Iraq and Afghanistan are the messes getting attention today, but they are only symptoms of a much broader cancer in American foreign policy.
A few glimpses of this larger affliction:
¶The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats.
¶This year alone, the United States Army will add about 7,000 soldiers to its total; that’s more people than in the entire American Foreign Service.
¶More than 1,000 American diplomatic positions are vacant because the Foreign Service is so short-staffed, but a myopic Congress is refusing to finance even modest new hiring. Some 1,100 could be hired for the cost of a single C-17 military cargo plane.
In short, the United States is hugely overinvesting in military tools and underinvesting in diplomatic tools. The result is a lopsided foreign policy that antagonizes the rest of the world and is ineffective in tackling many modern problems.
After all, you can’t bomb global warming.
Incredibly, the most eloquent spokesman for more balance between “hard power” and “soft power” is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Mr. Gates, who is superb in repairing the catastrophe left behind by Donald Rumsfeld, has given a series of astonishing speeches in which he calls for more resources for the State Department and aid agencies.
“One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win,” Mr. Gates said. He noted that the entire American diplomatic corps — about 6,500 people — is less than the staffing of a single aircraft carrier group, yet Congress isn’t interested in paying for a larger Foreign Service.
“It simply does not have the built-in, domestic constituency of defense programs,” Mr. Gates said. “As an example, the F-22 aircraft is produced by companies in 44 states; that’s 88 senators.”
With the Olympics unfolding in China now, the Navy and the Air Force are seizing upon China’s rise as an excuse to grab tens of billions of dollars for the F-22, for an advanced destroyer, for new attack submarines. But we’re failing to invest minuscule sums to build good will among Chinese.
For the price of one F-22, we could — for 25 years — operate American libraries in each Chinese province, pay for more Chinese-American exchanges, and hire more diplomats prepared to appear on Chinese television and explain in fluent Chinese what American policy is. And for the price of one M.R.E. lunch for one soldier, the State Department could make a few phone calls to push the Chinese leadership to respond to the Dalai Lama’s olive branch a few days ago, helping to eliminate a long-term irritant in U.S.-China relations.
Then there’s the Middle East. Dennis Ross, the longtime Middle East peace negotiator, says he has been frustrated “beyond belief” to see resources showered on the military while diplomacy has to fight for scraps. Mr. Ross argues that an investment of just $1 billion — financing job creation and other grass-roots programs in the West Bank — could significantly increase the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. But that money isn’t forthcoming.
Our intuitive approach to fighting terrorists and insurgents is to blow things up. But one of the most cost-effective counterterrorism methods in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan may be to build things up, like schooling and microfinance. Girls’ education sometimes gets more bang for the buck than a missile.
A new study from the RAND Corporation examined how 648 terror groups around the world ended between 1968 and 2006. It found that by far the most common way for them to disappear was to be absorbed by the political process. The second most common way was to be defeated by police work. In contrast, in only 7 percent of cases did military force destroy the terrorist group.
“There is no battlefield solution to terrorism,” the report declares. “Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended.”
The next president should absorb that lesson and revalidate diplomacy as the primary tool of foreign policy — even if that means talking to ogres. Take Iran. Until recently, the American officials in charge of solving the Iranian problem were not even allowed to meet Iranians.
“We need to believe in the power of American diplomacy, and we should not believe a military conflict with Iran is inevitable,” said Nicholas Burns, until recently the under secretary of state for political affairs and for three years the government’s point person on Iran. “Our first impulse should be a serious and patient and persistent diplomatic effort. Too often in our national debate we focus on the military option and give short shrift to the diplomatic option.”
So here’s a first step: Let’s agree that diplomats should be every bit as much of an American priority as musicians in military bands.