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Smart Power Is Alive and Well

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Many thanks to Steve Clemons for pointing out that the State Department Says Pentagon Doing Just a Really, Really Great Job in his post earlier this week. And while he hints this may be more of a one-sided love story, the truth is the mutual appreciation between our civilian and military operations in meeting our most complex challenges around the world rightly continues to grow.

As Steve mentions, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates was a tireless advocate for better cooperation between our development, diplomatic and defense operations. This recognition really began to take shape in the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11, where the President and his team correctly recognized that it takes more than just our mighty military to protect our nation -- we need all of our foreign policy tools working together in what is known as the smart power approach.

Through the Bush years and into the Obama administration, this change in perspective continued to take shape, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates proved to be a dynamic duo in advocating for American engagement in the world and smart power. Speaking together back in 2010 about how our global development programs actually can prevent conflicts before they occur, Gates pointed out that "Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers."

As a retired navy captain and Enduring Freedom veteran, I couldn't agree more with Secretary Gates on that point, and I also cannot stress enough that my colleagues in uniform feel the same way. Surveys of military leaders, both enlisted and retired, show there is strong support for our civilian partners at the State Department, USAID, and others with nearly 90 percent saying a strong military alone is not enough to protect America.

Secretary Panetta and Secretary Clinton have continued the tradition she began with Gates of testifying together on the Hill to defend their budgets -- a united front demonstrating our national security is dependent on all of our tools working together to meet American interests around the world. Just two months ago, Panetta said, "We have to coordinate even more closely with the Department of State. My goal is for the Department of State to have a leading role in crafting and conducting U.S. foreign policy, so that we can reaffirm and strengthen our strategic approach to defense partnerships."

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey was going through the litany of challenges we face last February when he remarked, "In response to these challenges and others, we will lead, and we will enable others to lead. Moreover, we will do this -- always -- by coordinating military power with the diplomacy and development efforts of our government and those of our allies and partners."

So smart power is alive and well, and in the highest ranks from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom. And more importantly, this is the belief of our men and women in uniform. I am proud to be a part of Veterans for Smart Power, a group of over 27,000 veterans and supporters who know a smart power approach is the only way we can keep our nation secure and prosperous in today's dangerous world.

And in November, when Americans elect the next President and a new Congress, my hope is that whoever wins will continue to recognize why it is so critical for our national security that we take the smart power approach, strengthening development and diplomatic operations alongside our defense capabiltities.

Captain Robert S. Wells has over 30 years of experience as a naval officer and 6 years of U.S. national policy and interagency experience at the White House, National Security Council, and State Department during the Bush (43) and Clinton Administrations. He is a Veteran for Smart Power with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.