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Lorelei Kelly Headshot

460 Billion and No Real Security in Sight

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So Congress passed a 459.6 billion dollar defense budget early this morning.
It included billions for the fancy Cold War-hangover hardware so beloved to the Bush Administration and conservatives. The outrageousness of it provides a good segue into the comments I wrote up for our panel on progressive foreign policy at YearlyKos. BTW for a good list of tradeoffs within the national security domain that won't get you skewered for using guns vs. butter language, see the Unified Security Budget that came out a few months past. Here are my comments, originally posted on the White House Project's new blog.

I believe that progressives, if we act intentionally and soon, will be the dominant influence this century for a new understanding of American foreign policy and national security. I say foreign policy and national security together because I believe that foreign policy is national security--for far too long the two have been segregated. While this might have made sense during the Cold War, it no longer does today....and it has huge implications, from money to manpower to allowing a runaway Executive Branch to take our country into an ill considered war.

Changing the language of national security is one of the important contributions that we can make. this is the first step in telling a new American story about who we are in the world and where we are going.

We are at a crossroads today. How we understand and implement our national security policies will determine whether the US decides to seek security primarily through coercion and force, or through legitimacy. In other words, through leading by example.

We're living in a world where traditional national concerns remain important, but where the safety of individuals and peoples, often called Human Security, is equally so. A strong Army is important, but so is education for girls. We must insist that both state and individual needs are complimentary and inseparable, and not pose them as tradeoffs. That's one thing we can each do today: Resist the language of easy tradeoffs: hawks versus doves, strong verseus weak, guns versus butter... There are plenty of legitimate tradeoffs within national security...and if you acknowledge their legitimate fears, Americans are willing to hear that levees in New Orleans and bridges in Minneapolis deserve consideration as critical infrastructure...part of our nation's security.

I lived in Berlin in 1989 during the twilight of the Cold War and saw in person the end of an era. Sixteen years later, I am shocked at how little this momentous occasion impacted American national security.

Progressive change has come in unsuspecting places. When I moved to DC to work on Capitol Hill ( I was asked to come to work in Congress to convene a foreign policy study group after Newt Gingrich had dismantled the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus) I was amazed that the most progressive organization I found working on conflict resolution was the US Army. One remark that I still hear from my friends in uniform is how the US, since the end of the Cold War, lacks a Grand Strategy. This is another term for a story, a big story, if you will. About the future of our nation. In the military the Grand Strategy is like the pole star, it provides guidance for everything else that happens. Campaign strategy, operations and tactics all fall in line beneath it...During the Cold War the big story was containment of the Soviet Union...an era characterized by continual military preparedness. After 1991, we experienced many ad-hoc military engagements, all of which required our military to undertake social and political tasks...these became like disjointed chapters in a book that never added up to a comprehensive narrative...that underscored the need to do things differently.

To this day, we are still fighting and funding the Cold War. We apply military tools to political problems. We justify outrageous budgets (54% of the discretionary budget this year) to military security. And Congress still today has not had a comprehensive discussion about the need from top to bottom change.

I sat in hearings in the 1990s and watched Generals like Wesley Clark talk about peace operations at the House Armed Services Committee. He spoke of the need for skills like knowledge of culture, history, language and politics--how they were vital for soldiers. Today we're hearing the second echo of these stories. In Iraq, when every General that testifies before Congresss claims that this fight has no military solution. That the dilemma we face is a political challenge. That the use of force has become counterproductive at every level....from the strategy of pre-emptive war to the tactic of kicking down doors and terrorizing families.

This takes me back to my original point, about seeking legitimacy. We've heard a lot over the past few years about the hearts and minds campaign. Well, this is a legitimacy campaign. Counter insurgency doctrine is built on this notion as well. Protecting civilians, preventing violence through economic development. In fact, every military professional I know insists on the value of preventive action... this is the realm of foreign policy. Which is why I belive that today more than ever, foreign policy is national security. We must not be afraid to call it that. And, to the opposite of the Cold War, its main ingredients are not weapons and top down communiques. Leading by example happens at every level....