Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

John Edwards major foreign policy address today

Today at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, John Edwards gave a major policy address titled "A Strong Military for a New Century."

The speech was bold and impressive, daring to say out loud many things that are wrong with American foreign policy and military policy, but that no presidential candidate yet has dared to say. Edwards's leadership was on full display today, demonstrating how a president should be.

Calling Bush's bluff on the Global War on Terror frame, Edwards pointed out that it is nothing but a political slogan used to justify the worst abuses of this administration. Here's an excerpt from his remarks as prepared for delivery:

The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics, not a strategy to make America safe. It’s a bumper sticker, not a plan. It has damaged our alliances and weakened our standing in the world. As a political “frame,” it’s been used to justify everything from the Iraq War to Guantanamo to illegal spying on the American people. It’s even been used by this White House as a partisan weapon to bludgeon their political opponents. Whether by manipulating threat levels leading up to elections, or by deeming opponents “weak on terror,” they have shown no hesitation whatsoever about using fear to divide.

But the worst thing about this slogan is that it hasn’t worked. The so-called “war” has created even more terrorism—as we have seen so tragically in Iraq. The State Department itself recently released a study showing that worldwide terrorism has increased 25% in 2006, including a 40% surge in civilian fatalities.

By framing this as a “war,” we have walked right into the trap that terrorists have set—that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war against Islam.

The “war” metaphor has also failed because it exaggerates the role of only one instrument of American power—the military. This has occurred in part because the military is so effective at what it does. Yet if you think all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

Tackling the enormous waste in our defense budget is something no presidential candidate I can remember has dared to take on. John Edwards just laid out a detailed strategy for that, stating the need for reform in no uncertain terms.

The military budget itself also needs substantial reforms. Today, dozens of agencies perform overlapping tasks, and there is no central, overall accounting of all security activities performed by all relevant agencies.

I will create a National Security Budget that will include all security activities by the Pentagon and the Department of Energy, and our homeland security, intelligence, and foreign affairs agencies. This would allow more oversight and would also allow us to more carefully tailor our expenditures to our missions. Today, literally dozens of agencies have overlapping responsibilities, missions, tasks and programs. We don’t link these efforts together nearly enough. We have nuclear proliferation programs in the Defense, State, and the Energy departments. We also have more than fifteen different security assistance programs, running out of both the State Department and the Defense Department.

As president, I will send to Congress a National Security Budget that will grow out of a review of our military, our diplomacy, our foreign assistance programs, our intelligence, our global energy, and our homeland security activities. This budget will provide one government-wide strategy for countering nuclear proliferation; a unified strategy for fighting terrorists; a unified strategy for providing security assistance to our allies; and clear guidance for our agencies on how they should set their budget priorities to make these policies work.

The military has gone a long way in making sure that it’s capable and prepared to fight humanitarian crises, as we saw when it provided aid to the victims of the Pacific Ocean tsunami. But this aid is often imbalanced. We’ve got one agency on steroids—the Pentagon—while the civilian agencies are on life support. As president, I will help rebalance the delivery of civilian services throughout the federal government.

Civilians with training and experience need to be involved in stabilizing states with weak governments, and providing humanitarian assistance where disasters have struck. We need bankers to set up financial systems, political scientists to implement election systems, and civil engineers to design water and power systems. As president, I will create a “Marshall Corps,” modeled on the military Reserves, of up to 10,000 expert professionals who will help stabilize weak societies, and who will work on humanitarian missions.

I will also take additional steps to put stabilization first throughout the government. I will put a senior official in the Pentagon to implement these programs. I will harmonize the State Department and Pentagon’s overlapping efforts at diplomacy and stabilization better from the White House. And I will implement new stabilization programs at war colleges and staff colleges.

Just as we need to get our national security budget in order, we must also reform our Pentagon budget. The Bush Administration has funneled an enormous amount of taxpayer money to private military contractors, many run by their political cronies. It’s no surprise that we have seen rampant overruns in the cost of many weapons programs.

I will respond to the overruns and cronyism strongly and directly. We need a modern-day equivalent of Harry Truman’s famous Truman Committee, which traveled the country in the 1940’s to find billions of dollars of waste in military spending. As president, I will direct my Secretary of Defense to launch a comprehensive, tough review of fraud, waste, and abuse—and put an end to it. One example is missile defense and offensive space-based weapons, which are costly and unlikely to work.

We also need fundamental reform of our privatization policies. Almost half of Defense Department contracts are now awarded on a noncompetitive basis, giving companies like Halliburton with millions of dollars. To end this, I will direct my Secretary of Defense to overhaul the rules governing privatization, to punish mismanagement, and to reform DOD bonus policies to reward performance.

Finally, I will challenge the military to continue to modernize for a new century. We need to ensure that the U.S. military is the most modern and capable fighting force on the planet. Modernization will also have other benefits. “Greening the military” will increase innovation, save millions of dollars, reduce reliance on vulnerable supply lines, and help America lead the fight against global warming.

Taking on the hard reforms where he will undoubtedly face stiff opposition. Now that's true leadership!

His speech and the question and answer session which followed were about an hour in length. If you're interested in the vision of a real leader for American foreign policy, I nevertheless urge you to read the entire speech.

I recorded audio of most of the speech (unfortunately I missed about the first minute), so once I find a good place to host a very large audio file, I'll update my blog with a link.

UPDATE: You can download the MP3 file of the speech here. Note that it is a very large file (42 MB) and it is missing the first minute or so of the speech.

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