Something’s stirring under the water

Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates threw out the first pitch in his Kansas State University speech. This week, with the HELP Commission report, the bat made solid contact with the ball. The report (PDF) recommends revamping America’s primary institutions of engagement and frequently cites military-led public diplomacy efforts like development and communications that fill “the vacuum created by our broken system.” While focusing on foreign assistance, it recognizes development and financial assistance are linked, trade policies, non-governmental actors, and public diplomacy. 

For far too long our overseas assistance has been haphazard and missing the collective (and enterprising) power the United States could, and in the past did, bring to bear in struggling, and by definition contested, areas.

I applaud the Commission’s work and recommendations for change, but I have not had the chance to read the report thoroughly. From what I have read, I am mostly in agreement and certainly less tepid about the recommendations than MountainRunner friend Steve Corman.

On the super-size question, I agree with the dissenters, and for the same reasons, that we must have an independent, cabinet level Department of International Development like the United Kingdom. It must have a separate public diplomacy agency that conducts and advises on communications and interactions, similar to the 1950’s USIA.

However, super-sizing State is not the way to go. Certainly State must be made larger with substantially more funded and reorganized to match current security and global economy realities, but development and communications should be split out and made into their own cabinet level agencies. State’s personnel system must also be revamped to provide for more training, floats, and cross-culture billets to the Pentagon or other agencies. 

I am particularly pleased to see the (obvious) recommendation to strengthen State’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, but that’s for another post. See this Small Wars Journal discussion board on this topic for a hint of an overdue post that’s coming. 

Change is in the air and something is there’s movement below the surface. What’s next? Will it accompany the formal announcement of James Glassman?