Small Wars Journal

The Power of a Strong State Department

The Power of a Strong State Department by Stephen M. Walt, New York Times

President Trump clearly admires America’s military. He has put generals in charge of the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security, and he has called for a big increase in military spending. He was quick to order missile strikes after chemical weapons were used in Syria, and he plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

At the same time, Mr. Trump appears to have little regard for traditional diplomacy. He made Rex Tillerson, a foreign policy neophyte, his secretary of state. He has left key diplomatic posts unfilled and proposed slashing the State Department’s budget by some 30 percent. Mr. Tillerson, who also wants to shake up the department, has already suggested eliminating 2,300 jobs there. Morale has plummeted, so Mr. Tillerson gave an in-house speech on May 3 that sought to convince his employees that their work was still important. But a pep talk is unlikely to restore the State Department’s sense of diminished status.

America’s armed forces are undeniably impressive, but Mr. Trump’s veneration of military power and disregard for diplomacy is mistaken. Many of America’s greatest foreign policy successes were won at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield: Think of the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the country in 1803, or the formation of NATO and the Bretton Woods economic institutions, equally farsighted acts that enhanced American influence. Similarly, the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty slowed the spread of nuclear weapons and made it easier to monitor states with nuclear ambitions…

Mr. Trump’s deference to the military, meanwhile, is hard to square with its track record. The United States had more than half a million troops in Vietnam at the peak of the war and still lost. The 1991 Persian Gulf war was a short-term triumph but did not yield a stable peace. The 2003 invasion of Iraq led to a costly quagmire, to enhanced Iranian influence and, eventually, to the creation of the Islamic State. The American military has been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years, and the Taliban today controls more territory than at any time since 2001. United States airstrikes helped drive Muammar el-Qaddafi from power in Libya in 2011, and the country is now a failed state…

Read on.


In Trump's apparent new foreign policy world -- one in which the U.S./the West acts in a much-less confrontational manner -- the U.S. Department of State has a much less demanding job/is not needed as much as before.


If I read the Trump foreign policy right, then he seems to approach our view of "winning" (transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines) more as per Henry Kissinger here:


The key to Kissinger’s foreign policy realism, and the theme at the heart of his magisterial new book, is that such humility is important not just for people but also for nations, even the U.S. Making progress toward a world order based on “individual dignity and participatory governance” is a lofty ideal, he notes. “But progress toward it will need to be sustained through a series of intermediate stages.”


McMaster, also it would seem, appears to see our approach to "winning" (again, transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western lines) more through such an incremental/more-long-term (and/or more-clandestine?) lens:


“Now who consolidates gains should not matter as long as you are getting to that sustainable political outcome,” McMaster said at the New America Foundation event. “But what’s necessary to consolidate gains? It always has been military support to indigenous security forces who take on increasing responsibility, the development of security forces that are capable but also legitimate, you know, trusted by the population. It’s military support to governance and rule of law consistent with their traditions…so you can deny the enemy the ability to operate freely among those populations.”


(Note here that, re: Kissinger and McMaster above, by [a] abandoning the requirement for immediate -- radically alien and profane -- political, economic, social and value changes for outlying states and societies, one has essentially [b] pulled the strategic rug out from under one's "resisting transformation"/ "appeal to traditional groups and causes" opponents?)

Bottom Line:

This being the case, to wit: that the U.S./the West no longer considers it reasonable, intelligent and/or feasible to -- immediately/sooner rather than later -- attempt to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western lines, then:

a. In this seemingly non-confrontational/much less-confrontational world (for example: look at Russia in this "non-demand for transformation" light),

b. One's State Department no longer has as much utility/no longer has such a demanding job.

(The rise of Diplomacy and Development in recent years -- above, before and/or equal to Defense -- this, after all, seems to have been based on the perceived need to immediately/sooner rather than later transform outlying states and societies more along modern western lines. A requirement which, in turn, was based on the "threats arising from weak, failed, failing and/or otherwise poorly governed states" thesis? This such familiar thesis, and its related "immediate transformation more along modern western lines" requirements; these now appear to have been largely rejected by the Kissinger, Trump, McMaster, et al., camp?)