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Report seeks ‘smart power’ overhaul of federal operations

Think tank urges restructuring of civilian agencies to better promote U.S. interests abroad.

The commission also called for establishing and funding a nonprofit, nongovernmental entity to tap into public and private sector expertise to better communicate with people in other countries. The organization would be run by an independent board of experts inside and outside government who could provide a "heat shield" from near-term political pressures.

America's global image is at an all-time low and is heading lower, crippling Washington's ability to shape world events and allowing other nations to usurp American leadership, concludes a recent report by a Washington think tank. The reason is that since the Sept. 11 attacks, America has elevated the war on terror to the central component of our global engagement, said study co-chair and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.Since Sept. 11, Americans have been "exporting our fear and anger," said Armitage at an event Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which sponsored the Commission on Smart Power report. "I believe we need to get back to exporting more traditional values, such as hope, optimism and tolerance and opportunity."The report contains recommendations on how the next administration can repair America's global image and maintain its pre-eminence. Hard power relies on traditional measurements of military and economic might, while soft power is the "power of attraction" through ideas, said study co-chair and Harvard professor Joseph Nye. The report argues that both hard and soft power should be combined in new "smart power" efforts.The study says that with the United States focusing its attention on the Middle East, China has stepped into the vacuum, expanding both its hard and soft power efforts. The most visible example, the report says, is Beijing's embrace of "multilateral organizations where the U.S. role has diminished or is absent all together." In Africa, China is offering the "Beijing alternative" -- aid given without the preconditions often imposed by Washington.The report acknowledges that much of America's smart power assets are in the private sector, but includes a series of recommendations for elevating its focus in government, particularly in civilian agencies:

  • Create a smart power deputy serving both the national security adviser and the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to focus on long-term strategy and manage interagency trade-offs.
  • Create a standing coordination staff for interagency operations at the executive secretary level. This group would coordinate agencies' response to crises in an effort to avoid bureaucratic turf disputes over roles and missions.
  • Create a Cabinet-level position for global development to coordinate the 50 separate government programs providing economic and technical assistance.
  • Establish a Quadrennial Smart Power Review, modeled on the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the resources and goals of the civilian tools of national power.
  • Increase the number of Foreign Service personnel slots at the State Department by more than 1,000. The military is able to provide its officers with extensive educational opportunities because it routinely budgets for 10 percent more military officers than there are jobs. But civilian agencies do not budget for such personnel "floats."
  • Beef up civilian agency coordination and management at the regional level, comparable to the Pentagon's regional combat commands. Civilian agencies tend to be dominated by their Washington headquarters offices, so politics often dominates decision-making, and interagency operations are not coordinated in the field.