Friday, October 17, 2008

Secretary Gates’ Pay-Back Efforts

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons - Government Printing Office, 1978
Last Wednesday, my favorite State Department cheerleader delivered the First Dean Acheson Lecture at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. Secretary Gates spoke eloquently of Acheson, who is considered by many as the clearest thinking, most effective Secretary of State of the twentieth century.

I particularly like his line about the need for our national security toolbox to be well-equipped with more than just hammers; because really, we can’t afford to view the world as a mass of nail heads just waiting for a pummel. An excerpt from that lecture:

My support for larger budgets for the Department of State has received a good deal of favorable commentary. In truth, it is simply an act of reciprocity nearly 60 years overdue. Between 1945 and 1947, the defense budget dropped from over $90 billion a year to between $10 and $11 billion. President Truman hoped to cut it further, to between $6 and $7 billion. As David Halberstam describes in his book, The Coldest Winter, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, who replaced James Forrestal and was nearly as unstable emotionally, wanted to run for president in 1952 on a platform of holding down defense spending. And so the Secretary of Defense, of all people, was a strong advocate of even more draconian reductions in the military budget. According to Halberstam, it was Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1950, who, seeking a way to deal with the Communist threat in Europe and elsewhere, championed increased defense spending and, indeed, surreptitiously organized the campaign to make it happen. So, just call my efforts pay-back time.

Acheson could relate to the bureaucratic challenge at hand. He once compared his fellow assistant secretaries to “barons in a feudal system.” Since then, and especially since September 11th, we have made enormous strides in improving coordination and cooperation within our national security apparatus. The list of accomplishments is long. But so is the list of obstacles.

We must overcome them. The security of the American people will increasingly depend on our ability to head off the next insurgency or arrest the collapse of another failing state. These are the things we must be able to do as a nation, as an alliance, and as an international coalition. As Dean Acheson did so brilliantly, we must be prepared to change old ways of doing business and create new institutions – both nationally and internationally – to deal with the long-term challenges we face abroad. And our own national security toolbox must be well-equipped with more than just hammers.

There is no way to predict the future, nor can we foretell the effect that decisions we will make today will have a decade or two from now. But I believe that one thing is clear from history: When America is willing to lead; when we meet our commitments and stand with our allies, even in times of trouble; when we make the necessary institutional changes; when we make the necessary sacrifices; when we take the necessary risks to uphold and defend both our values and our interests – then great and good things can happen for our country and for the world. Dean Acheson believed this. And so do I.

I have nothing against this piece. But am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that a Secretary of Defense has delivered the first lecture named after a Secretary of State?

You can read Secretary Gates entire speech here.

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