Militarizing Foreign Policy

05/10/2011 09:16 am ET | Updated Jul 10, 2011
  • Michael Brenner Senior Fellow, the Center for Transatlantic Relations; Professor of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh

The redeployment of senior players in Obama's national security team will have no consequential effect on American foreign policy or on defense spending. Why?

  1. Shifts in strategic perspective can only be provided by the introduction of new minds with fresh ideas. The incumbents are too wedded to failed ideas and failed policies to admit error by their abandonment. These moves just shuffle the portfolios.
  2. Without a thorough revision of the current strategic perspective there can be no basis for serious reappraisal of military requirements. So inertia will carry the day.
  3. Panetta has a reputation for being a tough manager. Yet, at the CIA he changed nothing. Panetta has a reputation as a budget cutter based on his tenure as head of OMB in an earlier incarnation. But he now holds a different job with a different mandate and a different, very powerful, set of constituencies.

Petraeus' appointment continues, and extends a disturbing trend in the conduct of America's foreign relations. This is evident in growing reliance on hard military power; in the dominant role of uniformed officers in all manner of policy-making posts and especially in the intelligence world where they enjoy a monopoly of leadership in all of the big three agencies; and in the assignment of prime political responsibilities to the regional Commands.

We recently created an Africa Command. The Command's design and strategic mandate had no specific military missions in mind, and no definable threat. There is just a comprehensive, loosely drawn mandate that went well beyond that normally associated with a military Command. It seems that Africa Command was set up because there was one piece of the globe uncovered by existing Commands; 'terrorism' was the excuse to plant a Pentagon insignia on the map of Africa. This Command is now in charge of all activity in regards to Libya, but in the past that would have fallen to other, preexisting arrangements for the Mediterranean. Its assigned mandate to win friends and influence people; build military-to-military ties; monitor socio-politico-economic trends; engage in intelligence acquisition; compile data bases on would be/could be terrorists -- and their possible enablers, and do some public diplomacy. Ambassadors may as well be designated as 'diplomatic attaches.' That is what has happened in Pakistan -- with less than brilliant results.

David Petraeus, with his usual aggressiveness, made this crystal clear at the time when he was head of Central Command. The secret "Executive Order" that he signed in October 2009 authorized Special Operations troops to undertake reconnaissance missions and build up intelligence networks throughout the Middle East and Central Asia in order to "penetrate, disrupt, defeat and destroy militant groups' and to "prepare the environment" for future military operations. Where is constitutional scholar Barack Obama in all this? Not AWOL -- he has given it his personal blessing.