Argument

The Y Article

The Pentagon's secret plan to slash its own budget.

On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: "A National Strategic Narrative." The report was issued under the pseudonym of "Mr. Y," a takeoff on George Kennan's 1946 "Long Telegram" from Moscow (published under the name "X" the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.

The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a "personal" capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:

By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans -- the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow -- we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America's youth.

Yet, it is investments in America's long-term human resources that have come under the fiercest attack in the current budget environment. As the United States tries to compete with China, India, and the European Union, does it make sense to have almost doubled the Pentagon budget in the last decade while slashing education budgets across the country?

The report places considerable emphasis on the importance of achieving a more sustainable approach to security, energy, agriculture, and the environment. Again, it is important to stress that this narrative was penned by senior military thinkers, not the Sierra Club. The simple fact is that any clear-eyed analysis pretty quickly comes to the same conclusion: The United States has established an incentive system that just doesn't make any sense. It continues to pour tens of billions of dollars into agricultural and oil subsidies every single year even as these subsidies make the gravity of the environmental, health, and land-use problems the country faces in the future ever graver. As the report argues, America cannot truly practice the use of "smart power" until it practices "smart growth" at home. While some may be quick to argue that the Pentagon should not be considering issues like smart growth and investments in America's youth, this goes to another key point from the authors: America won't get its approach to policy right if it leaves foreign policy and domestic policy in tidy little silos that ignore the interconnection between the two.

The paper argues persuasively that the tendency of Americans to broadly label the rest of the world has been hugely counterproductive. The authors point out that the tendency over the last decade by some Americans to view all Muslims as terrorists has made it more difficult to marginalize genuine extremism, while alienating vast swaths of the global Muslim community. In a world where credibility is so central to America's national interest and reach around the globe, the overheated domestic debate about the war on terror has never served it very well.

Lastly, the narrative makes a clarion call for America to look forward, not back, in today's interconnected world:

And yet with globalization, we seem to have developed a strange apprehension about the efficacy of our ability to apply the innovation and hard work necessary to successfully compete in a complex security and economic environment. Further, we have misunderstood interdependence as a weakness rather than recognizing it as a strength. The key to sustaining our competitive edge, at home or on the world stage, is credibility -- and credibility is a difficult capital to foster. It cannot be won through intimidation and threat, it cannot be sustained through protectionism or exclusion. Credibility requires engagement, strength, and reliability -- imaginatively applied through the national tools of development, diplomacy, and defense.

The budget deal over the weekend lopped $8 billion off of funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Defense spending was left untouched. Congress doesn't seem to have gotten the wake-up call.

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Argument

The War on Soft Power

Even the U.S. military doesn't want to cut the State Department and foreign aid budget. So why is Congress playing a dangerous game with America's global influence?

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama and Congress struggled until the 11th hour to agree on budget cuts that would avert a government shutdown. The United States' budget deficit is a serious problem, and there have been serious proposals to deal with it, such as those by the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Commission. But last week's efforts were not a serious solution. They were focused solely on the 12 percent of the budget that is non-military discretionary expenditure, rather than the big-ticket items of entitlements, military expenditure, and tax changes that increase revenue. Yet while last week's cuts failed to do much about the deficit, they could do serious damage to U.S. foreign policy. On Tuesday, the axe fell: The State Department and foreign operations budget was slashed by $8.5 billion -- a pittance when compared to military spending, but one that could put a serious dent in the United States' ability to positively influence events abroad.

The sad irony is that the Obama administration had been moving things in the right direction. When Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, she spoke of the importance of a "smart power" strategy, combining the United States' hard and soft-power resources. Her Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and her efforts (along with USAID chief Rajiv Shah) to revamp the United States' aid bureaucracy and budget were important steps in that direction. Now, in the name of an illusory contribution to deficit reduction (when you're talking about deficits in the trillions, $38 billion in savings is a drop in the bucket), those efforts have been set back. Polls consistently show a popular misconception that aid is a significant part of the U.S. federal budget, when in fact it amounts to less than 1 percent. Thus, congressional cuts to aid in the name of deficit reduction are an easy vote, but a cheap shot.

In 2007, Richard Armitage and I co-chaired a bipartisan Smart Power Commission of members of Congress, former ambassadors, retired military officers, and heads of non-profit organizations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. We concluded that America's image and influence had declined in recent years and that the United States had to move from exporting fear to inspiring optimism and hope.

