State Department Says Pentagon Doing Just a Really, Really Great Job

A State Department official has been on a publicity tour paying tribute to the great working relationship between the Pentagon and State Department -- when it's really the DoD that should be saluting Hillary Clinton and State for their important work.

Hillary Clinton Leon Panetta.jpg

On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs and long-time Hillary Clinton foreign policy advisor Andrew Shapiro will give a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies titled:  "Ushering in a New Era in State-Defense Cooperation."  The meeting will stream live here, and CSIS President and former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre will preside.

On one level, an official of one national security bureaucracy publicly hugging another national security bureaucracy, particularly when it has a much larger budget, may not be all that surprising.  But it is disappointing.

Hillary Clinton QDDR.jpgPart of Hillary Clinton's legacy has been to try to reassert the role of the State Department as the statutory lead in conflict areas around the world. 

She and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates tag-teamed on the need to significantly expand State Department resources given that nearly all of the major conflicts the US was engaged with involved failing states and major development challenges.  Gates often beat the drum for the State Department arguing that Iraq, Afghanistan, and simmering dilemmas elsewhere in the world required political and diplomatic solutions that could not be solved militarily.

In December of 2010, I asked Secretary of State Clinton at the roll-out event of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) how her reorganization of the State Department's efforts in global diplomacy and development would interact with Pentagon -- and bring the Department of Defense around as a better partner.

Here's an excerpt of her response that can be read in full here:

We're trying to, frankly, get back a lot of the appropriation authority that was lost during the 2000s - I guess that's a word - and that because of the military emphasis in Afghanistan and in Iraq, it just was easier, quicker for the military to do a lot of things. And so you found the military doing development. You had young captains and colonels with discretionary funds, the so-called Commander Emergency Response Funds, the CERF funds, that they were literally able to call on $50- or $100,000 to repair a school outside of Mosul or help build a road in Afghanistan without any of the bureaucratic checks and balances that we go through at AID and State.

So we are well aware that first we have to be a better partner. Secondly, we have to be more operational and expeditionary. And thirdly, we have to win back from the Congress the authority we should have as the coordinators and lead on civilian power in the United States.

You cannot work with the Pentagon as multitudes of agencies. That does not work. And one of the key messages in the QDDR is that the State Department has the statutory authority to lead. That doesn't mean that we're not in partnership with Justice and Treasury and Ex-Im and everybody else who has a role to play, but you've got to have someone accept the responsibility. And that's what we are offering and, frankly, demanding that we be given in order to make this civilian-military partnership something more than just a phrase.

Hillary Clinton's phrasing in this response is important.  She essentially acknowledges that war-time efficacy resulted in the Department of Defense aggrandizing budgets to do development in crisis areas.  She implies that this was a mistake that needed correction.  Clinton also said that the State Department needed to become much more "operational and expeditionary" in the field.  And lastly and most importantly, Clinton reminds that the State Department, not the Pentagon, holds the statutory lead in crises -- and is "demanding" respect of that role in order to make "this civilian-military partnership something more than a phrase."

reuters 12 14 10 Richard Holbrooke.preview.jpgThe roll out of the QDDR came just four days after Richard Holbrooke's death -- and I thought to myself at the time that another of the many reasons the Democratic foreign policy establishment would miss the tenacious diplomat is that he was one of the very few in the ranks that could intimidate and wrestle down the Pentagon. 

Hillary Clinton has been a constructive partner with the Department of Defense and worked out a good relationship with the Pentagon under Gates -- but from both an authorization and appropriations perspective, the Pentagon has continued to clobber the State Department, not necessarily of its own volition but in part because a Republican-dominated House prefers to under resource diplomacy and development and over resource military action. 

Presented by

Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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