Monday, November 7, 2011

A telling headline: Defense and foreign policy

There's a profile of Michele Flournoy, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in today's Washington Post. Reaction to the piece on Twitter has been universally positive, at least among the people I follow, and it's little surprise: Flournoy is a great defense policy mind and an effective leader, and her success sets a great example for the next generation of women in the field. I think she's generally done a good job, though I could come up with some inside-baseball complaints that wouldn't hold much significance for people outside the Pentagon.

But you know me: there's always a down-side. For this piece, it's the headline:
Michele Flournoy, Pentagon's highest-ranking woman, is making her mark on foreign policy
No one could quibble with the accuracy of the statement. But it may be worth reflecting for a moment on the fact that we've grown so accustomed to the modern Defense Department's coequal if not primary role in the formulation and execution of foreign policy that there's scarcely a mention of the fact that this isn't the way our government is designed to work.

This isn't a shot at Flournoy -- if she hadn't "made her mark on foreign policy," she'd probably have been fired by now for failing to do her job. No, it's but a wistful recollection of the days when the men and women who wanted to direct foreign policy -- the Nitzes and Kennans and Achesons -- did so at the State Department, when our national leaders recognized that armed force and the plentiful resources that backed it were but one of several tools that the country used to assure its interests around the world.


  1. You're absolutely right. All of our foreign policy moves, hell, even our domestic "response" to terrorism, have been dictated or directly influenced by defense policy. It's pretty screwed up.

  2. I'd be curious how much of purported shift - from a multidimensional view of statecraft to one focused principally on military power - is material (the military simply has far more resources than other actors - see Priest, The Mission) or ideational (it simply becomes accepted that the military is to be the preferred solution to problems of statecraft, just as, say, it simply became accepted that the presidency rather than Congress was to be the primary actor of the three branches of government).