The ‘Civilian Surge' Fizzles
In November 2007, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a now-famous speech at Kansas State University in which he acknowledged that "military success is not sufficient to win" counterinsurgency wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan and called for an increased role and increased funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In its Afghan strategy this March, Barack Obama's administration seemed to be following through on this advice, calling for a "civilian surge" of State Department and USAID personnel to complement the increased number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. "What we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems," Obama told 60 Minutes, echoing Gates's rhetoric.
Just one month later, however, the administration asked Gates to identify 300 military personnel to fill jobs in Afghanistan intended for civilian experts, as not enough civilians were available. Defense Undersecretary Michèle Flournoy acknowledged that the government was "playing a game of catch-up" after years of not developing civilian expertise.
The Pentagon has also been taking over traditional State Department functions in neighboring Pakistan, an unprecedented step in a country where U.S. troops aren't formally allowed to operate. Under a supplemental funding bill passed in June, the Pentagon was given temporary authority to manage a $400 million fund designed to boost the Pakistani military's counterinsurgency capabilities. Military assistance of this kind is usually supervised by the State Department, but Gates -- along with Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus -- argued successfully that the State Department lacked the capability to administer it.
The State Department may yet live up to the initial vision of Gates and Obama -- a planned "civilian response corps" that would be able to deploy as many as 400 civilians to conflict areas seems promising -- and Foggy Bottom is slated to eventually take over the Pakistan counterinsurgency fund. But for now, the dream of a civilian surge to match the military effort seems far off. As analyst Anthony Cordesman, who has advised the U.S. military on Afghanistan, put it, "[W]e need to stop talking about 'smart power' as if we had it."
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