Will Gates and Clinton clash?

Stephen Glain, writing in U.S. News & World Report today, seems to think so. Hillary is already making moves to increase the authority of the State Department, which has fallen into the shadow of the Pentagon in foreign relations. Given that Gates has warned against the “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy, you’d think they’d ...

589748_090107_GatesClinton2.jpg
589748_090107_GatesClinton2.jpg

Stephen Glain, writing in U.S. News & World Report today, seems to think so. Hillary is already making moves to increase the authority of the State Department, which has fallen into the shadow of the Pentagon in foreign relations. Given that Gates has warned against the "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy, you'd think they'd be in agreement. Not so, says Glain.

[Gates] has defined Pentagon authority more broadly and more aggressively than any of his predecessors. While warning against the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, as he did in a noteworthy July speech, Gates has done less to empower the State Department and more to entrench the concept of civilian-military partnerships in "stability operations"—Pentagon jargon for the rebuilding of failed states before they become incubators of radical Islam. If neglected civilian agencies cannot keep up with the abundantly resourced military, Gates has implied, the Pentagon will take the lead, and often in areas where it was once prohibited from going.

Stephen Glain, writing in U.S. News & World Report today, seems to think so. Hillary is already making moves to increase the authority of the State Department, which has fallen into the shadow of the Pentagon in foreign relations. Given that Gates has warned against the “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy, you’d think they’d be in agreement. Not so, says Glain.

[Gates] has defined Pentagon authority more broadly and more aggressively than any of his predecessors. While warning against the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, as he did in a noteworthy July speech, Gates has done less to empower the State Department and more to entrench the concept of civilian-military partnerships in “stability operations”—Pentagon jargon for the rebuilding of failed states before they become incubators of radical Islam. If neglected civilian agencies cannot keep up with the abundantly resourced military, Gates has implied, the Pentagon will take the lead, and often in areas where it was once prohibited from going.

Glain’s critique got me thinking about a smart passage in Sarah Sewall’s introduction to the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. She points out that in counterinsurgency doctrine, the military must recognize (and in fact, strives to recognize) that civilians are the best ones suited to perform civilian tasks. That means the military admits its own limitations, especially the fact that it lacks the same kind of legitimacy in building lasting institutions (or even lasting services) than civilian agencies like State or USAID. It’s certainly something Petraeus believes in, and I think you can see that sentiment in Gates’s remarks.

Glain is of course right that civilian agencies lack the necessary resources (and, let’s be honest, very often the know how) to assume the responsibilities they should. According to COIN, writes Sewall in the manual’s intro, the military must therefore “assume the roles of mayor, trash collector, and public works employer,” especially in violent insurgencies. That’s not a choice; it’s a necessity, with the explicit aim of passing responsibility as soon as possible. That’s what counterinsurgency experts mean when they say “some of the best weapons do not shoot.”

Where I disagree with Glain is that Gates has “implied” that this means the military should unilaterally take the lead, as if there is no potential for consultation between the military and civilian agencies. Sure, there has been a woeful lack of talking between the two in the past, and a particular disdain for State under Rumsfeld and Cheney. But I think Gates and Hillary would actually agree on the score that State can and should get up to speed fast on asserting its important role in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. 

Jim Watson/Getty Images

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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