Monday, November 08, 2010

Upheaval in the Defense Department

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is transforming the Defense Department yet again. Congress has asked him to trim the budget and here in Washington, faces are drawn at the Pentagon Metro Stop. Long hours spent crunching numbers, hurriedly drawing up statistical surveys to support keeping certain programs and endless pots of coffee are the norm in the long bland corridors of the DC fortress.

There are broad programs given to the State Department - strategic planning is one of them. Why is it not a function of the State Department? If countries are supposed to exhaust all forms of diplomacy, including sanctions, before resorting to force, then why doesn’t the State Department take the lead? I talked with a gentleman in government about this and he shook his head. Having the proponent for force take the lead in strategic planning can be seen as duplicitous by other countries. Now, if the U.S. policy makers didn’t care about other countries, only about how they can best advance U.S. interests, then we would be more dictatorial as a world hegemon and it wouldn’t matter which department had the lead role.

The Defense Department is fulfilling both the role of the diplomat and professional Soldier, seen in our efforts at nation building and peacekeeping activities, heavily populated by Civil Affairs and DoD contractors helping with reconstruction. I taught my cadets that our role is to be an ambassador of the President, since we interact with foreigners wherever we go on military duty. Our thoughtless actions can cause international incidents. At the same time, we are training to kill. My purpose is to implement instruments of death so that we can protect those back home. I don’t know much about other militaries, but it would be interesting to study the roles of Soldiers around the world. Are we the only ones with that role? Being a diplomat requires a sensitivity to culture, yet, we don’t focus on what that means in the military. Oh, we have cultural awareness classes, but they are country specific, people group specific, and behavior specific. There is nothing that teaches us what culture is really all about – the values that are important to countries and how to recognize those. This is a function of the foreign service officers in the state department and foreign area officers in the military – the diplomatic branches.

How can you be a killing machine if you understand those whom you are trying to kill? It becomes more personal. British psychologists do not want their boys in the military to understand culture, as it provides a sensitivity to people, even if their governments are enemies of Great Britain. They said that if they developed that sensitivity, they wouldn’t have an army in ten years. With this in mind, shouldn’t the U.S. military also focus on the force arm and the job of teaching Soldiers how to kill, surgically and decisively, reducing civilian casualties and implementing policy decisions, leaving the diplomatic function to the diplomats?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is poised to return diplomatic functions to the State Department. She has the bulldog tenacity, personal and political connections and stamina to weather any sort of criticism. She instituted the Civilian Response Corps and the QDDR and is looking towards the future, implementing the means to be ABLE to work with the Department of Defense in strategic planning and taking over diplomatic functions post-combat, and maneuver the State Department, with funding, to take the rightful lead in strategic planning for the U.S. In Force and Statecraft, the author mentions that force is secondary and used basically as a last resort. A regional or world hegemon has the luxury of using force as it wishes, but it is prone to resorting to force as an expedited means of securing interests. That does nothing for trust between countries, planting seeds of doubt and questions of true intentions. Madame Secretary should stay in the role of Secretary of State, where she has a greater ability to implement change than be stymied by politicians in the role of President. She can elevate the status of the diplomat and peaceful resolution, forge relationships with other countries in spite of the actions of our leaders, and be a force for positive change in other countries’ attitudes towards the U.S.

If Secretary Gates is the visionary he seems to be, he will eventually relinquish the Defense forces’ hold on the diplomatic functions and restore them to their rightful place in the State Department. That will slim the Department of Defense to a satisfying level for Congress, yet not give up a most necessary and developed capability.

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