The Militarization of American Foreign Policy

I’ve made a point of not bringing the subject up for a while, because it’s never good to get fixated on an idea and see everything through that lens for too long. But believe me, it hasn’t been easy. So if none other than Robert Gates himself up and goes there (via U.S. Diplomacy), then I think I’m entitled to cut myself a little slack:

Overall, even outside Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has become more involved in a range of activities that in the past were perceived to be the exclusive province of civilian agencies and organizations. This has led to concern among many organizations – including probably many represented here tonight – about what’s seen as a creeping “militarization” of some aspects of America’s foreign policy.

This is not an entirely unreasonable sentiment. . . But that scenario can be avoided if. . .there is the right leadership, adequate funding of civilian agencies, effective coordination on the ground, and a clear understanding of the authorities, roles, and missions of military versus civilian efforts, and how they fit, or in some cases don’t fit, together.

There’s also this, on what makes America strong:

. . .[M]uch of our national security strategy depends on securing the cooperation of other nations, which will depend heavily on the extent to which our efforts abroad are viewed as legitimate by their publics. The solution is not to be found in some slick PR campaign or by trying to out-propagandize al-Qaeda, but through the steady accumulation of actions and results that build trust and credibility over time.

It’s striking to see a Secretary of Defense with such a keen understanding of — and obvious affection for — diplomacy. A lot of folks have been calling for Gates to stay on in the next administration as SecDef. Funny that no one’s mentioned him as Secretary of State material.