Review of ‘Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy’

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Since World War II, when Franklin Roosevelt sidelined the State Department in favor of the War Department to facilitate the defeat of the Axis, the US military has assumed an ever increasing role in the conduct of non-military missions abroad that were once the purview of the Department of State. There are a number of reasons for this – institutional, political, and cultural – that are examined in Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy? edited by Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray. In a series of essays by senior American diplomats and academics, this growing trend is analyzed.

I received a copy of this book for review. Looking at it from the perspective of someone with 20 years military experience and 30 years in the US Foreign Service as a diplomat, I commend the editors and contributors for tackling a complex and controversial subject with the degree of detachment and objectivity they have. While some justify the tendency to use the military in non-core tasks abroad (building bridges, communicating with foreign audiences, and a host of tasks traditionally reserved for diplomats and civilian development specialists), the fact is that this quick-fix mentality can, as the authors point out, have long term negative consequences. They make it quite clear that the military undertakes these tasks for ‘show’ primarily – that is, they’re aimed to facilitate military operations, and their long term viability and contributions to the countries in which they’re undertaken are often ignored. In addition, the military, for all its training, gung-ho attitude, and funds, lacks the expertise and cultural sensitivity to conduct such missions properly, and there is often ‘blowback’ that our diplomats have to go in and clean up.

This is a good book for anyone interested in international affairs, though not one that I’d recommend for light reading. Some of the recommendations offered by the authors have about as much chance of being implemented by our political leadership as a snowball going through hell without losing weight, but they are to be commended for having the courage to ‘think the unthinkable.’

I give Mission Creep four stars.

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