State Department Says Pentagon Doing Just a Really, Really Great Job


Hillary Clinton Leon Panetta.jpg

On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs and long-time Hillary Clinton foreign policy advisor Andrew Shapiro will give a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies titled:  “Ushering in a New Era in State-Defense Cooperation.”  The meeting will stream live here, and CSIS President and former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre will preside.

On one level, an official of one national security bureaucracy publicly hugging another national security bureaucracy, particularly when it has a much larger budget, may not be all that surprising.  But it is disappointing.

Hillary Clinton QDDR.jpgPart of Hillary Clinton’s legacy has been to try to reassert the role of the State Department as the statutory lead in conflict areas around the world. 

She and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates tag-teamed on the need to significantly expand State Department resources given that nearly all of the major conflicts the US was engaged with involved failing states and major development challenges.  Gates often beat the drum for the State Department arguing that Iraq, Afghanistan, and simmering dilemmas elsewhere in the world required political and diplomatic solutions that could not be solved militarily.

In December of 2010, I asked Secretary of State Clinton at the roll-out event of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) how her reorganization of the State Department’s efforts in global diplomacy and development would interact with Pentagon — and bring the Department of Defense around as a better partner.

Here’s an excerpt of her response that can be read in full here:

We’re trying to, frankly, get back a lot of the appropriation authority that was lost during the 2000s – I guess that’s a word – and that because of the military emphasis in Afghanistan and in Iraq, it just was easier, quicker for the military to do a lot of things. And so you found the military doing development. You had young captains and colonels with discretionary funds, the so-called Commander Emergency Response Funds, the CERF funds, that they were literally able to call on $50- or $100,000 to repair a school outside of Mosul or help build a road in Afghanistan without any of the bureaucratic checks and balances that we go through at AID and State.

So we are well aware that first we have to be a better partner. Secondly, we have to be more operational and expeditionary. And thirdly, we have to win back from the Congress the authority we should have as the coordinators and lead on civilian power in the United States.

You cannot work with the Pentagon as multitudes of agencies. That does not work. And one of the key messages in the QDDR is that the State Department has the statutory authority to lead. That doesn’t mean that we’re not in partnership with Justice and Treasury and Ex-Im and everybody else who has a role to play, but you’ve got to have someone accept the responsibility. And that’s what we are offering and, frankly, demanding that we be given in order to make this civilian-military partnership something more than just a phrase.

Hillary Clinton’s phrasing in this response is important.  She essentially acknowledges that war-time efficacy resulted in the Department of Defense aggrandizing budgets to do development in crisis areas.  She implies that this was a mistake that needed correction.  Clinton also said that the State Department needed to become much more “operational and expeditionary” in the field.  And lastly and most importantly, Clinton reminds that the State Department, not the Pentagon, holds the statutory lead in crises — and is “demanding” respect of that role in order to make “this civilian-military partnership something more than a phrase.”

reuters 12 14 10 Richard Holbrooke.preview.jpgThe roll out of the QDDR came just four days after Richard Holbrooke’s death — and I thought to myself at the time that another of the many reasons the Democratic foreign policy establishment would miss the tenacious diplomat is that he was one of the very few in the ranks that could intimidate and wrestle down the Pentagon. 

Hillary Clinton has been a constructive partner with the Department of Defense and worked out a good relationship with the Pentagon under Gates — but from both an authorization and appropriations perspective, the Pentagon has continued to clobber the State Department, not necessarily of its own volition but in part because a Republican-dominated House prefers to under resource diplomacy and development and over resource military action. 

ams_photo.jpgOnly a few months after the QDDR release and after then State Department Policy Planning Director and QDDR czar Anne-Marie Slaughter‘s departure from government service and return to Princeton (read about that her in her provocative Atlantic cover story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All“), several senior State Department officials told me that the battle was already lost with the Pentagon when it came to securing funding from Congress for the State Department’s growing role in field-based conflict stabilization and reconstruction.  They said that there was no way to secure funding directly but that State had to continue to piggy-back on Department of Defense budgetary authority and appropriations.

In July of this year, Assistant Secretary Shapiro reported that it just didn’t make any sense to fight the Pentagon over budgets.  He commented at the time at at meeting with the Defense Writers Group that “given that DOD has more money and has a lot of planning capability, [this process] ensures these efforts are not stovepiped, but working together.”  In other words, Shapiro is stating that feeding at the trough provided by the Pentagon is as good as it will get for State.   

Thumbnail image for robert-gates-dod-secretary.jpgThere may be few options for the State Department in rejiggering budgets and control over them given the political climate today and the deference that so many pols give the Pentagon. 

But Hillary Clinton through her tenure as Obama’s foreign policy chief has been making important points of principle about statecraft and civilian leadership in military matters and global crises that deserve their own salute from the defense side of the equation. 

In July, the Pentagon posted on its website reference to Andrew Shapiro’s celebration of civilian-military cooperation titled “State Official Praises Cooperation with Defense Department.”

I have looked as thoroughly as I can (and could be wrong), but I see no similar article since the resignation of Robert Gates titled with the alternative, “Defense Official Praises Cooperation with State Department.”

In fact, while I have been able to easily find a mountain of material about Robert Gates’ frequent references to the State Department needing more resources and authority to fulfill its mission, I don’t see such references at all from the Pentagon under Leon Panetta.

In a somewhat ominous reference, Shapiro praised that agreements had been signed with the Pentagon that increased the presence of each other’s personnel in their respective ranks.  From the Armed Forces Press Service report:

State and DOD recently signed a memorandum that increases the number of DOD personnel serving at the State Department, Shapiro noted. There are alsomore State Department political affairs specialists at the combatant commands than at any time in history.

The Pentagon, with a budget more than 14 times greater than State, can easily colonize other institutions with its massive resources and staff.  As former Center for a New American Security President and close aide to General David Petraeus John Nagl was fond of saying:  “There are more musicians in the Department of Defense than there are diplomats in the State Department.”

Andrew-Shapiro.jpgMy note intends no disrespect towards Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro — but as a believer in the vital role of the State Department and its work in global affairs today — the trend towards Pentagon-hugging both outside and within the government does not bode well for balanced and long-term diplomatic and development practices.

At the session on Wednesday, it would be interesting to hear a rundown of policy statements by Pentagon officials that offer even half of the praise of Clinton’s diplomatic shop that Shapiro is offering to the military. 

What has the Pentagon really done to deserve the salute? And what has happened to Hillary Clinton’s campaign to reassert the Department’s role as ‘statutory lead’ in conflicts? 

Clinton said that clear actions would be needed, even demanded, “to make this civilian-military partnership something more than a phrase.” 

I hope that Shapiro’s commentary will offer a real perspective, something more than soporific tributes, on what has evolved so well in civilian-military cooperation other than just really acquiescing to the Pentagon’s considerable political

— Steve Clemons is Washington Editor at Large at
The Atlantic, where this post first appeared. Clemons can be followed on Twitter at @SCClemons


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