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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

Troops Without Uniforms

More troops are needed in Afghanistan, but not the kind of troops who wear uniforms.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the military started to build schools, repair hospitals and put people back to work. They deemed these efforts as critical to winning the "hearts and minds" of the people. The military was correct, but they chose to do it themselves instead of finding ways to enable others who were better equipped to do so.

Many would argue that the security situation does not allow for civilians to do reconstruction activities. Others would argue the military puts the civilian humanitarian workers at risk, clouding their status. I believe both arguments have merit, but also believe things need to change, primarily because the "nation building" work of our military diverts attention and resources needed to establish security. And security is a necessary condition for health and job creation. As health improves and jobs are created, the civilian population grows stronger and better able to take care of its own needs.

There are many ways for non-military personnel to help. For instance, poppy (used in heroin production) is not the most profitable crop to grow, and crop-substitution programs have been effective. Unfortunately as food production has increased, prices have dropped because of excess supply and inadequate food-storage infrastructure. Now there is a need to develop and build such storage, and the media is full of the heroic stories of our troops finding ways to improvise and meet this need. Don't we have thousands of farmers and hundreds of company employees who could help solve this challenge?

There are also many small Afghan businesses that need help with operations and financing so they can bring their products to market and employ more people. Our military is not well equipped for this mission. Nor should they be. Isn't this another opportunity for citizens to help? Shouldn't our businesses partner with theirs to make good long-term investments and put more Afghans to work?

I am always amazed with the stories of World War II and how much the country sacrificed for those who left to fight the war. And how we here at home were only encouraged to keep shopping. The time is now to call upon our people, our corporations and the compassion of the United States to enable the creation of a cadre of peaceful warriors to increase the likelihood of success for the Afghan people. I, and many others, would answer the call.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  August 28, 2009; 12:10 PM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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We're going to need a lot more bombs before they're ready for much more than getting dead for being stupid.

Seriously dude, get a grip on reality. There's 90% of the worlds Opium being grown there, and you want to what, teach them better crop methods? What drugs are you on?

No, bomb the place until there's only a pile of survivors too shocked by the devastation to do more than get bummed out, and well ya might have some opportunity after that.

But first, lets torch the Opium so there's fewer dead Americans

Posted by: timscanlon | September 1, 2009 5:16 AM
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I appreciate the concept of "troops without uniforms".

This "enemy", what do they want? Has anyone asked them if somehow they might be provided some degree of their wants in exchange for them learning to live in peace with us? The Israelis and Arabs may enjoy never ending warfare and hatred but I prefer alternative approaches. Releasing the ever-so-eager dogs of war and associated violence is a thoughtless approach.

Better yet, has anyone ask them if they want to give their children and their children's children a future of never-ending violence? Do we wish to extend that possibility to our future generations?

With two strong willed opponents, if neither one wishes to consider compromise, then bloodshed will likely occur for a while. Eventually the leaders and general populace may see that no war has gone on indefinately and that violence does not change the opinions of your foe.

Offering "the other cheek" per Jesus' teaching and showing compassion while "carrying a big stick" per Teddy Roosevelt may be a better solution in the long run.

Compassion through "Troops without Uniforms" may prove beneficial... particularly considering how unsuccessful and economically damaging six years of Bush's "Global War on Terror" has proven.

Posted by: vballboy60 | September 1, 2009 3:56 AM
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Those adorable brown people aren't ready to govern themselves.
Lucky for them they have us to tell them what kind of government they want. Let us take up the white man's burden once again! Pip pip!

American "bigwigs" gonna have their hands full for the next thousand years in spreading their mission to a largely ungrateful world.

Posted by: Rubiconski | September 1, 2009 2:54 AM
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Just bomb and shoot more Afghans until they learn to love their US imperial overlords.

- Executives Without Borders

Posted by: Rubiconski | September 1, 2009 2:35 AM
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You are free to do as you wish, but don't ask for my money, my time, or my children. Or, my government's blessing or money.

Quit writing and go.

Posted by: rusty3 | September 1, 2009 12:30 AM
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"A Fool Lies Here...

