Shifting Resources

From the NYT:

“When President-elect Barack Obama introduces his national security team on Monday, it will include two veteran cold warriors and a political rival whose records are all more hawkish than that of the new president who will face them in the White House Situation Room.

Yet all three of his choices — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser, and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary — were selected in large part because they have embraced a sweeping shift of resources in the national security arena.

The shift, which would come partly out of the military’s huge budget, would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. (…)

“This is not an experiment, but a pragmatic solution to a long-acknowledged problem,” Denis McDonough, a senior Obama foreign policy adviser, said in an interview on Sunday.

“During the campaign the then-senator invested a lot of time reaching out to retired military and also younger officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to draw on lessons learned,” Mr. McDonough said. “There wasn’t a meeting that didn’t include a discussion of the need to strengthen and integrate the other tools of national power to succeed against unconventional threats. It is critical to a long-term successful and sustainable national security strategy in the 21st century.””

This would be wonderful. There are a lot of problems that can be addressed either sooner, by preventing them from getting out of hand, or later, once they have turned into crises. We prepare for the crises, and in particular for the possibility of military intervention. But we don’t do nearly enough to try to prevent them from becoming crises in the first place. Nor do we have any decent way of trying to help failed states get back on their feet — which matters, since failed states are the natural homes of terrorists.

We have needed for a long time to have more tools at our disposal for addressing problems abroad. If Obama plans to build up alternatives to military force, that’s really, really good news. And if, moreover, Jones and Gates are on board with cutting some defense programs, then I imagine that the odds that they will actually be cut go up considerably. That would also be very good news.

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