Passing the Baton to Civilians

August 31, 2010 By Richard Parker

In his speech from the Oval Office tonight, President Obama will announce a change in the mission in Iraq. While combat troops are being drawn down, the administration will increase the civilian presence in Iraq underscoring the need for consistent, robust funding of our civilian-led tools of development and diplomacy. David Brooks points out in the New York Times today there has been “substantial progress on the things development efforts can touch most directly: economic growth, basic security, and political and legal institutions.” Civilians have already played a crucial role in bringing some stability to Iraq, even as overall progress remains fragile and incomplete. The plan to transition to civilian-led U.S. operations demonstrates the essential role they already play in U.S. foreign policy, a role that must be supported with sufficient resources to be effective.

Several of President Obama’s cabinet members have been actively calling for this “smart power” kind of foreign policy. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently called on Capitol Hill to recognize “the critical role that agencies like State and AID play” and provide the resources needed in the International Affairs Budget to restore the drop in civilian personnel. For a Defense Secretary to advocate for greater resources for his civilian counterparts is unusual and telling. Secretary Clinton has spoken repeatedly on the importance of this going back to her confirmation hearing, saying “We must use what has been called ‘smart power’: the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural — picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.”

With a full court press from the administration and bipartisan support for the International Affairs Budget on Capitol Hill, America’s foreign policy overall could turn a corner—just as it’s doing in Iraq—and recognize the importance of development, diplomacy, and defense as equal pillars of our national security, economic prosperity, and humanitarian values.