Centcom Advisor Promotes Interagency Synergy in Middle East
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2013 When Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III travels anywhere within the U.S. Central Command region or meets with his staff to discuss activities and operations, Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger is never far from his side.
Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger, a senior Foreign Service officer, serves as senior foreign policy advisor to Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command. DOD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Dawn Price
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Ranneberger, a senior Foreign Service officer, serves as Austin’s senior foreign policy advisor. He’s among about 100 high-level State Department officers, referred to as policy advisors assigned directly to military service chiefs, major headquarters staffs, and to Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, and the other combatant commanders.
Then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the importance of close interagency communication and collaboration in U.S. international affairs when he introduced what has grown into the State Department’s Foreign Policy Advisor Program more than a half-century ago.
Never has this collaboration been more important than in today’s globally connected world, and nowhere does it apply more directly than in Centcom’s dynamic and often volatile area of operations, Ranneberger said during a telephone interview from the command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
Ranneberger’s explained that his job is to help improve the processes that enable all elements of U.S. power -- “hard” military power and “soft” diplomatic and economic power -- to work in synch to support U.S. strategic objectives in the region.
“I like to describe my role as being a catalyst and facilitator of information and communication between Centcom and the State Department and other interlocutors in Washington, and with U.S. missions in the region,” he said.
That begins within Centcom, where Ranneberger regularly shares his diplomatic insights and knowledge of U.S. policy and strategic objectives to help Austin and other senior staff members in their decision-making.
Calling Austin “a remarkably inclusive type of leader,” Ranneberger said he “welcomes and encourages the presentation of different points of view” from his staff.
“He very much encourages a whole-of-government-type approach, so as a result, our interaction is very close,” he said.
Ranneberger also coordinates closely with State Department officials in Washington, and U.S. Embassy country teams throughout Centcom’s 20-nation region. He sits in on most of Austin’s meetings with foreign leaders.
“There are always lots of questions in the region about U.S. policy -- about what we are going to do on different issues, whether it is Syria or Afghanistan or Egypt or you name it,” he said. “So we strive to present a coherent view of what the U.S. government policy is.”
Despite different cultures between DOD and the State Department and the ways they operate, Ranneberger said, he’s a firm believer that diplomacy and military power go hand in hand.
“If you look at it, we are doing precisely the same thing, which is to advance U.S. national security interests by using our different tools,” he said. “I have always seen the work of the military as integral to diplomatic activity. So it is not an ‘either-or’ -- either we have diplomacy or we have military action. Sometimes it is a combination of both, or one that reinforces the ability to achieve the other.”
Austin recognized the importance of leveraging all elements of national power to address challenges in the region long before arriving at Centcom.
“Our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us that to achieve our goals and objectives, we must balance all the instruments of national power,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing in February.
“The complexity of the current operating environment requires a whole-of-government approach that leverages the individual strengths of the interagency, to include our military and diplomatic partners and others,” he said.
Austin told the panel he hopes to expand this unity of effort by identifying common goals early on and working together to achieve them. It’s a process he said needs to expand to include “all stages of planning and operations,” and that needs to start before, rather than in the midst of, a crisis.
“By working together on a routine basis, we will effectively align goals and objectives, improve communications and enhance the understanding of one another’s methods and perspectives,” he said. “This will ultimately enhance individual and U.S. government effectiveness.”