“It’s Not Enough to Clear and Hold”

March 16, 2011 By Molly Lester

General David Petraeus testified before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees this week to update Congress on developments in Afghanistan and to make a clear and compelling case for a strong and effective International Affairs Budget as an essential part of our national security.  General Petraeus and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michelle Flournoy both called for sufficient funding for the State Department and USAID projects in Afghanistan and spoke bluntly about how the funding cuts recently passed by the House endanger the “hard-fought gains” achieved by the military.

Both General Petraeus and Secretary Flournoy emphasized the comprehensive military-civil campaign underway in Afghanistan.  They spoke about the strategy as one of “security, governance and development” and about how the State Department and USAID are crucial partners to advancing governance and development after the military achieves security.  In the House, General Petraeus referred to it as a “spiral approach” rather than a linear process, and said underfunding for the International Affairs Budget risks backsliding into a “death spiral.”  Secretary Flournoy referred to the strategy as a “coherent, integrated plan” between the Departments of Defense and State, echoing recent comments made by Defense Secretary Bob Gates in front of the same committees, and pleaded with Congress to view the plan in the same way when it considers appropriations.

In the Senate, Senator Jeff Sessions (R–AL), the Ranking Member on the Senate Budget Committee, expressed reservations about the security of State Department personnel in the dangerous region and suggested that the transition from a military-led to a civilian-led strategy would be a “dicey handoff.”  General Petraeus responded that cuts to State Department and USAID programs has led to “a situation in which military forces are drawing down or transitioning tasks to elements that are not sufficiently resourced to carry them out.”  Senator Lindsay Graham (R–SC), the Ranking Member on the Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, however, expressed fervent support for the State Department, saying “some of the best people I’ve met in Iraq and Afghanistan have come from the Dept of State and other agencies, civilian contractors.”Senator Graham also noted a letter he received from General Petraeus emphasizing “that the holding, building, and transition cannot possibly succeed unless we have enough investment on the civilian side.”

General Petraeus and Secretary Flournoy continually stressed the multifaceted strategy in Afghanistan, of which civilian efforts are an integral part, for achieving success and withdrawing troops by the 2014 deadline.  General Petraeus summarized it well, saying, “This is not just a military campaign.  This is not a campaign where we take the hill, plant the flag, and come home to a victory parade.  This is a civil-military comprehensive endeavor that requires building on what our troopers in uniform have achieved.”