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Confronting Complex Operations

Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009

To get a sense of what "complex operations" are, one need look no further than the kind of wars the U.S. fights when it intervenes overseas today. Unlike the total wars of the past, in which the U.S. military battled the national army of an enemy state, today's struggles for security, stabilization, peace-building, reconstruction, and development in the most fragile states around the world are engaged by several different departments of the U.S. government. That's it in a nutshell. But clearly, describing it is far easier than doing it.

When you listen to how the best minds that are thinking about and actually implementing complex operations describe them, it's obvious that carrying out these missions -- the most vital in American foreign policy -- is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Everyone understands that today's operations must be interagency and "whole of government" efforts. But the nature of the country's Cold War-era foreign policy institutions makes that next to impossible. ...

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