By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado
After the fighting, after the war, comes the "day after." In any conflict in which the United States is involved, the planning for the day after begins well before the guns stop firing. But a former ambassador who also served in a senior position at the CIA says the U.S. is failing in that mission.
Hank Crumpton, former Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department, tells me he thinks the Department should be doing more right now to prepare for a post-Assad future in Syria.
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Crumpton points to the Syrian opposition. "How do we understand them? How do we work with them?" he asks. "Because they are the future of Syria; because they represent the Syrian people. And that should be more of a diplomatic initiative than we've done to date."
This is, he agrees, first and foremost an intelligence issue: to find out who are these various non-state actors that make up the Syrian opposition. But Crumpton says that's just part of it. Building trust is key, he says, adding that "the best way to build trust is through shared risk."
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"When you're on the battlefield and you're communicating from the country next door or from Washington, D.C. it's a big difference between being on the ground with these opposition forces. We saw this in Afghanistan, we saw this in Iraq. It is essential. And I don't think we're there yet."
"The U.S. is doing a good job working with Turkey, other allies in the region in a traditional nation-to-nation diplomatic approach. But when non-state actors are in the mix, we fall short," he says, "in understanding these non-state actors and then folding them into our strategic thinking and then into our policies."
When Crumpton looks at Syria he sees another example of the U.S. government's need to understand and project non-military, non-covert action.
"Look at Iraq. The rising violence in Iraq," he says. "We did a great job militarily before and after the surge but then what? Look at Libya, look at Mali, at the Horn of Africa. These are all examples of expeditionary environments in some cases that are dominated increasingly by non-state actors. How do we basically design the right policy and then project the non-military power after we've had some military success working with local partners? It's a big issue and we don't have the answer yet."
It's not just a question of diplomacy," Crumpton says.
"It's how do you understand and help those locals, those indigenous non-state actors, begin to build liberal institutions? It doesn't have to be a massive deal to build a nation-state. How do we help them to understand and project the rule of law? How do we bring basic health care, education, telecommunications?
"Afghanistan is a good example. Here we are more than 10 years after 9/11 and still today most villages in Afghanistan have no electricity. Yet you've got abundant solar energy, bio-mass, wind power. If we have the technologies, then why haven't we married that over the last 10 years? Basically we've failed."
Another crucial factor, Crumpton says, is the role of the U.S. ambassador and the State Department needs to re-think their role. The ambassador, he says "is not just an employee of the Department of State, not just the top diplomat, the ambassador is the president's representative overseas. And he is uniquely placed to bring together and orchestrate all these instruments of statecraft that are necessary in these conflict and post-conflict zones."
But Crumption says ambassadors are still selected in a "very archaic way," based on campaign contributions or their success in traditional diplomacy.
"Increasingly, there are different tasks, requirements and expectations being placed on these ambassadors."
"So I think we should look at how we select them, how we train them, how we provide the resources they need and right now they don't have those resources. Their discretionary spending is pathetic. And then how do we provide them the right incentives so they are, indeed, the president's representative and can take a greater leadership role.
But, first and foremost, the State Department needs to ask 'Do they want this role?' Because it is not the traditional diplomatic mission. It's much broader, it's much more complex, and it's a lot riskier."