William Astore | Our State Department: A Tiny Branch of the Pentagon

Last week, a quotation and a joke captured the zeitgeist of the American moment. The quotation came from Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, related to a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony:

“We think we have the finest military hardware in the world,” Rowley said. “And if India is upgrading its defense capabilities, they should buy American.”

The joke came from Hillary Clinton as she tried to defend her department’s overseas developmental funds from Congressional cuts. With Secretary of Defense Bob Gates in her corner, she quipped that his Department of Defense (DoD) gets all the money it asks for from Congress, even as her Department of State is forced to fight to preserve what would be “small change” to the DoD.

Why this quotation, and why this joke, to capture the spirit of our times?

Is there not something less-than-dignified about our State Department serving as shills for U.S. defense contractors? Yes, if India truly needs modern warplanes, I’d prefer to see them buy F-16s or F-18s and not Russian MiGs, but our defense contractors are already quite proficient at marketing their products, and our Pentagon has plenty of resources devoted to FMS (foreign military sales). Again, is it not unseemly to have our Secretary of State, our chief diplomat, pressuring allies to buy only those weapons with a “Made in America” label on them?

Now, let’s turn to that U.S. Global Leadership Coalition at which Clinton uttered her little joke. Is it not unconscionable that our diplomats and foreign development experts have to fight for what amounts to table scraps compared to the cornucopia of funding and resources available to the Pentagon and DoD?

To Gates’s credit, our Secretary of Defense has himself complained about the paucity of funding available to State, a point Clinton hammered home in January 2009 when she noted, “the disparity of resources is such that when you’ve got more than 10 times the resources going to the Defense Department than you have going to the State Department and foreign aid, DOD has in effect been re-creating mini-State Departments.”

If nothing else, Clinton’s joke last week suggests that nothing has changed in Washington’s ordering of priorities since Obama became president. More money for defense and for war; more penny-pinching for diplomacy and foreign development.

Surely our country has its priorities out of order. More for war and weapons, less for diplomacy and foreign aid, and shilling for American defense contractors, is a recipe for forever war – and for the irreversible decline of America, morally as well as strategically.

Professor Astore currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. He writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at [email protected]