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Barack Obama Criticism Foreign Policy National Security The War on Terrorism

Military Envy

[digg-reddit-me]Under the Obama administration, the nonmilitary parts of America’s national security team have begun to increasingly imitate the Pentagon’s bureaucratic strategies and organization.

David Kilcullen, an Australian military officer embedded at various times in the State Department and in the Department of Defense during the Bush administration, one of the architects of the Surge, and a consultant to the Obama administration spoke at the Carneige Council about a number of problems with America’s approach to terrorism and its power – including what he saw as a serious mismatch between the “military and nonmilitary elements of national power.” He explained:

There’s 1.68 million people in the U.S. armed services, 2.1 million if you count all the civilians in the Department of Defense. I served in the State Department but this isn’t a State/Defense thing because I also served in the Defense Department, but between State and AID combined there are about 8,000 diplomats/foreign service officers in the U.S. So that’s 360 to 1 in terms of budget and 210 to 1 in terms of military guys to diplomats.

Contrast that to most other countries in the world, which have a ratio between 8 and 10 to 1. So we are dramatically out of proportion. We have this huge, well developed, highly expensive, well-coordinated military arm of national power and this tiny, shriveled, little puny diplomatic arm of national power. Not surprisingly we tend to see most problems as military problems and we tend to approach them with military solutions, because that’s the asset set that we have available.

By comparison there are five times as many accountants in the Department of Defense as there are diplomats in the U.S. diplomatic service. There’s as many lawyers in the Department of Defense as there are in the diplomatic service. There are actually more people playing as musicians in defense bands than there are diplomats. [Here the crowd titters.] So there’s a pretty substantial mismatch.

And of course that leads us to militarize our foreign policy.

He’s obviously right about this. But the military is not just seen to be bigger and better funded, but to be more effective than these other elements of national power. Its interesting to note that in the opening months of the Obama administration, the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Treasury have all sought to adopt elements of the Pentagon’s framework and seem to be using the Pentagon itself as a model.

Most recently, Noam Scheiber reported that the Treasury Department wanted to “put Treasury on a Pentagon-style footing.” He explained that in this new world of sudden financial movements, the Treasury needed to have greater capabilities to react to threats, as the military does:

Inevitably, it’s Treasury that must lead in this terrifying new order. Which is why its limitations have become so glaring. “The Pentagon is geared up to fight two wars at once, that’s the mission. The White House is a crisis management operation, it runs twenty-four hours a day,” says one Treasury official. “We want that capability.” And so, once the dust settles, Geithner is determined to put Treasury on a Pentagon-style footing. “One of things I hope to be able to do is leave a stronger institutional architecture in domestic finance with more depth in the career staff, more weight, more full-scale expertise in markets, regulatory policy, economics, the legal financial area,” he told me. When that day comes, you probably still won’t see much of Lee Sachs. But you can bet he’ll be manning the situation room. [my emphasis]

At the very start of this administration, Obama’s National Security Advisor, retired General Jim Jones pushed for the State Department and National Security Council to “reorganize their regional bureaus to conform with the military model,” according to Foreign Policy‘s Laura Rozen. So far, he has been unsuccessful.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself has sought to adapt at least one Pentagon practice to her new fiefdom – as she announced with great fanfare several weeks ago:

To deliver concrete results, we have to maximize our effectiveness. That’s why I’m excited to be here today to discuss a new enterprise, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which I announced at the State Department on Friday.

We are adopting this idea from the Pentagon. The Pentagon has successfully used this quadrennial review process to improve effectiveness and to establish a long-term vision. And I know from my time – about six years on the Senate Armed Services Committee – that the defense review helped convey the Department’s mission to all stakeholders, from members of Congress, to the members of the armed forces and their civilian colleagues, and to the rest of government, as well as to the American public. [my emphasis]

There has been a great deal of commentary in the past decade about the “creeping militarization” of America’s foreign policy. These changes seem more akin to powerful players in the Obama administration adopting the best practices of the Pentagon and adapting them across the government. In general, this is a good thing – but like the focus on technocratic, independent institutions solving intractable problems, this could also become problematic over time.

[Image by army.mil.]

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