Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Obama, C. Rice, H.R. Clinton, and Robert Gates -- Common Ground


In another great David Brooks op-ed (today's New York Times), he talks about how great it is that in the new Obama Cabinet, we have real consensus from the State Department (actually, both the outgoing and the incoming) and the Defense Department.

So what does everyone agree on?

The need for nation-building.

While everyone can cook up great ideas about how to use diplomats, other State Dept. civilians, or some newly hatched Civilian Reserve nation-building corps, the reality right now is that the only instantly-deployable group of people that the government can send to go fix war-torn countries -- to build civil society, to fix infrastructure, and to provide direct support to populations -- is the military.

The government literally owns its servicemembers.

It issues "orders" not "suggestions," "ideas," or "offers." If a servicemember doesn't show up when and where he or she is supposed to be, it is, literally, a crime.*

That's why all these other wonderful ideas about who to use to do this type of stuff are just ideas, and will be for a long time until the little kinks about how to tell people where to go without catching flak or resistance for it are, just, ideas.

Unprovoked wars in the name of regime change or democracy building don't figure to be a staple in this new President's foreign policy. But one thing is for certain -- nation-building in places like the Middle East, the Balkans, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean isn't going anywhere.

It was funny to see that article this morning, because today is the day that I formally started my move process over from the Navy (active duty) to the Army (Mass. Natty Guard) to become a Civil Affairs Officer, or nation-builder. I'll do another post later on to explain why I am so pro-Guard and why I think it's better than active duty or the reserves (many people confuse Guard and reserve, but trust me, they're different). The move process is going to involve lots of paperwork and take several months.

But if David Brooks is right -- and many statements from Ms. Clinton, Mr. Gates, and Mr. Obama certainly suggest he is -- there will be plenty of good work to be done in the years ahead.

* The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) lists any Unauthorized Absence (UA), i.e. not being where you're supposed to be, as a punishable offense.


C R Krieger said...

This is going to be an interesting ride. As a side comment, I have not heard near enough about what we are going to be doing WRT our relationship with Mexico.

But, to the post. There was an item in a recent New York Review of Books on this subject. By William Easterly, the title is "Foreign Aid Goes Military."

The author has a negative view of the use of the military in foreign aid situations, but the fact is, as our host says, they are the only ones available most of the time. For example, when you have a Tsunami in Indonesia, a US Navy Carrier Battle Group is what gets there "firstest with the mostest."

Would that the Department of State had the capability, but the US Congress has time and again failed to properly fund State. And, the ancient Hoover Commission wanted to take all operational responsibility away from DOS.

Here is hoping that the new SecState is able to obtain the funds to implement SecDef Robert Gates' vision of other folks doing nation building along with the Department of Defense.

Regards -- Cliff

The New Englander said...


Great article, thanks for sending! Definitely an eye-opener, and definitely speaks to the truth of what "foreign assistance" means and will continue to mean.

I share your hope that State can take on more of the nation-building job (and in fairness to them, they have certainly played a role in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs, all over the place in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Still, as you said, the military has the rapid-deployment and heavy-lift capability that simply no one else does. Definitely a very interesting time to hitch up to the CA mission..


Nick said...


I agree that nation-building is essential, and that the military is best equipped to handle many global crises.

In the late 90's we saw only the "good" side of globalization, but now the responsibilities it entails are revealing themselves.

And this is part of the reason why I am disappointed by a few of President elect Obama's selections. Namely Clinton and Emanuel. Sure, both are shrewd, experienced, and technically "qualified" candidates for those jobs, but come on---how is this change, how is this reform?

There are thousands of brilliant and qualified people out there, who understand the global challenges, who could bring new ideas and networks together. And yet, Obama is opting for Clinton retreads, or worse, actual Clintons. What use is an electoral mandate if it's blown on appeasing the establishment.

The New Englander said...


It was just after reading your reply here that I saw Frank Rich's op-ed in today's NY Times. Of course, I don't usually see eye-to-eye with Frank Rich, but I thought he did a good job skewering the idea that just putting the group with the best resumes, pedigrees, and establishment credentials is going to guarantee the best policies..


He nodded, of course, to David Halberstam, who basically wrote an entire book dedicated to that idea.


Nick said...

It's kind like the ny yankees since 1998. Every year they buy up the best players, field a veritable all-star team of overpaid overexposed head cases, and then spit the bit in early October.