November 27, 2007

Take My Budget... Please

Secretary of Defense Gates made a speech at Kansas State University the other day, and if you have the time I would suggest reading or listening to it (links via SWJ). In it he made a rather unusual plea: Give The Other Agencies of US Government Some Money Too.

What is not as well-known, and arguably even more shortsighted [than the "peace dividend" defense and intel cutbacks following the end of the Cold War], was the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world – the “soft power,” which had been so important throughout the Cold War. The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time. The United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts – its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s. And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity, split into pieces, and many of its capabilities folded into a small corner of the State Department.

...[P]ublic relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals. It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the internet than America. As one foreign diplomat asked a couple of years ago, “How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world’s greatest communication society?” Speed, agility, and cultural relevance are not terms that come readily to mind when discussing U.S. strategic communications.

...Despite the improvements of recent years, despite the potential innovative ideas hold for the future, sometimes there is no substitute for resources – for money.

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense - not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

From this we can reasonably conclude that the Secretary is a regular reader of WhirledView. Or, if not that, that he at least realizes, unlike his predecessor the famous bureaucratic infighter, that a successful US national strategy requires cooperation, coordination, and if not parity of resources then at least a balance less skewed than what we have now, between the critical agencies of US government.

I would strongly recommend MountainRunner's commentary on this speech as well. He mentions a report from Senator Lugar's office, "Embassies Grapple to Guide Foreign Aid" (.pdf) which he excerpts here in the bulleted points:
Not only has State's piece of the pie shrunk, but its leadership has, according to the report, become muddled. From four of the nine summary findings:

  • From the field, it is clear that we have failed as a government and as a community of international development supporters to agree on either the importance or the content of a foreign aid strategy...
  • Overall agreement between headquarters and the field on foreign assistance is at low ebb and communications have been complicated rather than improved by the State Department’s efforts to provide strategic direction...
  • Field complaints about the [new foreign assistance function headed by the Director of Foreign Assistance] at State focus on the lack of transparency, the weeks of extra paperwork, the differing priorities between post and headquarters, as well as inconsistent demands, but the underlying, only sometimes unspoken, fight is about money...
  • USAID may be viewed as the neglected stepchild in D.C. but in the field it is clear that USAID plays either the designated hitter or the indispensable utility infielder for almost all foreign assistance launched from post...

The last bullet is important as we see USAID working closely with the military in Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the contested spaces. This stepchild is a core function of our mission to deny sanctuary and to counter ideological support for terrorism and insurgency. In this, the report notes the importance of the institutionalization of collaboration between the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and USAID in terms of cooperation, funding, mission, and leadership. But to really move this requires leadership that's not apparent in State.

Mountainrunner wonders in his conclusion whether "Gates [is] speaking out of turn or is the Bush Administration having Gates speak for the President?" My guess is former, since as he points out there's little evidence of any coordination with Secretary Rice on this (and Bush himself appears these days to be focused mostly on 1) attempting to maintain some appearance of relevance, nevermind the realities; and 2) trying to convince everyone that actually, General Petraeus is really The Decider.) But you do have to sort of wonder what an administration a few real adults in charge from the beginning would've turned out like.

Oh well.

Update - Much more at WhirledView here.

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