Defense Secretary Urges More Spending on the "Civilian Instruments of National Security"

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants other agencies to step up, get funded, and do the work they excel at. He wants the other parts of government to not only start participating in the national security of the United States, but doing a better job if not simply starting to do something. Speaking at Kansas State University today, SecDef Gates sounded like a man truly concerned with national security, as he should, and concerned other parts of government are not being mobilized and funded to do their part.

There's a change a comin'.

From Thom Shanker's New York Times article on Gates' speech:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called Monday for the United States government to commit more money and effort to “soft power” tools, including diplomacy, economic assistance and communications, because the military alone cannot defend America’s interests around the world....

One priority is money, Mr. Gates said. He called for “a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security — diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development.”

Mr. Gates joked that “having a sitting secretary of defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of ‘man bites dog’ or, for some back in the Pentagon, blasphemy,” and he acknowledged that “it is certainly not an easy sell politically.”

The defense secretary also said the United States government must improve its skills at public diplomacy and public affairs to better describe the nation’s strategy and values to a global audience.

“We are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals,” he said. “It is just plain embarrassing that Al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.”

Mr. Gates expressed regret over decisions by previous administrations to cut the United States Agency for International Development and to abolish the United States Information Agency and divide its responsibilities among other offices.

SecDef Gates' predecessor was often asked about resurrecting USIA, substantially more frequently I believe than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. On communications, while the SecDef didn't exactly say "America should hire Al Qaeda's PR Agent," he made his position clear and I'm quite sure he's not saddened by Karen Hughes' departure. On Rice, Gates highlighted not just SecState's failure to prioritize or failure to mobilize, but he reinvigorated the theme of a Civil Response Corps, or SysAdmin as others would call it.

SecDef Gates statement mocking his lobbying for increased budgets for other agencies would be humorous if it weren't so true. Sadly, the SecState's efforts on her "priority" of a Middle East initiative spawned a new verb in Israel:

The long buildup to Annapolis, together with Ms. Rice’s many trips to the region, have given birth to a new verb in Israeli government circles: “lecondel,” meaning, to come and go for meetings that produce few results. The word is based on Ms. Rice’s first name.

Gates, for his part, has been on a roll, traveling the world and reintegrating the uniform leadership with the civilian. In doing so, he's working to protect his department against the offloading of responsibility for the war by the rest of the Administration. Unlike his predecessor, Gates works with Congress, playing their game when necessary.

Back to State, just a week ago, I received a report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, prepared under the direction of the ranking minority member, Senator Richard Lugar, titled "Embassies Grapple to Guide Foreign Aid" (4mb PDF). For the report, Senator Lugar tasked his staff to

24 countries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East to examine how increased funding and new programs are being implemented in the field. I asked our staff to pay particular attention to how Secretary Rice’s new coordination process run by a senior official dual-hatted at State and USAID is mirrored in the field.

Walter Pincus writing in the Washington Post last week about the report noted that

As the foreign aid budget has grown from $14.9 billion in 2001 to a record request of $24.5 billion this year, the Pentagon's share of bilateral aid has grown from 7 percent of that total to about 22 percent. In Honduras, for example, the Defense Department's foreign aid program is nearly as large as that of the State Department, the report says. It also noted that Congress repeatedly has reduced President Bush's foreign aid requests, and that "insufficient funding for foreign assistance in the civilian agency budgets reinforces a migration of foreign aid authorities and functions to the Department of Defense."

Not in the report and not mentioned by Pincus is the size of the staffs to service and understand the region. Also not in the report is DoD's transnational, or regional, perspective as compared to State's state-centered diplomacy. Addressing this will be the real transformation State needs to become relevant in the 21st Century, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

Back to the budget. Not only has State's piece of the pie shrunk, but its leadership has, according to the report, become muddled. From four of the nine summary findings:

  • From the field, it is clear that we have failed as a government and as a community of international development supporters to agree on either the importance or the content of a foreign aid strategy...
  • Overall agreement between headquarters and the field on foreign assistance is at low ebb and communications have been complicated rather than improved by the State Department’s efforts to provide strategic direction...
  • Field complaints about the [new foreign assistance function headed by the Director of Foreign Assistance] at State focus on the lack of transparency, the weeks of extra paperwork, the differing priorities between post and headquarters, as well as inconsistent demands, but the underlying, only sometimes unspoken, fight is about money...
  • USAID may be viewed as the neglected stepchild in D.C. but in the field it is clear that USAID plays either the designated hitter or the indispensable utility infielder for almost all foreign assistance launched from post...

The last bullet is important as we see USAID working closely with the military in Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the contested spaces. This stepchild is a core function of our mission to deny sanctuary and to counter ideological support for terrorism and insurgency. In this, the report notes the importance of the institutionalization of collaboration between the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and USAID in terms of cooperation, funding, mission, an d leadership. But to really move this requires leadership that's not apparent in State. 

[Interesting but beyond the scope of a 'quick' post is what seems like too small of growth for International Military Education & Training (IMET) and Peacekeeping Operations, but critical components of true public diplomacy and SSTR.]

Gates is active and demanding the rest of the government step up. Where is State, the biggest, but not only, partner in the war and partner in national security in general? It would be interesting to see a response to Gates (or the Shanker article) on DipNote, State's blog, preferably an affirmative statement of support.

I, for one, would like to see the resurrection of a USIA-agency led by a new cabinet member that works closely with both SecState and SecDef. This triumvirate would be the primary tools of national security. The CIA would return to its consultative role to the President and his departments (i.e. DOD, DOS, DOA, etc). The Civil Response Corps / SysAdmin, formed by merging and tasking State's CRS, USAID, and DoD 3000.05 commitments (through a new command?), would report to this new member. This structure would pose challenges, but State is necessary to continue to work state and supra-state arrangements. DoD does not have the same personnel time horizon (too quick of rotations... hard to build an empire when you rotate so often and lose knowledge and relationships, this is one of many areas the British were really good at) and, to be blunt, the image of the U.S. we want to project does not wear combat boots. We need to DoD'ify State and USAID/USIA'ify DoD. The latter has been in the works for years (this is key to counterinsurgency) but the former hasn't started except in small areas due to force of personality and will power.

Question: is Gates speaking out of turn or is the Bush Administration having Gates speak for the President? If it's the latter, we must wonder why now when SecState is fully consumed with Annapolis and other cabinet members are all but silent on the war.

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