Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Theory and Policy 

Joe Nye has an op-ed in Monday’s Washington Post decrying the gap between theory and policy in political science. You should read it, in part because its the most press our discipline is likely to get this year, which almost proves his point. I am largely sympathetic to his view, and I lament the fact that our profession, which professes to understand how the world works, has seemingly so little to offer in terms of useful insight to those who might benefit from it. One would think, given all our collective study of foreign policies and state interactions, we might have something helpful that would construct better foreign policies and better state interactions. I recognize that, per Weber, politics and academics are two different vocations, but that doesn't preclude the study of one from assisting in the practice of the other.

That said, I want to take issues with two of Nye’s points.

First, Nye says: “Yet too often scholars teach theory and methods that are relevant to other academics but not to the majority of the students sitting in the classroom before them.” While I want to agree with Nye here, I refrain because to do so, I will end up denigrating the IR theories I don’t like. Now, there are plenty of IR theories out there not to like, but one of the marks of a good theory is that it has some larger lesson for its adherents. All theories have this, when well taught. What bothers me about Nye’s assertion is that it can too easily be read as a back-door critique of all theories “post”—the typical slam against post-positivist, post-structural, and thicker construstivist theories is that they are too “impenetrable” and need to be more relevant to the real world. Now, as a card-carrying constructivist, I think that my approach to the analysis of world politics has plenty to offer policy makers, students, and other academics. There is a barrier to entry, though, in that you have to learn some terminology and a few foundational concepts from basic social theory. It’s the same way with a lot of the quantitative and formal theory. That stuff is not my cup of tea, but the good versions of it do hold powerful lessons for policymakers and academics alike. Don’t denigrate the theory for being difficult, sophisticated, or challenging. Denigrate a theory for being useless, offering empty ideas and unsupported conclusions.

The lack of theory speaking to policy is the Academy’s own fault. Nye is correct in identifying the most significant mechanism for change: “Departments should give greater weight to real-world relevance and impact in hiring and promoting young scholars.” Graduate Students and Junior faculty are driven by what they are told they will need for hiring and tenure. That is academic oriented work. The oft-repeated advice is wait until after tenure to dabble in policy. Unfortunately, this is not something that Joe Nye, scholar / practitioner can remedy. Rather, it takes Dean Joe Nye to offer a job to a policy-relevant, young scholars and provide tenure to that scholar for a portfolio of policy-relevant work.

Second, I do want to disagree with Nye on one major point. While much of the academy is at fault for marginalizing itself, policymakers deserve some share of the blame. In particular, I think that policy makers need to promote a greater appreciation for theory and method that the academy brings to its work and preparing its analysis. What passes for analysis, reasoning, and research in many government briefings is anecdotal analysis, poorly deployed historical analogies, and assertions. Policymakers should perhaps expect more rigor in their analytical work. Far too many line-officers in key national security agencies lack the methodological training to produce solid analysis. There is a culture to drafting cables and writing reports, but that culture doesn’t include some of the basics I teach in my undergraduate research methods class. A better appreciation of theory and method, and demanding that in new hires might help policy makers receive the better advice they seek.

Moreover, the policy world similarly needs to reward the type of work Nye seeks from academics. Nye calls for more regional expertise, and yet, the government policy making structure is designed to mute regional expertise. Foreign Service officers are expected to be generalists, regularly rotated in and out of assignments. Foreign Area Officers in the military are rarely (never?) promoted to flag rank. Making a career as a regional expert in the government service is not rewarded. There is substantial regional expertise, but all too often, policymakers are reluctant to tap into it, let alone create the institutional incentives to promote those individuals to positions of senior authority. While some areas of federal service have a highly educated workforce, replete with Ph.D.’s, there is rampant anti-intellectualism, particularly in the military, that dissuades the deployment of more sophisticated, academic arguments based on theoretical insights, researched conclusions, and sound methodological investigation. Read Tom Ricks’ account of the Army War College essentially blackballing authors who disagree with them.

Theory and Policy exist on a two way street. Theory informs policy, policy decisions and implementation form the material that we scholars study to generate our theories. For academics to be policy relevant, they must, as Nye suggests, emerge from self-imposed isolation. But policymakers need to meet them half way and be willing and able to listen.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Replace the Dollar? 

