Foreign Policy on Steroids
According to the New York Times: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged Congress on Tuesday to grant the Pentagon permanent authority to train and equip foreign militaries, a task previously administered by the State Department, and to raise the annual budget for the effort to $750 million, a 250 percent increase." Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, expressed concern over the migration of missions from the State Department to the Pentagon.
Ike's right. We should be wary of attempts to over-militarize American foreign policy. There are good reasons why we currently run foreign assistance programs out of the State Department. It's important to subordinate these missions -- particularly the "train and equip" military assistance programs -- to political considerations, and the best way to do that is to keep the diplomats in charge. If the Defense Department swallows more of the responsibility for American foreign policy, then American foreign policy will take on an increasingly military character. In the long run, that may be prove counterproductive.
As the old proverb goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems begin to look like nails. But in today's world, not all problems are nails -- some require a defter, less muscular, less kinetic approach than the Pentagon can provide.
(Sidebar: for an excellent discussion of how this dynamic has played out, and how the U.S. military has squeezed out other agencies in the execution of U.S. foreign policy, read Dana Priest's The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military.)
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