Reply to Lindgren

In reviewing Jim Lindgren’s response to my criticism of his post on a “civilian national security force,” one thing stands out: He never addressed my suspicion that he was unaware of the debate, led by our current secretary of defense, that’s been going on about the need to beef up the civilian, non-military infrastructure for counterinsurgency. 

Jim is right that I came late to his half of the discussion. I read Volokh Conspiracy two or three times a week, and it so happened that July 19, when Jim first posted on the issue, was not one of those days. The lead item for the day happened to be a post on the exclusionary rule that I caught a day or so later, but Jim’s post I missed until he called it to my attention. Nor did I see any of the blog commentary he references.

That said, I’m not late to the discussion Robert Gates has been spearheading. I read both of his key speeches on the issue within a week of their delivery, and had been following the issue via Thomas Barnett’s books and blog well before that.

Reading Jim’s original post, it’s clear he just didn’t have any of that background. He’s genuinely puzzled as to what Obama might’ve meant. 

Now, I can understand why reviewing Obama’s speech might not have cleared things up for him. Watching the video, the line in question is a throw-in, awkwardly delivered over the applause still coming in for the line before it. 

But in context, it made sense. Obama started by calling for an expansion of the Army. He followed by talking about Americorps for a minute or so, and then came back to the national security angle:

And we’re going to grow our Foreign Service, open consulates that have been shuttered, and double the size of Peace Corps by 2011 to renew our diplomacy.

Now have a gander at something Robert Gates said last Nov. 26, in the first of his two key speeches on the issue:

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. … The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers – less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year –- valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

As for the Peace Corps, Obama in essence said he thinks we need about 16,000 volunteers, twice what we have now. So, at one point, did our current president

WASHINGTON — The Peace Corps, the popular service program that President Bush once promised to double in size, is preparing to cut back on new volunteers and consolidate recruiting offices as it pares other costs amid an increasingly tight budget, according to agency officials.

Obama no sooner uttered the phrase “renew our diplomacy” than the crowd started clapping. Over the noise, he said:

We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.

I quoted sections from Gates’ two speeches in my first post on this point, so I won’t bother repeating them. But for fun, and to show that people didn’t just start thinking about this last Thanksgiving, here’s former Bush administration defense Under Secretary for Policy Douglas Feith, from page 158 of his book “War and Decision”:

There was a gross imbalance between the funds Defense had for the war on terrorism and those appropriated to State to fight the ideological battle. The Secretary of Defense made more noise about this gap than the Secretary of State. It was Rumsfeld who time and again commented that it was far more expensive to capture or kill terrorists than to prevent young people from becoming murderous enemies to begin with. 

Again, when you read Jim’s original post you get no clue about any of this background. Instead, he conflates Obama’s “civilian national security force” into a overbearing mandatory service program that would consume the exact same budget as the Pentagon, $585B, “carve another large slice out of the private sector and assign it to the government,” and be “strangely lacking in proportion and simple common sense.”

Now, I make certain allowances for political hyperbole, on both sides, but this is just over the top. You see Bush administration officials call for beefing up civilian contributions to the national defense. You see Obama do the same. I don’t think Gates (or Feith, or Rumsfeld) believes that would take $585B or threaten the very fabric of our society. I don’t think Barack Obama does either.