May 24, 2016

Chapter 3 Haiti: The Gangs of Cité Soleil

For Haiti, the new century began marked by instability, with Jean-Bertrand Aristide at the center of political controversy. In 2000, Aristide returned to power for his second term as president, but in 2004 a U.S.-led multinational force (MNF) intervened to quell a swelling tide of violence, and he was chased into exile. The United Nations returned to Haiti with another massive mission: to sustain the security established by the MNF, provide humanitarian assistance, and put in place the groundwork for future development. In 2006, in yet another round of national elections following a period of violence, René Préval was elected for a second term as president of Haiti. The decade ended with the devastating earthquake of January 2010, with a death toll estimated at 200,000, a refocusing of Haiti’s immediate priorities, and yet another new government.

May 24, 2016

Chapter 2 Jaish al-Mahdi in Iraq

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was an emphatic military success. The resulting occupation, however, proved far more problematic, with various groups and factions opposing the U.S. military presence. The invasion itself, combined with the ineptitude of the occupation authorities, created several distinct but powerful strands of resistance, which erupted as a complex insurgency. Moreover, in the chaos and anarchy that followed the toppling of the Baathist regime, the line between licit and illicit power was blurred—an ambiguity never fully appreciated by the United States. This set in motion a series of missteps reflecting a profound lack of understanding of Iraqi traditions and politics, a failure to realize that common sectarian identity was no guarantee of harmony, and a sense of bewilderment when U.S. forces were not universally treated as liberators rather than occupiers.1

May 24, 2016

Chapter 1 Criminal Patronage Networks and the Struggle to Rebuild the Afghan State

Throughout the international community’s 2001-14 engagement in Afghanistan, few challenges proved as complex, pervasive, and threatening as corruption and organized crime.1 Together, systemic corruption and organized crime undermined efforts to build Afghan institutions, consolidate security gains, achieve political progress, encourage economic growth, and create conditions for enduring stability. Corruption in Afghanistan reached crippling levels after the post-2001 political settlement, which was built on the distribution of political power between factions formed during the country’s civil war. Benefiting from judicial impunity, these factions facilitated penetration of the Afghan state by what eventually became known as criminal patronage networks (CPNs). In the Afghan context, CPNs are a form of organized illicit power structure made particularly intractable by their integration into the government and by their access to international money.

May 24, 2016


Much of the twentieth century was dominated by the competition between rival ideologies for structuring political life. Democratic capitalism ultimately triumphed over fascism in 1945, then over Communism in 1991. But this triumph did not presage “the end of history,” as some optimistically wrote.1 A more accurate portrayal of what lay in store was “the coming anarchy.”2 The end of the Cold War exposed the fragility underlying the Westphalian, rule-based system of sovereign states, particularly in those scores of states born during the decolonization era of the mid-twentieth century. Nearly 25 years after the demise of Communism, no fewer than 65 of the 193 United Nations member states are rated as “high warning,” “alert,” or “high alert” in the 2015 Fragile States Index, and only 53 are rated “very sustainable” through “stable.”3

May 24, 2016


Behind every book is another book, and this is very true with “Impunity: Countering Illicit Power in War and Transition.”

May 24, 2016


Successful outcomes in armed conflict require confronting illicit networks. A failure to do so effectively frustrated efforts to consolidate gains in Afghanistan and Iraq, and after more than a decade of war and development, the international community and the governments of those countries, continue to contend with the violence and instability that are the result. In Afghanistan, corruption and organized crime networks perpetuate state weakness and undermine the state’s ability to cope with the regenerative capacity of the Taliban. The failure to counter militias and Iranian proxies that infiltrated the government and security forces in Iraq led to a return of large scale communal violence and set conditions (along with the Syrian Civil War) for the rise of a terrorist proto-state and a humanitarian catastrophe that has adversely impacted the entire Middle East. These and other cases illustrate how governments and international actors struggle to establish security and rule of law, and reveal incomplete plans and fragmented efforts that fail to address the causes of violence and state weakness.

May 6, 2016

More Lessons From a Long War

This short essay is an attempt to encapsulate lessons from the Long War beyond the timeframe operative in the NDU book. Once again, the lessons may not be new. They are often simple, but nevertheless profound. As with all strategic lessons, they are context dependent. To begin, who could forget where they were in August 2011 when the last American combat units convoyed without incident from a mostly peaceful Iraq into Kuwait? For many of us, it was a relief to imagine that somehow ---unlike Humpty Dumpty--- all the King’s horses and all of his soldiers had somehow found a way to put a shattered Iraq back together again. The boldness of the Surge and the Sunni awakening had reduced violence in Iraq by 90 percent. The U.S. and its allies helped to rebuild a competent Iraqi Army. The Surge enabled the Coalition to begin to withdraw and for Iraq to hold a second round of apparently successful elections. In some ways, the peaceful U.S. departure from Iraq diminished the pain of an expensive, bloody campaign, a preventive war built on faulty premises.

May 4, 2016

After the Negotations: How Reconstruction Teams Can Build a Stronger Peace in Colombia

For more than a decade, Plan Colombia guided our joint U.S.-Colombia efforts to combat narcotics and, more importantly for Colombia, the insurgents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) carrying out the illicit trade. By the end of 2014, the Colombian military, with targeted U.S. support, had degraded the FARC’s capacity by 68 percent from its peak in 2002. Relentless pressure on the organization forced them to join the Government of Colombia in peace talks in Havana, and, for the first time in six attempts at peace negotiations, power resided with the state. The talks, which began in November 2012, have led to partial agreements on three of five agenda items, though the most contentious issues, transitional justice and end of conflict, remain to be solved. The talks are also entering a delicate stage. Last December (2014) the FARC announced an indefinite and unilateral ceasefire and largely abided by it until an attack on April 15, 2015, killed eleven Colombian soldiers and wounded an additional twenty. In response to the attack, President Juan Manuel Santos ended the suspension of airstrikes against the FARC in effect since March 2015 and ordered the military to intensify operations, resulting in approximately 40 rebels killed by the end of May.

May 1, 2016

A Competing Risks Approach to Security Sector Assistance for Fragile States

Helping other countries' militaries and intelligence services is a vital part of whatever we're calling the war on terrorism these days. These programs, however, are often seen as one of two extremes: a panacea or an afterthought. Steve Watts of RAND calls for treating these programs with the analytic seriousness they deserve. He notes the range of potential problems and recommends using risk assessments to think about security sector assistance in a more sophisticated way.

March 7, 2016

Time for Transparency in overseas military aid and financing

The U.S. can't be everywhere at once: We need a way to build partners overseas who can tackle military problems on their own. Therefore, since 9/11, Congress has increased the authorities and programs under which the Department of Defense (DOD) can engage other militaries. It's time to start tracking that money and evaluating what's working, and what's not.