Will Our Generals Shut Up? How Military Leaders Have Taken Over Our Global Policy
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The fall issue of Foreign Policy magazine features Fred Kaplan’s “The Transformer,” an article-cum-interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It received a flurry of attention because Gates indicated he might leave his post “sometime in 2011.” The most significant two lines in the piece, however, were so ordinary that the usual pundits thought them not worth pondering. Part of a Kaplan summary of Gates’s views, they read: “He favors substantial increases in the military budget... He opposes any slacking off in America's global military presence.”
Now, if Kaplan had done a similar interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, such lines might have been throwaways, since a secretary of state is today little more than a fancy facilitator, ever less central to what that magazine, with its outmoded name, might still call “foreign policy.” Remind me: When was the last time you heard anyone use that phrase -- part of a superannuated world in which “diplomats” and “diplomacy” were considered important -- in a meaningful way? These days “foreign policy” and “global policy” are increasingly a single fused, militarized entity, at least across what used to be called “the Greater Middle East,” where what’s at stake is neither war nor peace, but that "military presence."
As a result, Gates’s message couldn’t be clearer: despite two disastrous wars and a global war on terror now considered “multigenerational” by those in the know, trillions of lost dollars, and staggering numbers of deaths (if you happen to include Iraqi and Afghan ones), the U.S. military mustn’t in any way slack off. The option of reducing the global mission -- the one that’s never on the table when “all options are on the table” -- should remain nowhere in sight. That’s Gates’s bedrock conviction. And when he opposes any diminution of the global mission, it matters.
Slicing Up the World Like a Pie
As we know from a Peter Baker front-page New York Times profile of Barack Obama as commander-in-chief, the 49-year-old president “with no experience in uniform” has “bonded” with Gates, the 66-year-old former spymaster, all-around-apparatchik, and holdover from the last years of the Bush era. Baker describes Gates as the president’s “most important tutor,” and on matters military like the Afghan War, the president has reportedly “deferred to him repeatedly.”
Let’s face it, though: deference has become the norm for the Pentagon and U.S. military commanders, which is not so surprising. After all, in terms of where our money goes, the Pentagon is the 800-pound gorilla in just about any room. It has, for instance, left the State Department in the proverbial dust. By now, it gets at least $12 dollars for every dollar of funding that goes to the State Department, which in critical areas of the world has become an adjunct of the military.
In addition, the Pentagon has taken under its pilotless predatory wing such previously civilian tasks as delivering humanitarian aid and “nation-building.” As Secretary of Defense Gates has pointed out, there are more Americans in U.S. military bands than there are foreign service officers.
If it’s true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then you can gauge the power of the Pentagon by the fact that, at least in Iraq after 2011, the State Department is planning to become a mini-military -- an armed outfit using equipment borrowed from the Pentagon and an “army” of mercenary guards formed into “quick reaction forces,” all housed in a series of new billion-dollar “fortified compounds,” no longer called “consulates” but “enduring presence posts” (as the Pentagon once called its giant bases in Iraq “enduring camps”). This level of militarization of what might once have been considered the Department of Peaceful Solutions to Difficult Problems is without precedent and an indicator of the degree to which the government is being militarized.