Re the Small Footprint Doctrine

Not sure when the meme started, or where it came from. This post is pretty much to bookmark various sources as to its derivation.


“Welcome to the Era of the Light Footprint: Obama finally finds his doctrine.”
Leon Wieseltier, New Republic, 01/29/13.

The “light footprint” that is Barack Obama’s doctrine in foreign policy originated as Donald Rumsfeld’s doctrine in military policy. Rumsfeld was undone by the contradiction between his ends and his means: in Iraq, he sought to attain big ends with small means, disastrously insisting that after “shock and awe” a light, nimble American force advantaged by technology would suffice for assisting the Iraqis in the political transformation of their country. This was Rumsfeld’s “revolution in military affairs.” Obama has accepted Rumsfeld’s ideal of the American military: the “strategic guidance document” issued by the Pentagon a year ago declares, in italics, that “whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives.” But Obama modified Rumsfeld’s vision in two ways. The first was that he eliminated the contradiction between the means and the ends by shrinking the ends to fit the means. The second was that he extended the principle of shrinkage from military policy to foreign policy. This is Obama’s revolution in international affairs.


“‘Small-footprint’ Operations Effective, Official Says”
Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service, 01/31/13.


“The Foreign Policy Essay: The Limits of Small Footprints.”
Stephen Watts,, 03/30/14.

As President Obama’s 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (PDF) proclaims, the United States “will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives.”


“Sen. Jim Inhofe Charges “Cover-Up” on Benghazi”
Chris Casteel,, 02/7/13.

“I hope our hearing today will provide the committee with a thorough accounting of the facts leading up to the attack as well as what has been done in months following to ensure such a tragedy doesn’t happen again. In the months leading up to September 11th, there were no fewer than four significant attacks against Western interests in the city.

· On April 10, a United Nations convoy was hit with an IED.

· On May 22, the International Red Cross was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade.

· On June 6, the U.S. consulate was attacked with a bomb.

· And, on June 11, the British Ambassador’s motorcade was attacked with an RPG.

“The British Government understood how dire the situation in Benghazi was at the time and closed their mission in Benghazi on June 12th. The International Red Cross suspended operations shortly thereafter on August 6th. On multiple occasions, Ambassador Chris Stevens requested increased security.

“While I understand that the State Department has the primary responsibility for the protection of American diplomats around the world, I also understand that the Defense Department plays an important supporting role to this effort. I expect our witnesses to explain today why—given the clear indicators and warnings that threats to U.S. interests in Benghazi and throughout North Africa were growing—was the Defense Department not placed on a heightened alert status or adequately postured to respond in a timely manner to a contingency of this nature, especially on the anniversary of 9/11.

“Our witnesses have repeatedly stated that there were no military assets available in the region that could have acted in time to potentially avert this disaster. Why not? The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance directs that we will “rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific”, and goes on to say that in Africa and Latin America “we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives”. Benghazi highlights the strategic risks of this new strategy in places like Africa, risks certain to be magnified by looming defense cuts.


What Does “Small Footprint” Really Mean?
Jonathan Schroden, ISNblog, 3/28/14.

Taking these observations more broadly, the United States will not have the ability in the near- to mid-term to effectively conduct large-scale stability operations on any kind of rapid timescale. As such, it will be more heavily reliant on prevention and early detection of instability and crisis—which in turn require access to the areas in which instability or crises might develop. Access to those areas will often be contingent upon trust —of host nation and local governments, of foreign security and diplomatic personnel, and of local populations. Admiral William McRaven is fond of saying that “trust cannot be surged,” and he is right. Building the requisite level of trust to allow for effective preventive actions and early warning of instability will require sustained, persistent engagement over time—by our diplomats, by our low-visibility forces, and by our military, though at a much reduced scale.

Perhaps the ultimate implication of an emphasis on small-footprint approaches is the recognition that we will not be “solving” problems of instability or “defeating” terrorist organizations on the timescales that we have become accustomed to thinking about. Rather, an emphasis on small-footprint approaches will require us to take a longer view of international security and stability problems, and a more selective view of the role we play in alleviating those problems. In an age of short-term goals and metrics and even shorter public and political attention spans, this might be easier said than done. Yet, according to the DSG, such is the future of U.S. foreign policy.


“Benghazi Consulate Massacre: Embassy told by State, ‘Stop pestering us!'”
Phinea,, 10/9/12.

This is a bureaucratic snafu of monumental proportions, one that eventually cost lives. It looks like the knowledge of the people on the scene was disregarded in favor of a small-footprint, diplomatically-correct approach of relying on local security. And no one in the higher reaches of the bureaucracy and the political appointees above them wanted to hear any dissent.


“Exclusive: Libya Cable Detailed Threats”
Eli Lake, Daily Beast, 10/8/12

The cable in some ways is bittersweet. It provides a snapshot of U.S. activities in Libya’s second-largest city before the assault that killed Stevens and three other Americans. It acknowledged the rise of Islamist forces in the militias and in the nearby city of Dernaa, a hotbed of al Qaeda recruiting in the last decade. In that city, an outfit called the “Abu-Salim Brigade” was beginning to enforce a harsh version of Islamic law that prohibited any co-mingling of men and women at the local university. One correspondent with the late ambassador urged him to send someone to Dernaa to “see the truth for yourselves.”

But the cable also details how the U.S. mission in Libya was optimistic about Libya’s future. The cable described plans for something called “the American space” in Benghazi. The new facility would contain “a small library, computer lab, and open space for programming.” It said the new facility has already been used for a dialogue on foreign policy with young Libyans.



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