The Smart Power Commission was not alone in this conclusion. Even when he was in the George W. Bush administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Congress to commit more money and effort to soft-power tools including diplomacy, economic assistance, and communications because the military alone cannot defend America's interests around the world. He pointed out that military spending then totaled nearly half a trillion dollars annually, compared with a State Department budget of just $36 billion. In his words, "I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use soft power and for better integrating it with hard power." He acknowledged that for the secretary of defense to plead for more resources for the State Department was as odd as a man biting a dog, but these are not normal times. Since then, the ratio of the budgets has become even more unbalanced.

This is not to belittle the Pentagon, where I once served as an assistant secretary. Military force is obviously a source of hard power, but the same resource can sometimes contribute to soft-power behavior. A well-run military can be a source of prestige, and military-to-military cooperation and training programs, for example, can establish transnational networks that enhance a country's soft power. The U.S. military's impressive performance in providing humanitarian relief after the Indian Ocean tsunami and the South Asian earthquake in 2005 helped restore the attractiveness of the United States; the military's role in the aftermath of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami is having a similar effect.

Of course, misusing military resources can also undercut soft power. The Soviet Union had a great deal of soft power in the years after World War II, but destroyed it by using hard power against Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Brutality and indifference to just-war principles of discrimination and proportionality can also eviscerate legitimacy. Whatever admiration the crisp efficiency of the Iraq invasion inspired in the eyes of some foreigners, it was undercut by the subsequent inefficiency of the occupation and the scenes of mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Smart power is the ability to combine the hard power of coercion or payment with the soft power of attraction into a successful strategy. U.S. foreign policy has tended to over-rely on hard power in recent years because it is the most direct and visible source of American strength. The Pentagon is the best-trained and best-resourced arm of the U.S. government, but there are limits to what hard power can achieve on its own. Democracy, human rights, and civil society are not best promoted with the barrel of a gun.

It is true that the U.S. military has an impressive operational capacity, but the practice of turning to the Pentagon because it can get things done leads to the image of an over-militarized foreign policy. Moreover, it can create a destructive cycle, as the capacity of civilian agencies and tools gets hollowed out to feed the military budget. Today, the United States spends about 500 times more on its military than it does on broadcasting and exchanges combined. Congress cuts shortwave broadcasts to save the equivalent of one hour of the defense budget. Is that smart?

It sounds like common sense, but smart power is not so easy to carry out in practice. Diplomacy and foreign assistance are often underfunded and neglected, in part because of the difficulty of demonstrating their short-term impact on critical challenges. The payoffs for exchange and assistance programs is often measured in decades, not weeks or months. American foreign-policy institutions and personnel, moreover, are fractured and compartmentalized, and there is not an adequate interagency process for developing and funding a smart-power strategy. Many official instruments of soft or attractive power -- public diplomacy, broadcasting, exchange programs, development assistance, disaster relief, military-to-military contacts -- are scattered around the government, and there is no overarching strategy or budget that even tries to integrate them.

The obstacles to integrating America's soft- and hard-power tool kit have deep roots, and the Obama administration is only beginning to overcome them, by creating a second deputy at State, reinvigorating USAID, and working with the Office of Management and Budget. Increasing the size of the Foreign Service, for instance, would cost less than the price of one C-17 transport aircraft, yet there are no good ways to assess such a tradeoff in the current form of budgeting. Now, that progress may be halted.

Leadership in a global information age is less about being the king of the mountain issuing commands that cascade down a hierarchy than being the person in the center of a circle or network who attracts and persuades others to come help. Both the hard power of coercion and the soft power of attraction and persuasion are crucial to success in such situations. Americans need better to understand both these dimensions of smart power.

Nowhere is this more true than on Capitol Hill. While Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have spoken about the importance of soft power, they do not have to face the American electorate. As a friend in Congress once told me, "You are right about the importance of combining soft power with hard power, but I cannot talk about soft power and hope to get re-elected." The defense budget affects almost all congressional constituencies in the United States; the budgets for State and USAID do not. The result is a foreign policy that rests on a defense giant and a number of pygmy departments. For example, when Gates and Clinton recently agreed to transfer an aid program from the Pentagon to the State Department, the program's budget was cut in half. And now, Foggy Bottom faces cuts across the board.

Congress needs to be serious about deficit reduction, and it also needs to be serious about foreign policy. The events of the past week suggest it is serious about neither.

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