A friend writes, "What the end of hegemony looks like..."
In another indication that China is growing increasingly concerned about holding huge dollar reserves, the head of its central bank has called for the eventual creation of a new international currency reserve to replace the dollar.

In a paper released Monday, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, said a new currency reserve system controlled by the International Monetary Fund could prove more stable and economically viable.

A new system is necessary, he said, because the global economic crisis has revealed the “inherent vulnerabilities and systemic risks in the existing international monetary system.”
On the one hand, true. China's over $1 trillion in dollar-denominated reserves aren't as safe as they once were, and a devaluation of that asset through inflation would not be good for China. But, where else are they going to go?
While few analysts believe that the dollar will be replaced as the world’s dominant foreign exchange reserve anytime soon, the proposal suggests that China is preparing to assume a more influential role in the world. Russia recently made a similar proposal.
Lets look at this more closely. The Dollar has its privileged position in the world economy because a) many economists believe that the world economy needs some sort of stable reserve currency, b) the US is willing and can afford to maintain such a strong currency, and c) the rest of the world has left this arrangement unchallenged and benefits from it. Much of this is classic Kindleberger--the world economy needs a stabilizer, one stabilizer, to stabilize the global economy as market, currency, and lender of last resort. The US is that stabilizer.

The third of those reasons--acceptance by other world powers--is now under some degree of threat as China starts to fret about its dollar position. However, absent another actor willing and able to play the role of stabilizer, everyone--China included--risks putting themselves in a significantly worse position should the dollar lose its pride of place in the international economic system.

China suggests that the IMF's SDR form a new reserve currency. This indicates they really aren't all that serious about actually doing anything to dislodge the dollar. For one, to have a currency able to act as a reserve currency requires backing of a stable, authoritative, empowered entity that can manipulate fiscal and monetary policy as needed to protect the value of its currency. We call this a sovereign state. To give the IMF such rights would make the IMF a de-facto global economic sovereign. China has no demonstrated desire to create supra-national authority, not at the UN, nor the IMF. Moreover, there is a significant and real cost to maintaining a strong reserve currency. The strength of the dollar makes the US a great destination for products--we can afford to buy others' cheap stuff. A significantly de-valued dollar (coupled with an increased value of other currencies like the Yuan or Yen or Won) would be a disaster to economies that rely on exports. China would need to show that it is willing and able to take on a stabilizing role in the global economy, which just doesn't seem in the cards as of yet.

Perhaps, though, this might be read as an attempt to gain leverage:
The timing of the Chinese announcement, analysts said, could also be aimed at giving Beijing more leverage to negotiate with the United States and other nations in London on trade and on proposals about how to stabilize the global economy.
All that said, it would be foolish for US policy planners to simply ignore China's (and others) growing dissatisfaction with the Bretton Woods legacy system that now constitutes the global economy. The fundamental bargains that made such a hegemonic system possible (cf Ikenberry) have become frayed, and while neither China nor the EU (nor India, for that matter) are poised to overthrow US hegemony in the short term, they can clearly erode US hegemony by driving up the cost of acting as a stabilizer. In the medium term, this imposes a cost on everyone, as the global economy (and security order) falters without a clear stabilizer, but from a realist perspective, the relative gains (or in this case declines) could benefit the challengers to US hegemony--at least that's what they are betting on.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Becoming Relics 

Yesterday as I drove to work, two stories on NPR caught my attention with how completely out of touch the interviewees sounded about their particular fields. These are people who are highly trained, performing what used to be important--if not vital--services, and well rewarded professionally for their accomplishments. And yet, listening to them talk about the importance of preserving the culture, practices, and institutional arrangements that enabled their profession, their claims rang so hollow, so 20th century, that I was struck that they would even say such things on radio.

The culprits? Bankers and Fighter Pilots. The Bankers were all upset about the "strings attached" to the TARP bail-out money they had received. Of particular concern was the limits on executive pay, and how this was going to cause a talent drain in the financial sector. All I could think was how tone-deaf the bankers sounded--while some of these guys may have had talent, it was a talent for destruction, not necessarily talent that you want to keep around. And, have they tried looking for jobs lately? There are quite literally thousands of finance professionals out of work, ready to step in to the jobs these supposed talents are vacating.