Now it is not good
For the Christian’s health
To hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles
And the Aryan smiles
And he wearth the Christian down;
And the end of the fight
Is tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear,
“A fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East."

Posted by: patrick3 | September 1, 2009 12:00 AM
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Mr. Goodwin's logic is flawed. He said "Unfortunately as food production has increased, prices have dropped because of excess supply and inadequate food-storage infrastructure. Now there is a need to develop and build such storage, ... " If food prices are dropping because of excess supply then better storage/less wastage and loss would result in even lower prices for non-poppy crops. While he is right that poppy production isn't the most profitable crop it is the least risky. Farmers receive a guaranteed price, are provided seeds and chemical inputs, and the risk of interdiction is small. Framers aren’t growing poppies because they are greedy, but because it pays well and there is less downside risk.

Posted by: crete | August 31, 2009 10:16 PM
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maybe obama could bilk the American people out more money for obama camel bail outs, falafel stands subsidies...

Posted by: 2xy4k9 | August 31, 2009 5:27 PM
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There is a common thread of accuracy here that clearly defines the need for economic security if we are ever to have a viable Afghanistan. And with that thread comes the realization that there must be real security before the economy can grow - regardless of what facet of that economy we talk about.
Having had the good fortune to have led a Brigade of Embedded Trainers in Kandahar in 2006 and 2007, and having participated in nation building in South America and SouthEast Asia it's my belief, echoed by others, that it's time to change the focus of what we're about.
I often asked my Afghan counterpart - a two star - you defeated the Taliban before, albeit with some assistance but far less, why can't you do it now? I rarely got and answer.
Rather than more combat soldiers we need fewer - we need the Afghan Army and Police to stand up and "kill" the bad guy. They are equipped and trained to do so.Security will follow - as will economic development. I do agree it won't be with cost.
Or maybe we ask the hard question - some will argue that this unsettled will only provide havens for training to those who will do us ill. Or without resolution dominos will fall (a popular myth many years ago). I'd say no to the first - lots of training grounds available and no to the second.
Time to come home - put a phased withdrawl on the table - hold the Afghan to task and commitment - work then within established security.
I expect that some will push back saying I'm naive - I'd say we either commit overwhelming force and take down the threat( an untenable strategy) or we realize that we're engaged in an "unwinnable war" ( no clear definition of a better state of the peace) that will only sap our resources - and America's best over time. Accepting the second premise will put the responsibility directly where it should be - with the Government of Afghanistan

Posted by: mjpjep | August 31, 2009 4:53 PM
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if u want to be a live do gooder suggest stay in this country and help american CITIZENS dig out of the hole the lying politicians have dug here

Posted by: pofinpa | August 31, 2009 4:22 PM
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Mr Goodwin clearly isn't ruling out more troops in uniform. Given the President's commitment to bringing this war to a successful conclusion and the stress of a "whole of Government" approach, Mr Goodwin argues for an increased emphasis, and commitment of resources, across the full spectrum of options. He correctly points out that, to date, non-US Government efforts haven't been tried or utilized to much effect.

There is no reason not to target relatively more secure areas of the country for pilot projects and show success. In Iraq, HR McMaster took the "lost cause" city of Tal Afar and pioneered the counterinsurgency strategy that is now wide-spread in-country and shows promise of success. We should look for opportunities as suggested by Mr Goodwin to leverage the vast capabilities and talents in our private sector.

The way ahead in Afghanistan--if the US is to be successful--will require bold and decisive leadership with a clear and well-articulated purpose understandable to the Afghans, their neighbors, our allies, and the American people. If we are committed to success, the approach must be more than military, more than government, and should utilize ever tool and lever available. Mr Goodwin's suggestion has great merit.

Posted by: AFLoggie | August 31, 2009 3:48 PM
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Nation building may or may not be a noble mission. When we are yet to be able to build schools, repair hospitals and create jobs in the U S, investing our resources in a country that has to be brought from the third century into the 21st Century seems to lack wisdam and reaks of arrogance. We have yet to see what happens to the schools, hospitals etc that we have built with borrowed dollars in Iraq once we leave. Are you absolutely sure that you can develop and nation from the outside or is it possible that they may have to evolve internally?

