Guest blogger and former Marine Rye Barcott on patrol in Fallujah.
The content of our provocatively titled Aspen Ideas Festival panel will focus on core findings from the former Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School Professor Joseph S. Nye, Jr.’s new book The Future of Power, and my first book It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace. It will be moderated by Reuters News Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler at noon on June 29.
By Rye Barcott
Development and diplomacy face disproportionally large cuts in the deficit debates. The 2012 International Affairs Budget under negotiation includes a proposal to cut non-war-related development accounts by nearly 20 percent from 2010 levels. This chipping away at our foreign assistance budget has a miniscule impact on our nation’s deficit, but maximum consequences for our national security. Is it really worth putting our nation at risk by cutting programs that help prevent us from having to send our servicemen and women into harms way at a fraction of the cost?
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used to say that, like a three-legged stool, our national security rests on three pillars: defense, development, and diplomacy. This metaphor struck a chord when I was serving in Fallujah, Iraq, during the volatile days of late 2005. Instead of a three-legged stool, we were balancing precariously on one leg, trying desperately to beat the insurgency into submission. Diplomats and development experts were largely absent or thinly represented.
The US military stepped into the vacuum, repairing infrastructure and working with community groups, the police, and a nascent city council. But — unsurprisingly — the military is not very good at development and diplomacy. We aren’t trained for it, and it’s difficult to build trust when you are carrying a weapon and wearing body armor.
Rebuilding a country requires deep cultural awareness, familiarity with local language and customs, and a sophisticated understanding of economics and local politics. Above all, it requires a commitment to the long view. By the end of our six- to twelve-month deployments, military leaders from corporals to colonels typically gain only a superficial understanding of tribal dynamics and culture.
Our military fights wars with the goal of ending them as quickly as possible, not to establish a perpetual constabulary force to heal a traumatized country. This inherently short-term orientation contrasts sharply with the long-term view of effective development and diplomacy. The long view stretches past the military’s brief deployments, encompassing planting and harvesting seasons, the construction of bridges and power lines, the writing of modern school curriculum, and the slow evolution of genuine democracy. This long view — critical to victory in Iraq and Afghanistan — is what we risk losing in the current frenzy of budget cutting on Capitol Hill.
My first exposure to the long view occurred well before I was leading Marines in Fallujah, when as a college student I cofounded a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Carolina for Kibera began with an initial grant of merely $26, a tiny sum that went a long way. Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, is home to more than a quarter of a million people who reside in a sea of mud and rippled-tin sheets in an area the size of Central Park. Our organization invested directly in local leaders out of a recognition that sustainable social change has to be driven from within communities, not outside of them.
Just like serving in the Marines, effective development is hard work. It takes trust, time, and perseverance. When we started Carolina for Kibera our Kenyan cofounders managed a medical clinic out of a ten-by-ten foot shack, and a soccer program on a rutted patch of dirt lined by sumps of sewage. That was 2001. Today that clinic treats more than 40,000 patients a year, and the soccer program has grown into an internationally acclaimed, locally-led leadership development program with more than 5,000 members.
There is far more recognition today in the military that we cannot kill and capture our way out of insurgencies, and that we need to harness additional tools outside of the military through the resources and expertise of other government agencies, and even NGOs. As Secretary of Defense Gates has emphasized, “America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long relative to what we spend on the military.”
Rye Barcott in Kibera, Kenya. Photo by: Jason Arthurs
Cutting diplomacy and development funding risks missing the forest for a very small tree. The 2011 budget for the State Department and USAID combined is just seven percent of the budget of the Department of Defense. Much of our development and diplomacy work occurs in the parts of the world that are rarely covered by the media, until crisis strikes. This quiet, patient public service works to head off the next failed state, protecting American national security and preserving our continued prosperity. Remember, nobody thought state failure in Afghanistan threatened us until it was too late.
In this extraordinary time of economic hardship, we must squeeze as much value as possible out of each taxpayer dollar. I’ve witnessed the impact of our development and diplomacy dollars at work. As we search for ways to reduce our nation’s spending, it would be foolish to abandon our commitments overseas. We need the long view, at home and abroad. After all, what’s more costly than an unnecessary war?