Note to Bob Kaplan: Mission Creep to Just Doing it All?


Robert D. Kaplan, a former colleague of mine at the New America Foundation and a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, has an interesting and provocative piece in the New York Times this morning that basically argues that tough, fire-breathing Marines can be cuddly and do great humanitarian relief work as well.
I agree with Bob that our armed forces can, on occasion, do brilliant and important relief work — as they did in the aftermath of the recent tsunami.
Where he is mistaken though is that we ought not to be seduced into thinking that the military “whose members often lack the sensitivities and social graces of the elites whom they protect,” as Kaplan writes, should be the ones generally tasked with such objectives.
Kaplan and some other analysts, including the very smart Washington Post writer and author, Dana Priest, argue that since the military is the only institution with the resources to pull off these herculean do-gooder tasks, that it should get even more resources to do them. They think that we should just make the Pentagon the office of state-building.
It just doesn’t work. The U.S. military should not be designed to be all things to all people. It should be a tool used judiciously and cautiously in the world.
America, instead, needs to develop and empower other parts of its international government apendages, particulary U.S. AID, or build new institutions as Frank Fukuyama suggests, to better engage and support the world with something other than military forces as our nation’s ambassadors and emissaries.
Kaplan concludes his piece with this:
America has not had a true citizen army for decades. Instead, it has an expeditionary military of professional warriors, drawn mainly from the working classes, who enjoy the soldiering life for its own sake. For them, combat and humanitarian relief are easily interchangeable, and efforts to reshape the military for the war on terrorism are vital to both functions. The troops are comfortable with their dual role; it is our job to supply them with what they need to do it best.
I like Kaplan’s attempts to hug the soldier and appreciate his/her broader war-fighting and peace-making capabilities in the field, but I think that to argue that because the military has the potential to be used in some humanitarian work does not mean that American society should come to rely on that ability and ought to take even more resources from other parts of its foreign policy portfolio and feed the ravenous appetite at the Pentagon.
— Steve Clemons