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Gates rips “jerry-rigged” U.S. foreign policy

Defense Secretary Robert Gates strongly criticized the national-security bureaucracy and its approach to working with partner nations in a major speech Wednesday evening, continuing his long push for reform of America’s approach to foreign military assistance. "America’s interagency toolkit is a hodgepodge of jerry-rigged arrangements constrained by a dated and complex patchwork of authorities, persistent ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Robert Gates strongly criticized the national-security bureaucracy and its approach to working with partner nations in a major speech Wednesday evening, continuing his long push for reform of America's approach to foreign military assistance.

"America's interagency toolkit is a hodgepodge of jerry-rigged arrangements constrained by a dated and complex patchwork of authorities, persistent shortfalls in resources, and unwieldy processes," Gates said at a Nixon Center event. "All the while, other countries that do not suffer from our encumbrances are taking full advantage to more quickly fund projects, sell weapons, and build relationships."

Gates has been working with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a while to untangle the responsibilities within the government regarding foreign military assistance, training, and foreign development. He famously in 2008 warned of the "creeping militarization" in U.S. foreign policy since 2001.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates strongly criticized the national-security bureaucracy and its approach to working with partner nations in a major speech Wednesday evening, continuing his long push for reform of America’s approach to foreign military assistance.

"America’s interagency toolkit is a hodgepodge of jerry-rigged arrangements constrained by a dated and complex patchwork of authorities, persistent shortfalls in resources, and unwieldy processes," Gates said at a Nixon Center event. "All the while, other countries that do not suffer from our encumbrances are taking full advantage to more quickly fund projects, sell weapons, and build relationships."

Gates has been working with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a while to untangle the responsibilities within the government regarding foreign military assistance, training, and foreign development. He famously in 2008 warned of the "creeping militarization" in U.S. foreign policy since 2001.

"I never miss an opportunity to call for more funding for and emphasis on diplomacy and development," Gate said Wednesday, adding, "I am keenly aware that the Defense Department — by its sheer size — is not only the 800 pound gorilla of our government, but one with a sometimes very active pituitary gland."

The administration’s new budget request shifts some related accounts from the Pentagon to the State Department, including the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund and what’s now called the "Complex Crises Fund," also known as the 1207 account (pdf). State did not get the 1206 account, known as Global Train and Equip, this year.

And Gates is still talking about his idea for a new $2 billion pooled fund that State and DOD would share for security capacity building, stabilization, and conflict prevention that would managed using a duel key approach, requiring approval from both camps. It’s not clear how much traction that idea has.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, has his own proposal about how to manage the issue, what he wants to call the U.S. Office of Contingency Operations. But as Spencer Ackerman reports, both State and DOD have reacted coldly to having a new government entity to answer to.

"Whatever we do should reinforce the State Department’s lead role in crafting and conducting U.S. foreign policy," Gates was careful to emphasize Wednesday, "to include foreign assistance, of which building security capacity is a key part."

He also added a sobering note.

"Everything we do must be suffused with strong doses of modesty and realism," he said, "When all is said and done, there are limits to what even the United States can do to influence the direction of countries and cultures radically different than our own. And even the most enlightened and modernized interagency apparatus is still a bureaucracy, prone to the same parochial and self-serving tendencies as the system it replaced."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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