One of the centerpieces of the Obama “doctrine” for the pursuit of U.S. national security is placing a greater weight on the non-military elements of national power. Many in or near “Team Obama”, from Joseph Nye and John Hamre to Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, have long advocated greater use of so-called soft power instruments such as diplomacy, economic assistance, civil affairs and cultural exchanges to mitigate hostilities between nations and even enhance the prospects for stability within those states with the potential for failure. The idea of demilitarizing U.S. national security affairs has both ideological and practical aspects. With respect to the former, the Administration believes that other nations and peoples will be less hostile towards policies run by people in suits rather than men and women in “cammos.” Regarding the latter point, there is a belief, yet to be tested, that U.S. civilian departments and agencies have the requisite knowledge and skills to do a better job than the military at nation building.
So how is soft power being applied to a real world problem like Afghanistan? President Obama announced recently that he will send an additional 30,000 troops to that country with some 4,000 to arrive almost immediately. Overall, this is a nearly 45 per cent increase over the 68,000 U.S., troops currently deployed to Afghanistan. In his speech at West Point, the President called for a civilian surge that “reinforces positive action.” As part of his strategy to turn around the situation in Afghanistan, General McChrystal requested a doubling of the civilian presence in that country. What has the Department of State (DoS) offered in the way of a surge? Only a 20 to 30 percent increase to its current complement of 1,000 civilian staff, according to the Deputy Secretary of State.
Underneath the repeated calls for a civilian surge is the reality the civilian departments and agencies of the U.S. government lacked the staff, training, resources and attitude needed to provide an adequate soft power complement to the so-called kinetic power provided by the military. The military’s can-do attitude was reflected in hundreds of stories of junior and midgrade officers acting as defacto mayors, city planners, sewer commissioners and consigliore to Iraqi and Afghan tribal chiefs and town elders. They did so not in a bid for power but because there wasn’t anybody else to do the job. How bad is the situation? DoS is not even making good on its traditional responsibilities such as counternarcotics. According to a report by DoS’s inspector general, “The department has not clarified an end state for counternarcotics efforts, engaged in long-term planning or established performance measures.”
Equally significant, the DoS developed something of a reputation of putting its rights and privileges above its responsibilities. DoS personnel, even at the most senior levels, have a long track record of complaining about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy without offering an alternative. The Department of Defense (DoD) did not seize control of Iraq and Afghanistan from the DoS. Rather, it acted to fill a vacuum. Today, the situation has not changed much. According to one of the best analysts on the security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, Anthony Cordesman, “Talk of integrated civil-military plans and joint campaign plans cannot disguise their lack of reality, the lack of coordinated and well managed civil efforts, the stove piping and lack of basic accountability in most aid efforts, and the near chaos in managing the overall foreign aid effort within the State Department – an issue that Secretary Clinton has raised but so far done nothing to address.”
The situation has become so acute that the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has stooped to attempted bribery of the State Department. The Washington Post reports that Secretary Gates sent a memo to his counterpart, Secretary of State Clinton, suggesting the creation of three large-scale funds to support training security forces, preventing conflicts and stabilizing violence-torn societies. Each of these would be jointly managed by the two departments. While the Gates memo proposes both departments contribute to these funds, it is quite clear that DoD would provide most of the money. Beyond access to DoD funds money, the real goal of the Gates proposal is to get the DoS invested in something of which it has never thought highly: the salvaging of failing states.
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