With all due respect this article leaves the impression that it is a public bid for a government contract versus genuine concern for the people of Afghanistan. Did you not get the memo that the U S government is broke.

Posted by: xclntcat | August 31, 2009 3:47 PM
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This proposal brings to mind the difficulty of draining a swamp teaming with alligators. The general in charge of the theater is begging for more troops to meet his mission of suppressing the Taliban and Al-Queada and pacifying the country. Adding a slew of U.S. non-combatants would exacerbate the situation. Who believes that the general would not be shackled with the additional task of protecting middle class do-gooders from harm? Our police have learned that in a confrontation they have to get all the civilians out of the way, and this delays them from moving quickly on the bad guys. Having the distraction of John and Mary Q. Publics sons or daughters in the middle of a melee would subject our troops to undue additional risk. This is only one of several problems with this very, very bad idea.

Posted by: csintala79 | August 31, 2009 2:05 PM
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@mhoust
Set the pipe down and step away...

Posted by: spamsux1 | August 31, 2009 1:41 PM
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You're absolutely right, we need more troops in Afghanistan. But you're wrong about not being uniformed troops. The ones we send over there should be those young men and women in the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

They are the future movers and shakers of this country. They are the ones who can think (and act) out of the box. They are old enough, and big enough to help build schools, repair hospitals and assist in getting people back to work.

Better yet, any organization stupid enough to attack them would be immediately and unconditionally condemned, hunted down, and destroyed by an internation coallition.

Finally, if they were killed or injured in the process, well, we were being proactive in getting them killed earlier than they would be if we waited for them to join the military and be deployed there.

Posted by: mhoust | August 31, 2009 1:26 PM
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If we can't make auto plants viable in the US, how can we advise Afghans about how to make goods that will out-sell opium? In terms of "comparative advantage," that is precisely what the remote, rural tenants should grow. Those without a plot under lease, meanwhile, are probably better off emigrating, unless they want to join the Taliban and shake-down others for "charity / life insurance." It takes only a black turban and an AK-47 to set up shop.

Most conventional "aid" will get syphoned by intermediaries and NGOs. Most applicants must spend the better part of their budgets, whether as fees, bribes, or marketing expenses, to get their programs approved.

Agricultural "technology" is not much use if the land tenure is archaic and the modes of distribution are primitive--or vulnerable to attack. Subsidized fertilizer would be hoarded by favored recipients and resold at profit. Melons bound for market would be taxed by warlords and Taliban. A crop that exceeded the local demand would rot.

Perhaps Afghanistan could use more school teachers, but the cost to protect Western teachers from violence would be prohibitive. Each teacher would require a translator and (no show?) guard, or a hefty payoff to the local "nap time" police. Who would trust such security? Would $250k a year be enough to induce a person to go live in such a severe place? Or would that simply attract curious types and cynics who, after 3 months, learn they were mistaken, and quit?

Imagine the trouble if Western teachers or nurses advised women about birth control or advocated they challenge the bearded household autocrat.

It would be better to hire local people who speak the dialects. Yes, lots of madrassah graduates will gladly collect salaries to train young boys in the arts of jihad and martyrdom.

Posted by: jkoch2 | August 31, 2009 12:57 PM
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NATO has imposed a condition that any captured Afghan warriors must be returned to the Afghanis within 96 hours of capture. Can anybody believe this???

WHY ARE WE REALLY THERE???

Posted by: TooManyPeople | August 31, 2009 12:55 PM
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As nice as it would be to transition all "nation building" or development activities in Afghanistan to civilians as opposed to military efforts, the truth of the matter is that especially in the regions bordering Pakistan, the security situation still impedes international development and even aid efforts.

And as far as partnerships and direct investment from businesses outside of Afghanistan; the legal climate--and I use the term legal loosely--that governs foreign ownership and partnerships and profits, is highly restrictive. Add to that a suspiction of contracted development work in general and top it off with the issue of corruption and the business environment is not quite as rosy as Mr. Goodwin would have you believe.

