Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mission for the national security team: rebuild America's 'soft power'

There are a couple of pieces today on rebuilding America's "soft power." From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Worldview: The focus is on 'soft power'
Obama's new security team must first rebuild America's diplomatic machine.


Gates and Jones want to bolster our capacity to project "soft power" - diplomacy, and foreign aid for development and reconstruction. They view soft power as an essential complement to hard, military power, and as a way to prevent future conflicts.

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton supports this shift, though she sought to project a tough-guy image in the presidential race. It will fall to her to implement one of the hardest parts of the new strategy - rebuilding a State Department so depleted that it can't do what needs to be done.

For years, the Bush administration derided soft power as "social work" - no substitute for the tough work of war-making. Its attitudes shifted as Afghanistan and Iraq fell apart following U.S. military actions. But the United States lacked the civilian skills to help those nations recover.

This forced the military to take on nation-building tasks for which it wasn't trained.

Meantime, Gen. David Petraeus' new emphasis on counterinsurgency doctrine stressed that such fights could not be won through military means alone, but also require political and economic components.


"What is not ... well-known," Gates said in a 2007 lecture at Kansas State University, "was the gutting of America's ability to engage, assist and communicate with other parts of the world - the 'soft power' which was so important during the Cold War."

For example, the United States has more members of military marching bands than Foreign Service officers. Gates also noted that the number of Foreign Service officers was frozen as the number of embassies grew after the Soviet Union breakup. Meantime, "the United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts ... and the U.S. Information Agency was abolished."


The extent of the problem was described graphically in a report on the crisis in diplomatic readiness recently released by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center (available at The report details the shortage of Foreign Service officers, and particularly of those with training in critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Urdu.

At a time when America's need to engage with the world has never been greater, funding for public diplomacy has been shrinking. USIA libraries and cultural centers, where young Arabs once could interact with Americans, have long been shuttered. While terrorists set up Web chat rooms, we have no capacity to interact with a global generation that uses the Internet.

"We are not staffed to keep up with old needs, let alone new needs," said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. He calls for more staffing for public diplomacy, new Web outreach, reopened cultural centers, and more exchanges.


It won't be easy to rebuild - and fund - soft-power agencies at a time when Obama is beset by crises. We don't know whether Clinton has the needed management skills. Obama's team will have to work together closely to give him the soft-power tools he seeks.

You can read the entire piece here.

And from Politics and Soccer:

Everyone wants a larger State Dept

But what is even better news is that Clinton, Gen. Jones (the national security adviser), and Gates at the Pentagon all signed on to Obama's core idea of shifting resources away from the Pentagon and towards the State Dept. This is a great idea and people have been screaming about it for years. [...] While the Pentagon's budget is over $500 billion and including the wars and future medical costs may rise over $1 trillion (and some idiots want to pin it to 4% of GDP), the State Dept had a measly $10 billion for FY 2008.

Despite almost universal agreement that the State Department is under-resourced, Pentagon budgets have continued to outpace State budgets in growth because of lots of Congressional pork. Probably the largest pork item is the United States Air Force. OK, that was an exaggeration, but stuff like the F-22 which is projected to cost at least $62 billion is equal to the State Dept budget for six years, and this is for an aircraft with no actual mission other than to defeat imaginary Chinese planes. Unfortunately for the State Department, it's budget doesn't create jobs in Congressional districts because they invest in people rather than buying stuff, so Congress doesn't throw $5 billion (half the State Dept's budget) at the State Dept in unwanted pork projects like they do the Pentagon.


You can read P&S's entire piece here.


Adrian said...

Thanks for the link!

Stephanie K. said...

Thanks for your recent comment on my blog! I'll be posting to the current blog until June 15, 2009, and then end it there, in keeping with the theme of my title. But if I decide to start another blog once I'm posted abroad, I'll let you know and would be very grateful at that point vfor any tips you can provide!