us department of defense

August 14, 2013

Writing over at International Security, Fletcher School professor Dan Drezner wades into the debate over U.S. military primacy. Though not billed as such, this appears to be the latest round in the running death match between proponents of offshore balancing and defenders of American supremacy. Well, insofar as international-relations scholars have death matches. Picture Greek and German philosophers milling around harmlessly on the soccer field in Monty Python's Flying Circus rather than Kal-El and General Zod pummeling each other in Man of Steel and you've got it.

Since its troops swept into Afghanistan 12 years ago, the United States has dispatched hundreds of State Department employees to keep track of the massive American investment in developing the country. The days of such oversight are now ending. Nearly all U.S. diplomats are confined to Kabul because of the shrinking footprint of the American military, which once protected and transported civilian officials. That leaves diplomats here with a predicament: How do they oversee billions of dollars in projects, most of which are far from the capital, when they can’t leave Kabul?

Indeed, these actions are necessary, timely steps to weed out terrorists in a volatile region. However, the U.S., for all its support of the mission, did not anticipate a crucial component: inclusion in the congressional budgeting process. As a result, as peacekeepers from around the world arrive this week, the U.S. already will be behind on its bills. In fact, absent congressional action, we could fall as much as $300 million short on funding to fuel this mission and restore peace to Mali.

Asked whether it was effective to deal with the issue by publicly naming China, Hagel said he thought both public diplomacy and private engagement were necessary. Public statements are necessary to let people know what is going on, he said, but it doesn't solve problems.

Hard power has not been in vogue since the Iraq War turned badly in about 2004. In foreign policy journals and at elite conferences, the talk for years has been about “soft power,” “the power of persuasion” and the need to revitalize the U.S. State Department as opposed to the Pentagon: didn’t you know, it’s about diplomacy, not military might! Except when it isn’t; except when members of this same elite argue for humanitarian intervention in places like Libya and Syria. Then soft power be damned.

Retired Gen. David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon are correct that we should protect funding for the State Department and USAID, because doing so enhances our national security. But neither Gates nor Petraeus and O’Hanlon are willing to reduce defense spending in order to provide additional funds for the soft power supplied by State and USAID.