The Obama Administration came into office determined to revolutionize the conduct of U.S. foreign and security policies. The essence of the Administration’s argument was that too much emphasis had been placed on the military instrument of national power and much less on other capabilities such as diplomacy, foreign assistance, economic interaction, information, cultural exchanges, etc. When the full range of instruments was integrated and applied to solving problems of common interest such as economic development, nonproliferation and climate control the result was smart power.
What ever happened to the soft/smart power? First, it turned out that the U.S. military was better organized, equipped, trained and mentally prepared for many soft power tasks than were the other government departments and agencies. For example, when the Haiti earthquake hit, it was the U.S. military that deployed an airfield control unit that allowed relief supplies to be flown into the country. Military aircraft including C-17s, C-130s, V-22s and carrier-based C-2s were available to fly in relief supplies. Only the Department of Defense (DoD) had the resources and experience in dealing with large scale movement of people, equipment and supplies into complex environments. The Army’s Combined Arms center and the U.S. Institute of Peace have teamed up to produce the first field manual for civilian operations in stabilization and reconstruction.
Along with its various other reviews and studies, the Obama Administration commissioned the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) which, as the name suggests focused on the work of the State Department and USAID. The purpose of the QDDR, according to a senior State Department official, is to “effectively design, fund, and implement development and foreign assistance as part of a broader foreign policy.” A going assumption for the QDDR is that the State Department and USAID will have to do a much better job of working with other cabinet departments and government agencies, but most particularly DoD. In addition, plans need to be developed for long-term efforts in collaboration with other governments, international institutions and even non-governmental organizations.
Rajiv Shah, the new head of USAID has made public an ambitious agenda to reform his agency and give it at least some of the capabilities needed to play in the smart power game. He wants to revamp and expand USAID headquarters to include the capacity to plan budgetary requirements and monitor and evaluate performance. USAID also needs a policy planning unit. Shah has set out three goals for his organization: improve business practices, expand scale of efforts and become results oriented.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates tried to jump start the movement toward smart power by proposing that the Departments of Defense and State pool their resources and share responsibilities for a number of overlapping security challenges. The central idea of Secretary Gates’ proposal was “shared responsibilities, pooled resources.” He focused on three areas; 1) security assistance; 2) stabilization and; 3) conflict prevention. The first area is essentially building partner capacity and focus primarily in training and equipment. Gates suggested that if DoD, the State Department and USAID pooled their funds in these three areas this would create a pool of over $1 billion.
But the Obama Administration is moving very slowly to implement its smart/soft power agenda and to force the kinds of organizational and cultural changes required. In less than two years, Secretary Gates has dragged his institution kicking and screaming into the worlds of irregular warfare, stability operations and smart power. The State Department won’t even publish the QDDR until the summer. The civilian stability operations manual won’t be ready for at least a year. Nor has Secretary Clinton acted on Gates’ offer to share money and power. Now that is not smart.
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