Obama's "Civilian National Security Force?"

The weekend blogs are abuzz over the reference to a civilian national security force mentioned by Obama this week. Godwin's Law was invoked quickly, and the dire notion that Obama was seeking to mobilize a civilian corps that will bankrupt the nation has stirred thoughtful people who were until this morning still reeling over the revelations regarding Obama's aunt. The venerable Drudge Report even saw fit to devote a small portion of his page to a 20-second excerpt of an Obama speech. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt2yGzHfy7s&hl=en&fs=1]

As someone who is helping to write national security reform, perhaps I can shed a little light. Let me quote another radical scary government guy who raised a similar terrifying notion almost a year ago:

"My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short ... I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use 'soft' power and for better integrating it with 'hard' power. So, we must urgently devote time, energy, and thought to how we better organize ourselves to meet the international challenges of the present and the future – the world you students will inherit and lead."

That speaker is the current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. The notion of "soft" v "hard" power, or in the words of CSIS, "smart" power - have gained ground in national security policy circles as a more appropriate way to structure the components of national security. For just one example earlier this year, in Afghanistan, where we are helping to rebuild a nation, based as it is on an agrarian economy, we recently tripled the workforce deployed there from our Department of Agriculture. The number of deployed personnel rose from two to six. The idea that the military should continue to bear the entire burden of a broadened scope of national security is indefensible.

How large a burden? Secretary Gates also raised the idea that balancing our national security investment portfolio may be in order. Consider this chart regarding the 2006 national security budget (from the Preliminary Findings of the Project on National Security Reform):

Perhaps it is time to diversify our national security portfolio a bit. It may be good sport to decide Senator Obama was talking about reviving the Hitler-Jugend, but those political points miss an important truth.

Perhaps it is worth our time to also learn a bit about the changes in our approach to national security that will occur - no matter who wins on Tuesday.