The Fighter Pilots were not quite as egregious, but still sounded like relics of a day gone bye. Morning edition has a nice 2 part story (yesterday and today) about fighter pilots and the changing fighter pilot culture. I'm not quite going to give the full Farley here, but listening to these guys, who sound as if they stepped off the set of Top Gun and into the story, you wonder if they are living in a bygone era (yes, I know one is AF and the other USN, but half of the first NPR segment is all about Top Gun, check it out, they even have the great music).
So why is there such an emphasis on training fighter pilots?

"None of us, I think, can really say with certainty who it is that we may end up having to fight next or what their capabilities are or what weapons systems they'll have," [Lt. Col. Dan "Digger" Hawkins, the deputy commander at Red Flag] says. "And so that's why we keep our skills honed with exercises like Red Flag — so that we can be ready to defend the country at a moment's notice against whoever it is who may try to attack us."

No one who is currently training at Red Flag has ever been in a dogfight, but the training they receive is what Hawkins calls "very realistic dogfights."

"As far as actual live combat, I'll believe that some of the last air-to-air kills that the U.S. Air Force had was in Bosnia back in the 1990s."

That was before these students were even pilots.
It sounds like such a valiant culture, much like the Pony Express was a valiant way to deliver cross-country mail in its day. For the past SIX years, the US has been engaged in two wars, actual ongoing combat operations, in one case against a real enemy that had actually attacked the United States, and fighter pilots have had no place to operationalize all that wonderful training at Red Flag. Instead, they have been pushed aside by robots. These days, Drones are the US weapon of choice in fighting Al Qaeda:
Pentagon officials say the remotely piloted planes, which can beam back live video for up to 22 hours, have done more than any other weapons system to track down insurgents and save American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The planes have become one of the military’s favorite weapons despite many shortcomings resulting from the rush to get them into the field.
There is a near insatiable demand for more Predators and Reapers, but no the "pilots" don't want to actually fly them. Its just not the same--pulling 9Gs vs sitting in a small room playing video games--they say.

Bankers and Fighter Pilots. Heroes of the 80's and 90's. Sounding like relics of bygone era. It would be cute, if it wasn't so darn expensive to maintain the institutions that facilitate their cultures.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Obama's NSC 

I want to call attention to a WaPo article from Sunday on the emerging structure of Obama's national security council--it was front page, but largely lost among the coverage of the Stimulus package. Indeed, only Rozen really seems to have picked up on it. While largely an interview with new National Security Adviser James Jones about organizational charts and workflows, it nevertheless offers a substantial insight into the new Administration's ability to deal with foreign policy--both crises and long-term issues.

Students of foreign policy analysis focus on the decision-making process that Administrations use to make foreign policy. At the heart of that process is the NSC. Since the Kennedy Administration (remember Ex-Comm?), the NSC has largely taken over from the cabinet agencies as the President's main source for foreign policy management, planning, and coordination. Any introductory foreign policy course covers the evolution of the NSC (as Daalder and Destler do in the most recent Foreign Affairs), noting how the organization and function of the NSC reflect the President's decision-making style. JFK had a collegial group, Nixon a rigid hierarchy, Bush I an well organized coordinating system, and so on.

Jones tells the Post that:
President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues.

The result will be a "dramatically different" NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. "The world that we live in has changed so dramatically in this decade that organizations that were created to meet a certain set of criteria no longer are terribly useful," he said.
A couple changes are worth pointing out.

1. Obama plans to radically alter membership. By law, the only standing members of the NSC are the President, VP, SecState, and SecDef. The CJCS is the military adviser and DNI intelligence advisor. By design, its a flexible structure, allowing the President to add members as he sees fit. Traditionally other agencies have attended as required--Justice, Treasury, etc. Jones plans to draw in members from across the executive branch, involving any agency relevant to an issue. In part, this reflects the increasing role that other agencies, from law enforcement to energy to agriculture play in foreign policy. The potential pay-off is greater coordination and a greater ability to focus the government's actions on a topic. The downside, of course, is that more people in the room always makes for a more difficult meeting.

