that matter), need to be restored. It's not a matter of building a new empire, but building some basic, systemic competence in the US Government.

In the 90's, we survived on relationships (after structures were dismantled). Those relationships are going away.

think about what was dismantled in the "Peace Dividend"--some of those capabilities within USAID (and USIA, for that matter), need to be restored. It's not a matter of building a new empire, but building some basic, systemic competence in the US Government.

In the 90's, we survived on relationships (after structures were dismantled). Those relationships are going away.

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