A new U.S. focus on nation-building
Critics say the Bush administration is relying too heavily on the military.
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The US is in an era of persistent, "preventive conflict," as analysts say, in which propping up the militaries and governments of failing states helps stop extremists from establishing footholds there.Skip to next paragraph
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But given the Defense Department's vast resources, and, by contrast, the State Department and USAID's more paltry budgets, the military has become the de-facto nation-builder. That worries members of Congress who think the military is already strained. Requests by Secretaries Gates and Rice would add to its burden.
But for two departments that especially in recent years have not gotten along well, analysts said it was significant that Rice appeared at the hearing with Gates. And Rice said she agrees with the way ahead.
Still, propping up nations requires more people than even perhaps the military, with its 1.4 million active duty personnel, has to spare.
During last week's hearing, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D) of Calif., noted the need for manpower. "We came out of the 20th century believing that we had invested in smart systems and smart platforms and lot of things, and the truth is, it's about people," she said. "And I think that what we're finding is that we don't have enough people across the board."
The US government is still trying to get a handle on just what globalization means for its national security policy, says Lt. Col. John Nagl, an expert in counterinsurgency who advocates more military resources be put toward building other nations' militaries. "There is an increasing realization that helping our friends and allies help themselves against the scourge of radicalism and insurgency is key to winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader long war," he says.
The need for more people – both military and civilian – comes as agencies that traditionally provide civilian experts to developing countries have shrunk. USAID, for example, has reduced from as many as 15,000 officers during the Vietnam War to about 1,100 today.
Meanwhile, what the Defense Department spends on healthcare alone is more than the entire State Department annual budget – about $36 billion.
Gates was lauded for a speech he made in November at Kansas State University in which he argued for a more flexible approach to addressing radicalism around the world using the whole of government, and funded accordingly. "I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of man bites dog – or to some back in the Pentagon, blasphemy," he joked. "It is certainly not an easy sell politically."