Smart Power at the US Global Leadership Coalition Summit

For a couple of days this week, I attended the subject event in Washington as a member of VFAI.  The USGLC Summit was an impressive event attended by over 500 people. (About 150 of whom were veterans).  Speakers included serving members of congress from both parties, former cabinet secretaries and ambassadors, and Gen. Ray Odierno, former Army chief. On the second day of the Summit, we made scheduled visits to congressional offices.  The main issue under discussion was the cut in International Affairs spending proposed by the administration.  These cuts would drastically reduce funding for the State Department and USAID, and several programs that conduct international humanitarian relief and economic development would be practically eliminated.  As it is, the funding for International Affairs accounts for less than 1% of the federal budget.  International Affairs programs tend to be highly cost-effective. Our main message to Congress was that these programs help to keep America safe and prosperous by promoting stability and developing trading partners.  We talked to Republicans and Democrats.  One of the Republicans Senator Yoho arrived in Congress 4 years ago opposed to foreign aid but is now a convert and very active supporter.  It appears that opposition to this part of the budget has fairly broad support.

My own take on the issue is based on some personal experience and reflection.  In OIF1, we won a speedy military victory, but we quickly saw that victory unraveling. The absence of effective diplomatic and governance efforts made the military victory a mostly hollow one. Marines and soldiers performed prodigies of innovation in trying to rebuild Iraq, and eventually we built up a strong nation-building effort with other government agencies and NGOs, but these were too little, too late, and undone by early errors.  The amount of planning and resources we invested in creating the peace was paltry compared to the cost of the military effort. This neglect threw away a victory it had cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives to achieve. In a way this echoed our victories in Kuwait in 1991 and in Afghanistan in 2002.  Absent a robust “soft power” effort, the hard power victories devolved into hollow tactical triumphs.  There are lessons here for the military. We can’t be like the twentieth century German army, mistaking tactical and operational expertise for real war fighting ability.  The object in war is not narrow military victory, but a stable, just peace.  The armed forces have a role to play in this, but the other elements of national power have to be right behind us on the objective, like the WWII Military Government units that followed the combat forces across Europe.  The military is like the knight on the chessboard. Just one capital piece of several, and in fact the least consequential of the capital pieces.

Hard power + soft power = smart power.  We need more international outreach, not less. Aid evolves into trade.  Stable countries breed far fewer brigands and terrorists.  Gen. Odierno was eloquent on this subject.  Maybe Gen. Mattis said it best: If you cut State Dept., better plan to buy him more bullets, because he’s going to need them.

It was really hot in Washington this week, walking around in suit and tie, but it was worth every ounce of sweat I shed.  America needs to be a strong partner in the world.  As the Marines say, can I get an “Ooh-Rah” on that!?




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