2. Jones will assert greater control over access to the President and Presidential involvement in decision-making. Largely, this is a reaction to the Bush II NSC, where back-channels and unilateral action, especially among State, Defense, and the Vice President's office, undermined effective coordination. (Do note the comparison between Bush Administrations--largely composed of the same cast of characters. Bush I is widely regarded as having had a model NSC, while Bush II is widely regarded as having had a highly dysfunctional NSC).

3. He plans to re-draw agency maps. Yes, maps. Each department divides the world into region--State has its regional bureaus, DoD has its Unified Command Plan, and the NSC has its Senior Directors. These regional division, however, reflect Agency-specific needs and do not correspond in any way to each other. State's South Asia bureau includes Afghanistan and India, while in DoD, CENTCOM runs the show in Afghanistan while PACOM has jurisdiction over India. His goal is to have parallelism within agencies, creating peers who oversee policy with the same group of countries. It would certainly make it easier to know who to pick up the phone and call.

The point here is that, from a foreign policy analysis perspective, this stuff really matters. A significant chunk of foreign policy theory asserts that the decision-making process has a substantial influence in the quality of decision made, and thus effectiveness of US foreign policy.

The NSC is how Presidents do this. A functional NSC can provide the President with options, information, and advice to make the best possible decision when faced with a foreign policy choice. A functional NSC can make sure that government agencies work in concert to carry out the President's chosen course of action. A dysfunctional NSC process can rapidly reproduce its dysfunction across the government and embed itself within US foreign policy.

So, take note of Jone's comments, as his success in creating the working NSC structure he describes will be a sizable indicator of the Administration's ability to handle the myriad of critical foreign policy issues it faces.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Metaphors of War: Superbowl Edition 

Football and War have long been metaphors for each other, with players famously (and infamously in some cases) referring to themselves as "warriors" who will "do battle" on the gridiron led by "field generals" at quarterbacks, throwing "long bombs" to score, and Generals "calling an audible" to launch a "blitz" or a "hail-marry pass." Indeed, those seeking to inject greater tolerance into American culture have long counseled that we do away with such metaphors, as they trivialize war on both sides of the equation. George Carlin saw this years ago.

Today's Superbowl between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers provides a rare moment reflection on this seemingly inescapable current in American popular culture. The Cardinals offer a unique mechanism for this, as until this year, they were probably best know for being the team of Pat Tillman, the former Cards player who joined the Army and was killed in Afghanistan.

It also provides a moment to notice, as the Washington Post reports, that the NFL seems to have re-thought its role in this process:
In a little-discussed shift in recent years, the NFL has moved away from depicting its games in military terms. While the league continues to embrace the military as an entity, inviting Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of Central Command, to make the Super Bowl's opening coin toss and having the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform a pregame flyover at Raymond James Stadium, the NFL no longer endorses using military terminology to describe its contests.

It is inappropriate, league officials say, to do so at a time when American forces are fighting two wars halfway around the globe.

"It's a matter of common sense," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said as he stood outside the stadium the other day.

The same is true at NFL Films, an arm of the league that perpetuated for decades the image of football as controlled warfare by producing movies glorifying the game's violence with phrases like "linebacker search and destroy." In recent years the company's president, Steve Sabol, ordered all allusions to war be removed from its new films.

"I don't think you will ever see those references coming back," he said. "They won't be back in our scripts, certainly not in my lifetime."

The sport that once saw itself as the closest thing in athletics to the military no longer holds to this once-cherished notion.

"We're not going to fight no war, man," Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Nick Eason said....

"They were basically cliches anyway," Sabol said. "Just like you would hear coaches say, 'That's a guy I want to be in a foxhole with,' they've never been in a foxhole and they're trying to articulate that to a player who has no idea what a foxhole is."
At the extreme, these metaphors were always silly, at their worst, they devalued the true sacrifices of soldiers and dehumanized the true destruction and human devastation wrought by actual war. Its a good thing that the NFL is moving in this direction.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rice Gives Political Scientists a Bad Name 

Yglesias points out an interview Condi Rice gave where she claimed:
And I’m especially, as a political scientist, not as Secretary of State, not as National Security Advisor, but as somebody who knows that structurally it matters that a geostrategically important country like Iraq is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Matt astutely points out that:
My colleague Ryan Powers reminds us that, in fact, many of the leading lights of the international relations subfield of political science tried to warn the country against the invasion of Iraq.
The warning he links to is a full-page NYT advertisement opposing the war, signed by the leading scholars in our field.

