Smart power is critical to US military success

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The United States lost an exceptional public servant last month with the passing of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and I lost a friend and mentor. I came to know Holbrooke during the negotiations that ended the war in Bosnia and brought a diplomatic solution to a war-torn people. He masterfully directed a peace agreement that demonstrated the true importance of civilian-military cooperation with a team that included me, General Wesley Clark, and Ambassadors Chris Hill and James Pardew.

Holbrooke was known for his tough diplomatic skills, which is why the president asked him to oversee our efforts in Afghanistan — one of the most difficult foreign policy challenges we face as a nation. The high-level appointment of such a talented and seasoned diplomat underscored the reality made clear by everyone from Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mike Mullen to General David Petraeus — if we are going to win in Afghanistan, we have to take a smart power approach using both our civilian and military capacities. This is so evident, in fact, that General Petraeus even called Holbrooke “my diplomatic wingman.”

As the “wingman,” Ambassador Holbrooke oversaw our diplomatic and development programs in Afghanistan — the civilian tools that complement our military tools and keep America safe. Funded by the International Affairs Budget, these programs are critical to our national security and are a necessary supplement to our military strategy.

As a military man and former deputy national security advisor, I know what it takes to win not just battles but wars, and I firmly believe that investing in diplomacy and development will pay off in the end. And I’m not alone in this. A recent poll showed 90 percent of military officers, both active duty and retired, agree a strong military alone is not enough to protect America and we need to use the tools of diplomacy and development to achieve our national security objectives. Led by our generals, our military will win battles with military power, but it will take U.S. diplomacy, along with other elements of our national power, to win wars.

I saw this first-hand during my time as a general when the decisions we made as a military were closely coordinated and discussed with our diplomats to ensure we had a coordinated, effective approach to conflict. In tough situations when lives are at risk, there is no room for bureaucratic silos — we are all Americans working together.

Efficient and effective international affairs programs are the key to meeting the global challenges of the 21st century, protecting our national security and growing our economy here at home. Taxpayers’ small investment of around one percent of the overall federal budget reaps rich rewards, from stability in dangerous corners of the world, such as Afghanistan, to new export markets that help create jobs in cities and towns across America.

Smart power crosses the partisan divide that so often paralyzes Washington. Secretary Gates, who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, recently said, “Without development, we will not be successful in either Iraq or Afghanistan.” I know Ambassador Holbrooke would agree. We cannot allow Afghanistan to slide back into the chaos that made it an ideal hiding place for al-Qaeda. A better, more stable Afghanistan is critical to the safety and security of all the American people, and we will not get there without smart power.

Last month President Obama received a progress report on Afghanistan, and the importance of our development and diplomatic operations was reinforced as it stated, “The denial of extremist safe havens cannot be achieved through military means alone, but must continue to be advanced by effective development strategies.” This is critical if we are to achieve victory, and the president and Congress should support our civilian efforts with the proper resources through a strong and effective International Affairs Budget.

That is why we must seize the moment that is before us today. We can work together to honor Ambassador Holbrooke’s legacy by continuing his commitment to development and diplomacy — smart power tools that go right along with military might in solving critical challenges in Afghanistan and around the world.

Lt. General Donald L. Kerrick, USA (Ret.), served as the Deputy National Security Advisor to the President from 2000 to 2001. He is a member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council.