October 18, 2004

Separation of Defense and State

Dana Priest's The Mission is now in paperback, and it's really worth a read. No, better yet, it's worth serious thought, especially among Democrats who think foreign policy is just a matter of more diplomacy and less grunting.

I'm only about 40 pages into the thing, but the basic premise, it seems, is this: During the 1990s, Clinton let the military do whatever the hell it wanted, because he knew they all thought he was a big fruitcake. Since military spending remained high, and funding for the State Department had been cut by 20 percent in the 70s and 80s, the armed forces ended up handling most of America's foreign diplomacy. The Commanders-in-Chiefs didn't always like the "harebrained" peacekeeping missions Clinton sent them on (Somalia, Kosovo, etc.), but once they got there they used all of the resources at their disposal, and wielded massive political authority.

Now this approach gets interesting when you consider the Gulf region. When Donald Rumsfeld first came to power, he wanted to stop his military commanders from maintaining their frequent liaisons with Gulf leaders; the military commanders, by contrast, thought these relationships were absolutely necessary to keep tabs on the Middle East. Rumsfeld didn't understand that the military was not simply "bogged down" in diplomatic entanglements—rather, this was the only way diplomacy had been conducted during the Clinton years, and it couldn't be easily altered. Much of this changed, of course, after September 11, but there was still a struggle within the Defense Department over what role it should play as far as peacekeeping and other traditional State Department roles.

If John Kerry comes to office, he's going to need to sit down and think long and hard about the proper relationship between Defense and State. From what I've heard, John Negroponte and Robert Blackwill have got the two cooperating reasonably well in Iraq these days. But the Bush administration, of course, has no idea where diplomacy ends and the military begins, and that's apparent everywhere—from Iran to North Korea and back. Part of this stems from the personal makeup of the administration, I think: Donald Rumsfeld was picked primarily as a "counterweight" to Colin Powell (who in turn was picked because he put a moderate face on a distinctly immoderate foreign policy crew)—not because the two would collaborate well together. (Things would have been very different if we had Rich Armitage heading Defense.)

But of course, the Clinton approach—ignore your military and let them do whatever they feel like doing—doesn't work either. For all the liberal plaudits the Clinton administration gets nowadays for being a slick negotiator, he almost always turned to his armed forces first for solutions to international problems. Hence you get million dollar missiles fired into ten dollar tents, but never an integrated military/diplomatic solution to anything. (North Korea was a big exception here, but I'm not sure why.)

Anyways, that's all vague as can be—but hey, I'm only 40 pages in! More when I finish the book.
-- Brad Plumer 5:08 PM || ||