Grim update on Putumayo Friday links
Jul 172008

This blog has never before approvingly excerpted the words of a Bush administration secretary of defense. But there’s a first time for everything.

The speech that Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave on Tuesday hits a lot of important notes about the need to halt the “militarization” of U.S. foreign policy by dramatically increasing our non-military resources worldwide.

For some, this speech may recall Dwight David Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” speech, given three days before he left the presidency in 1961. These are the words of an official from an outgoing administration – an administration whose White House and State Department have not echoed them. (Nor have these concerns been expressed so clearly by top congressional leaders, who of course make the final funding decisions.)

Still, Gates’s warnings and prescriptions deserve even more attention than the significant amount they have attracted this week. Here are the most thought-provoking excerpts. Emphases are ours.

In the campaign against terrorist networks and other extremists, we know that direct military force will continue to have a role. But over the long term, we cannot kill or capture our way to victory. What the Pentagon calls “kinetic” operations should be subordinate to measures to promote participation in government, economic programs to spur development, and efforts to address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies and among the discontented from which the terrorists recruit. It will take the patient accumulation of quiet successes over time to discredit and defeat extremist movements and their ideology.

We also know that over the next 20 years and more certain pressures – population, resource, energy, climate, economic, and environmental – could combine with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to produce new sources of deprivation, rage, and instability. We face now, and will inevitably face in the future, rising powers discontented with the international status quo, possessing new wealth and ambition, and seeking new and more powerful weapons. But, overall, looking ahead, I believe the most persistent and potentially dangerous threats will come less from ambitious states, than failing ones that cannot meet the basic needs – much less the aspirations – of their people.

In my travels to foreign capitals, I have been struck by the eagerness of so many foreign governments to forge closer diplomatic and security ties with the United States – ranging from old enemies like Vietnam to new partners like India. Nonetheless, regard for the United States is low among the populations of many key nations – especially those of our moderate Muslim allies.

This is important because much of our national security strategy depends upon securing the cooperation of other nations, which will depend heavily on the extent to which our efforts abroad are viewed as legitimate by their publics. The solution is not to be found in some slick PR campaign or by trying to out-propagandize al-Qaeda, but rather through the steady accumulation of actions and results that build trust and credibility over time.

Much of the total increase in the international affairs budget has been taken up by security costs and offset by the declining dollar, leaving little left over for core diplomatic operations. These programs are not well understood or appreciated by the wider American public, and do not have a ready-made political constituency that major weapons systems or public works projects enjoy. As a result, the slashing of the President’s international affairs budget request has too often become an annual Washington ritual – right up there with the blooming of the cherry blossoms and the Redskins’ opening game.

As someone who once led an agency with a thin domestic constituency [the CIA], I am familiar with this dilemma. Since arriving at the Pentagon I’ve discovered a markedly different budget dynamic – not just in scale but the reception one gets on the Hill. Congress often asks the military services for lists of things that they need, but that the Defense Secretary and the President were too stingy to request. As you can imagine, this is one congressional tasking that prompts an immediate and enthusiastic response.

It has become clear that America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long – relative to what we spend on the military, and more important, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world. I cannot pretend to know the right dollar amount – I know it’s a good deal more than the one percent of the federal budget that it is right now. But the budgets we are talking about are relatively small compared to the rest of government, a steep increase of these capabilities is well within reach – as long as there is the political will and wisdom to do it.

Overall, even outside Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military has become more involved in a range of activities that in the past were perceived to be the exclusive province of civilian agencies and organizations. This has led to concern among many organizations – perhaps including many represented here tonight – about what’s seen as a creeping “militarization” of some aspects of America’s foreign policy.

This is not an entirely unreasonable sentiment. As a career CIA officer I watched with some dismay the increasing dominance of the defense 800 pound gorilla in the intelligence arena over the years. But that scenario can be avoided if – as is the case with the intelligence community today [clearly, he had to say that] – there is the right leadership, adequate funding of civilian agencies, effective coordination on the ground, and a clear understanding of the authorities, roles, and understandings of military versus civilian efforts, and how they fit, or in some cases don’t fit, together.