Many points on this deserve comment, but as I'm behind in grading final exams, 3 will have to suffice.

First, I would highly recommend that you revisit the work on this subject done by members of the field. Prof. Patrick Jackson's piece on Weberian Activism is worth re-reading as you recall this debate. Dan nexon re-posted the letter here and you can see a reporting of the signatures here. While not as high-profile as the NYT add, this effort of hundreds of scholars in the field, showed remarkable consensus of judgment that as a political scientist, Rice is running quite counter to the analysis of nearly everyone else in her field.

Second, as a bit of political science, her analysis is quite shallow. As I'm in final exam grading mode, as a final exam for her tenure with the Bush Administration, this effort does not merit a passing grade. First off, many political scientists flat out disagree. The billiard ball model of the international system, espoused by realists, suggests that all states react to systemic, that is to say, structural, pressures in similar ways. Thus, it makes no difference structurally if its Saddam Hussien's Iraq or anyone else's Iraq, as the balance of power works the same for all. I believe, as a Political Scientist, Rice styled herself a "realist." That's an F for IR theory for the semester.

And finally, I agree with Matt on this vital point, and think it deserves more emphasis:
One of the most annoying habits of the press and the DC conventional wisdom more generally has been a persistent habit of ignoring these facts in favor of the rhetoric of “seriousness” that casts war opponents as a much of ignorant hippies and foul-mouthed bloggers who, at best, were right about Iraq by accident or something. But the vast majority of credentialed experts in Middle East regional studies, and the vast majority of credentialed experts in international relations have always been extremely skeptical of the adventure in Iraq. The main supporters of the war have been politicians, magazine and newspaper pundits, and a smallish group of heavily politicized think tank-based experts and “experts” who, for whatever reason, are granted privileged access to the media over people in a better position to offer genuinely independent analysis. I think many political observers watching the debate unfold in 2002-2003 would have gotten the impression that most experts were more-or-less backing the president on Iraq. But while it’s certainly true that most op-ed columnist and most Brookings fellows were behind Bush, the broader group of political scientists who specialize in these issues has always taken the opposite view.
So many of the arguments for the war were so shallow and so dismissive of an entire corpus of knowledge that understood the foolishness of this enterprise.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Analyzing Obama's National Security Cabinet 

Today Obama formally announced the core of his National Security team: Clinton at State, Gen. Jones as SAPNSA, and Gates to remain at DoD. It’s a team of experienced insiders, centrists, pragmatists, and even Republicans. Some have asked the obvious question: Is this Change you can Believe in for national security and foreign policy?

The selection of Jones is particularly interesting. He breaks a recent trend in the National Security Advisor position as a close policy associate of the President. Condi once said that her top job as NSA was to “staff the President” and she is very close to Bush. While Jones does not come from an academic or “policy” background, he is perhaps more experienced in areas relevant to the position.

First, he has significant first hand experienced in the integration of diplomacy as well as political and military security from his time as head of NATO. SACEUR is a unique posting within the US military. It’s a ‘dual-hatted’ job, as both powerful regional combatant commander and head of the NATO alliance. The NATO role gives the SACEUR direct access to allied heads of state and a large diplomatic role in intra-NATO politics. The tough part of the job is balancing responsibility to the USA and the US chain of command as head of EUCOM and responsibility to the alliance as SACEUR. Wesley Clark talked about the tensions in this arrangement in his Waging Modern War book. It’s a job with no parallel. That Jones could successfully negotiate it bodes well for his chances to successfully negotiate the White House and National Security Council.

