Saturday, September 11, 2010

Required 9/11 Anniversary Post: Don't Forget the Pentagon

Nine years ago, I was starting my second week at the Pentagon.  I was a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, where the CFR takes academics among other folks and places them into policy positions.  I ended up working on the Bosnian desk of the US Joint Staff's Strategic Planning and Policy Directorate because I told my interviewers I wanted to see the sausage of US foreign policy get made.  And because a previous IAF Fellow, Condi Rice, apparently was not taking fellows onto the National Security Council.

Despite the fact that my building became a target, I am glad that I was placed on the Joint Staff, rather than the NSC.  I guess a year at the NSC would have been as interesting, but the JS was a great experience because it was the nexus between the civilian and military worlds and between the US and its allies.  Plus the folks in the "mosh pit of Balkan policy" were terrific people.  I learned much from the submariners, artillery officers, pilots, infantry, and civilians from all over government who worked in that part of the JS.  Plus I was able to deploy my crap receiving and delivering skills.  They teased me from the first day, and I fired back.*

This experience has been driving my research since then--how do countries operate in multilateral military efforts--as NATO's mission in Bosnia was job #1 even after 9/11.  Of course, our job #1 became a much lower priority for the rest of the US foreign policy apparatus after that day.  I got to see US foreign policy re-orient during my year--from very frequent top level meetings on the Balkans (as was the case my first week) to decision-making at a lower level with only the occasional glance from the superiors.

I also got to see how a bureaucracy can be broken.  The folks in the Office of the Secretary of Defense [OSD] worked under Rumsfeld, who created a climate of fear, paralyzing these guys.  This was not an entirely bad thing for a while as it meant that the more reality-based, more multilaterally-inclined JS could drive policy a bit more.  This, of course, changed as Rummy learned how to marginalize the JS so that he could make bad decisions without worrying about complications like the consequences of such bad decisions [not that I am bitter or anything].

Anyhow, as we remember 9/11 and the thousands of people who lost their lives in NYC, we should also remember that people were killed at the Pentagon, that the folks who worked there returned to their jobs even as the flames were still smoldering,* and that nine years later Muslims are still holding services in the building.  Ah yes, the other lasting impression made by my year was how the JS was the most multi-ethnic environment in which I have ever worked.  It was Colbert's ideal of not seeing race.  I have posted before that not all parts of the military are tolerant of diversity, but, as I was always reminded, the JS had the military's best folks.  Despite my narrow sample, I had no problem believing it.

* One of my favorite memories was being told by my boss, a Colonel, that I would be transformed by the experience: that I would be clean-shaven, have shined shoes, a short haircut, and pressed clothes by the time I left.  So, when he retired towards the end of my year, I showed up at his retirement party with my beard gone, with a crewcut, and in a borrowed uniform.  Not a bad gag.
** Indeed, as my story of that day (first link) indicates, we went back into the building on September 11th to return classified documents to a secure facility.

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