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Event Summaries
February 1, 2018

Event Summary: Mark Pfeifle – ‘Win Your Surge’

Henry Jackson Society

By Philip Smit

On the 25th of January, Mark Pfeifle, the former White House Deputy National Security Advisor, spoke on the topic of foreign policy success in the short term. The event was chaired by the Viscount Waverly. Mr. Pfeifle has a long and well established past in government and communications. From 1997-2001, he served as the Deputy Communications Director for the Republican National Committee; from 2001-2004, he serves as Communication Director & Press Secretary for Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Further, Mr. Pfeifle served the Republican National Convention of 2004 as Communications Director. With this background, Mr. Pfeifle was more than prepared when given the position as Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Global Outreach, which he held from 2007-2009. It is in this role that Mr. Pfeifle promoted President Bush’s ‘surge’ policy in Iraq.

Mr. Pfeifle began by recounting a meeting he had with General Sir Graeme Lamb in Iraq during the summer of 2006, just before the surge. In it, he noted how General Lamb described the Iraqi Situation ‘hard pounding’, and akin to ‘playing three dimensional chess in a dark room’. The Surge was meant to alleviate these difficulties in Iraq. Put simply the policy of the Surge was to increase every aspect of the U.S. presence in Iraq, most critically the ground troop presence. Thus the task of selling a strategy of doubling down in an already unpopular engagement was no easy task for Mr. Pfeifle. He therefore continued to share his thoughts on how he managed his task, and how his lessons can be taken as lessons for others.

Above all, Mr. Pfeifle noted how he immediately wanted to ‘go to the source’. That is, he felt that the best way to develop and sell a foreign policy for Iraq was by delving into the causes of the conflict in the first. Alongside this first step, Mr. Pfeifle suggested that it is always best to ask questions and ‘not be a big shot’ while asking them. Next Mr. Pfeifle noted how one major difficulty that many civil servants seem to run into when dealing with military matters, is that any policy brief on the conflict will most likely end up becoming public knowledge. However, Mr. Pfeifle claimed that the next important step was writing down an actionable plan; a plan which for him was to market and sell the Surge policy. Next, one should ‘brief the boss, get their buy in, get it in writing’. Vis., a crucial step is getting the indirect authority of the head of state, through a written recognition of approval. Through this one can push their policy with the support of the executive. The final crucial step that Mr. Pfeifle suggested from his experience with the surge was, not surprisingly, communication. Communication in a nuanced sense however. Mr. Pfeifle was able to garner bi-partisan support (in a broad sense, i.e. not necessarily direct support) for the Surge by talking with members of the opposition; members of the opposition, but those who would still be willing to sit down and talk, and by talking perhaps reach some middle ground.

To round off his talk, Mr. Pfeifle commented on the Surge and its effectiveness in a general sense. In other words, the Surge proved to be effective in a short as a year. Given the multitude of potentially difficult situations that the US faces in the world at the time being, this effectiveness of the Surge might prove an example. Its quick return has convinced Mr. Pfeifle that in order to win in the long term, one should focus on winning in the short term.