Rebuilding Civilian Capacity: It’s All About the Hill

Rebuilding Civilian Capacity: It’s All About the Hill

When Hillary Clinton arrives at Foggy Bottom, she will inherit a State Department that has been slowly dismantled, disenfranchised, and demoralized for two decades. Recent budget increases and talk of "transformational diplomacy" cannot hide the reality that the department is a shadow of the powerful organization that helped bring down the Soviet Union. In choosing to accept a Cabinet post, Clinton has clearly indicated that she believes the path to her political legacy lies in the halls of Foggy Bottom. Ironically, in order to establish this legacy, Clinton will have to return to Capitol Hill.

The problems Clinton will encounter at the Department of State are not new. Since the end of the Cold War, our civilian agencies have slowly been eroded by inadequate resources and a sclerotic bureaucracy. Although President-elect Obama has promised to revitalize the non-military instruments of statecraft, the White House alone cannot bring the change we need. The president may be the foreign policy "decider," but ultimately, Congress must be the "designer."

All of our most significant national security reforms -- from the National Security Act of 1947 to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 -- have depended on leadership from Congress. The path to civilian capacity reform will be no different. Without a new or modernized National Security Act and Foreign Assistance Act, and without realignments in budgetary priorities, it will be impossible to revitalize the civilian tools of statecraft. Hillary Clinton can be the critical link to make this policy priority a legislative reality.

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