The nation's top military officer says it's too easy to hand off foreign policy problems to the well-organized, well-funded Pentagon, but that diplomacy is sometimes best left to diplomats.Ahem. The original sin of Vietnam was when the senior military and civilian "best & brightest" ignored LtGen Krulak's report and recommendations in the early-to-mid-60s.
"We should be more willing to break this cycle, and say when armed forces may not always be the best choice to take the lead," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Monday.
Mullen said civilian agencies including the State Department deserve more money and support, because they can often do a better job of projecting American policy and ideas. It's tempting to turn first to the can-do military when problems arise, but Mullen said that the experience of the Vietnam War gives him "an acute understanding of the finite application of force abroad, as well as its impact at home."
"When called, our military has served the role of ambassador extremely well," Mullen told a Nixon Center audience.Interesting timing. Funny how it seems roughly aligned with Michèle.
"But our most effective ambassadors of peace in the future will not be those who wear uniforms, or bear arms. They will be our civilians."
Mullen is the top military adviser to the president. For now he works for President George W. Bush but next week he will work for President-elect Barack Obama.
He'll be the only member of Obama's inner circle of national security advisers not hand-picked by the incoming president, but Mullen seemed to endorse some of Obama's campaign rhetoric about remaking the American image overseas.
"Today, in my travels abroad, I hear one message that rings clear: Most of the world wants a stronger relationship, and a deeper mutual understanding, with the United States," Mullen said. Mullen, acknowledging an award from the policy and study group created by former President Richard M. Nixon, said he also hears an eagerness for public service and engagement from Americans.
"We have a great opportunity right now to seize this moment in history, by enabling all aspects of our power and influence, as a force for peace," Mullen said.
Mullen, perhaps displaying a deft diplomatic touch himself, avoided direct mention of either his current boss or his next one.