Second, he has experience managing a large and complex organization and coordinating intra-bureaucratic activities. This perhaps suggests a shift in the role of the NSA and NSC. Originally, the NSA and NSC were designed as a coordination mechanism, to hash out differences within the bureaucracy in order to present a clear decision to the President and then ensure that the relevant agencies implemented the Presidents decisions in a coordinated and coherent manner. Over the years, the NSC has become the head policy shop and the NSA a key policy advisor—staffing the president rather than keeping State and Defense on the same page. The selection of Jones gives Obama an NSA who has the heft, skill, and experience to coordinate the massive cogs of the national security bureaucracy to implement Obama’s agenda. This is critical—too many seem to be focusing on the wrong indicator of change, be it a Cabinet secretary or potential policy prioritization. Any change you can believe in will require years to complete the slow boring of hard boards. Policies need to be implemented and institutionalized to provide lasting change, and Jones has the resume to accomplish this key task.

With respect to Clinton at State, this remains somewhat a mystery to me—not that Obama would select her, but that she would take the job. For him, it takes the person who is potentially his biggest political rival off the political stage and puts her on the team where he’s in charge and she toes the line. She will win some battles, but she will lose some battle, and like all Secretaries of State, she will advance the President’s agenda in diplomacy. For her, it takes her out of the Senate where she has an independent platform to maintain a national political profile and pursue an agenda of her own choosing.

It is, however, reflective of an emerging trend in Obama’s administration—selecting leaders with extensive Hill experience. Emmanuel as COS, Daschle at HHS and Health Czar, Clinton at State—these are three major players in Congress now joining the Administration. It suggests that Obama will place a key priority on relations with Congress, and he has people who know how to get a legislative agenda enacted. Maybe Clinton, using her Senatorial experience, will be able to win more funding for State and expanded foreign aid. That would be a welcome change.

At Defense, instead of keeping Bush’s appointee, what if Obama had nominated a SecDef who had said:
I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power.
Now, that could have come from any Nye-reading foreign policy pragmatist, but it is a change from the Bush Administration’s policy of spreading democracy by invasion and fighting terrorism with military force. And yet in Gates, Obama has found just such a person. About a year ago, Gates gave an under-appreciated speech where he set out an agenda for the future of DoD in a larger national security bureaucracy that sounded like it could be very much at home in an Obama administration. To quote Gates at length:
Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense – not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers – less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year – valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.

What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

Now, 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 for some back in the Pentagon, “blasphemy.” It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year.

Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department “in a heartbeat,” assuming it was spent in the right place.

After all, civilian participation is both necessary to making military operations successful and to relieving stress on the men and women of our armed services who have endured so much these last few years, and done so with such unflagging bravery and devotion. Indeed, having robust civilian capabilities available could make it less likely that military force will have to be used in the first place, as local problems might be dealt with before they become crises.
Appointing a person with this agenda to head DoD fits in with Obama’s overall approach to international affairs, and this speech may be a major impetus behind keeping Gates.

At Homeland Security, Napolitano is perhaps the biggest and under-appreciated change, as she is the only true “outsider” (non-Washington) appointee. She represents a vision for DHS that is less counter-terrorism and more immigration and disaster response, both areas in which she, as a Governor (and former AG) of a border state, has existing expertise

At Justice, Holder seems like a very good pick, especially given the monumental job of rebuilding the disaster that is the Bush DOJ. My guess is that while he will play an important role in national security affairs (ie the legal issues surrounding the closing of Gitmo), his plate will be full with more pressing issues in the domestic legal arena.

Not mentioned and still to be determined: what Obama will do with the Intelligence portfolio in selecting his DNI and CIA head. He could treat the positions as ‘non-partisan’ and keep McCarthy and Hayden for a while (both served as head of the National Security Agency under the Clinton Administration and as career military men are more career officials than strictly Bush people) or he could bring in his own person to institute key changes and make statements on items like, say, torture policy.

Ultimately, though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Obama’s promise to bring change will be judged by what he does as President: the policies he advances, the priorities he sets, the decisions he makes, the resolve he displays when under pressure, the course he sets for the United States in world affairs. While naming a couple of cabinet secretaries is certainly part of that, its only one small part. Regardless of what one may think of Clinton or Gates, they serve at the pleasure of the President and, in the end, are only as good or as bad as he allows them to be.

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