Broadly speaking, when it comes to America’s engagement with the rest of the world, you probably don’t hear this often from a Secretary of Defense , it is important that the military is – and is clearly seen to be – in a supporting role to civilian agencies. Our diplomatic leaders – be they in ambassadors’ suites or on the seventh floor of the State Department – must have the resources and political support needed to fully exercise their statutory responsibilities in leading American foreign policy.

8 Responses to “Good message, unusual messenger”

  1. Chris Says:

    Not related, but I smiled thinking about how some of you would react to this article… it’s ALL good.

    BTW… completely agree with the military in support role to civilian agencies… else there’s no differentiating us from something like Nazi Germany or DPRK.

  2. Randy Paul Says:

    If I were a recovering drug addict with a loud mouth and never knew wtf I was taking about, perhaps I could get a show on CNN.

    Of course I’d have to get a lobotomy first.

  3. lfm Says:

    Oh well, you leave cipcol for one day and you miss a lot of good stuff. I know it´s already an oldie, but did anybody notice how Camilla, who else?, claimed that the left was happy because a leftist, that is Ingrid, was rescued? I don´t know of any serious leftist, and I know a few, that consider Ingrid a comrade-in-arms. That pap is only for general consumption. Of course, most of us are happy that she´s out. But here in Bogota some people, not just leftists, are thinking that the show is going for quite longer than needed.

    On another note: the Red Cross thing is serious but I think it should be deflated. I´m all for the Geneva Conventions but the truth is, this was small potatoes compared to other violations committed by the government (such as, for instance, using demobilized minors in intelligence operations; some have been killed).

    That said, there´s another problem: it´s very hard to rub the government´s nose against this given the egregious violations perpetrated by the FARC. I wonder if Adam or other people in this forum can help in one tiny errand: the FARC keep insisting that they aren´t bound by the Geneva Conventions because they have their own code of conduct. Apparently that code, whatever it is, condones kidnappings, recruiting minors and maiming civilians. Would it be possible to get the FARC to please, please, please, tell us what that code is? I´m pretty sure that code allows using symbols of the Red Cross, by the way.

    The reason I´m asking this is because I don´t see any way out of this mess unless people can bring enough pressure on the FARC to modify its criminal behavior. Having them clarify their own rules would help expose the hypocrisy of the whole thing and, who knows?, with the change of leadership get something started.

    In the meantime, if you want to ruin Uribe´s day over the Red Cross thing, more power to you. But I won´t be screaming bloody murder over this thing; the disproportion is just too big for that.

  4. Chris Says:


    If you think this whole Betancourt things has been going on too long… it’s about to get exascerbated again on Sunday.

  5. jcg Says:

    lfm: You’ve made quite a few good points there. Not that I need to point it out, but hey…

  6. Colombia » Colombia misused Red Cross Symbol During Rescue Says:

    [...] Good message, unusual messengerThis blog has never before approvingly excerpted the words of a Bush administration secretary of defense. But there’sa first time for everything. The speech that Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave on Tuesday hits a lot of important … [...]

  7. Camilla Says:

    I approve of the Gates approach too. Unlike a lot of rightwingers, I’ve always been a fan of the guy. Rumsfeld (and especially Wolfowitz) were utterly incompetent, unfit leaders in the Iraq war. I have little respect for either. Gates, author of the Surge, is a very different story, the low-key pragmatic and honest man who is bringing us victory and understands how it’s done. I’m totally with him on his other stuff, I think he should be garnering more respect than he does in GOP circles. Of all things, I’m with Adam on this one, maybe for different reasons, but on the same page all the same.

  8. Camilla Says:

    LFM: You are right on one thing, FARC has used Red Cross-marked ambulances to transfer its ammo in the past. As have some Middle Eastern terror groups, just go to the blog and you can see that documented. To my knowledge, the Red Cross didn’t say anything about any of this.

Leave a Reply