This all being said, Afghanistan is not Iraq and the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well there. Making credit available for small businesses is essential to maintaining the local marketplace and economy, especially to help combat the potential rise of a Taliban narco-state.

Posted by: Hmmh | August 31, 2009 12:42 PM
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Mr. Goodwin is incorrect reference the growing of poppies could be substituted by some other crop.

Perhaps Mr. Goodwin has not been to the opium poppy growing regions/provinces along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan (Paktia, Khost, Paktika, for example...but, I have.

Opium poppy grows to elevations exceeding 10,000 feet; the plant grows and produces very fast...and those who grow the poppy do not own the land, as they are the growers-"share croppers". Infrastructure in the valleys is non-existent; the thought of hauling corn or some other crop is just plain foolish...impossible.

The land is owned by those living in upscale houses in Pakistan, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney and other places around the world. The people who work the land are paid very little.

Since Mr. Goodwin worked for USAID, he should know USAID is not a direct funder of projects, but uses implementing partners for the execution. In many cases in Afghanistan, those implementing partners used Afghan "companies"..and as such..no one really knew for certain if the project was finished or in some cases even completed. False or mis-leading information on the condition of the project was often reported back to Kabul...in part, because no one would validate the project..as small or as large as the project might be.

When Berger (the lead contractor in Afghanistan) was given the challenge of building hundreds of schools and clinics..often not knowing if there were roads, infrastructure (water and power) available..when someone asked..."excuse me, who is going to work the clinics and schools?" The reply from the speaker..."I guess the NGO's will have to take care of that.."


No security...means no clinis, schools or other..this is why the PRT's have been relatively successful..because the concept mixed security with local projects. The problem was most NGO's..even those as USAID implementing partners wanted nothing to do with the PRT's because "they" represented "guys with guns"..I cannot recall ever a UN person coming into our compound..never.

And lastly, USAID's implementing partners went to people close to the Bush Administration..some were absolutely pathetic..making tremendous money each month and doing nearly nothing but generating often false reports on their "progress"./

Security is the keystone; the people of Afghanistan have to standup and begin to provide their own security...the ANA is in relatively bad shape even as we approach nearly 7 years of "training". What did we get for all those billions.

The current military leadership has a daunting challenge in part because we simply lost momentum because of Iraq. I would of appreciated Mr. Goodwin commenting on that....

Posted by: LTC-11A | August 31, 2009 11:48 AM
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Wrong, wrong, wrong. Now is the time to bring all US personnel home, to be followed immediately by the nuclear vaporization of that crap hole.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | August 31, 2009 11:12 AM
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Goodwin says:
"Many would argue that the security situation does not allow for civilians to do reconstruction activities."
Quite right, they are very often targets of kidnappers and murderers.

"Others would argue the military puts the civilian humanitarian workers at risk, clouding their status."
If they are not in military uniform they are civilians (at least for those who observe the Geneva Conventions). And the military protection does not put them at risk, it reduces the risks. The kidnappers and murderers put them at risk.

Posted by: spamsux1 | August 31, 2009 10:07 AM
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I wouold be very interested in travelling to, and working for economic growth in, Afghanistan. I've tried to find organizations that would facilitate that, and I have not been able to find any. Does anyone know of such an organization?

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | August 31, 2009 10:02 AM
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Ultimately, *ANY* fight we have in the Third World is a fight on poverty. We need to realize that we are fighting for 'hearts and minds' but often it's hard to do that if the people we're talking to are at subsistence farming or starving. No hope means that they will look to a hope somewhere else - either in this life or hope for a next (e.g., martyrdom)

Keep folks fed, educated, and with hope for a better life where they are at and the fight for their 'hearts and minds' is halfway won.

Posted by: docwatson223 | August 31, 2009 9:51 AM
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how about economic development in the United States...
How about the jobless here...
teach them in afghanistan on how to grow crops, food, the basics...
but spend the money here at home...
our leaders who don't do that should be replaced asap...

Posted by: DwightCollins | August 31, 2009 9:39 AM
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