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The American Military Advisor: Dealing with Senior Foreign Officials in the Islamic World

The American Military Advisor: Dealing with Senior Foreign Officials in the Islamic World - Cover

Authored by Mr. Michael J. Metrinko.

August 2008

94 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Although the role of the military advisor to senior foreign officials is honored in political history, it became almost a forgotten art when it was needed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whatever the past, the American military services are now fully engaged in nation-building in the Iraqi and Afghan conflict zones, and the advisory responsibility seems certain to be needed elsewhere as well. Advisors have become an invaluable part of the nation-building process, and whether they are assigned to counsel and work with governors, generals, or Cabinet Ministers, their role has decided impact on America’s overall political and military strategy. This guidebook draws on the experiences of diplomats and military officers who have served in such advisory roles, and whose work with senior foreign officials was carried out in conflict zones at critical times. Although the examples are drawn from life in the Islamic world, the precepts have widespread application, and the examples will be an important part of any advisor’s--be he military or civilian--preparation for his mission.


The American Military Advisor: Dealing with Senior Foreign Officials in the Islamic World is a comprehensive guide for American military officers assigned as advisors to regional officials in places very different from the United States. Starting with a definition of terms and a brief description of the advisory role, it brings the reader into today’s Islamic political and social context, pointing out the complexities inherent in the advisory position, as well as the tools an advisor must use in order to perform successfully. The precepts and examples in the text are based on the personal experiences of a number of diplomats and military officers who have seen extensive service in the Islamic world and in many conflict zones. The text is not a simple list of do’s and don’ts, but rather it explains the type of questions that an advisor should ask, the preparations he should make, and the characteristics he should display in order to complete his advisory mission successfully.

The advisory role is at best loosely defined in military career terms, and realities on the ground further complicate the advisory mission. These include differences in American and foreign perception of the advisory position, differences in the way Americans and host country officials view time lines, the impact of the local calendar on the advisor’s work, and the importance of cultural adaptation and intellectual openness. In the end, establishing personal rapport with a host country official is the basis for success as an advisor, and the qualities in an advisor’s personality that allow for such a relationship are difficult to quantify.

Assigning advisors poses a challenge to the military personnel system because of age, gender, and cultural values in the Islamic world, and the characteristics that help make an advisor successful—his personality, openness to new cultures, and flexibility in dealing in uncharted areas—are not normally considered by the military selection process. A good advisor’s skill set includes language ability, cross-cultural adaptation and knowledge, and a solid foundation in American history and politics, as well as expertise in his particular military field. Normally an advisor will be partnered with an interpreter, and understanding this relationship is vital, just as studying and understanding the new terrain to which the advisor is assigned and the foreign officials with whom he will be working. How the host country views the United States and how its citizens regard their own officials affect the advisor’s role.

The advisor is never alone in his new environment, and a variety of other players, from the American Embassy, international organizations, the media, nongovernment agencies, and the local populace affect the advisory mission as well. Understanding the roles played by this variety of actors is essential to the advisor, since they can provide support and cooperation as well as hinder his mission.

Although difficult to define and open to change as time at the job passes, the advisor’s role is nonetheless essential in today’s American political and military environment. The advisor is placed squarely in the host country’s decisionmaking process, and his skill and ability impact directly on overall American interests in the Islamic world.

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