February 19, 2009 —
Admiral Stavridis Blogs about his week in DC
Media: Naval Leadership Blog
Author: Admiral Jim Stavridis
Date: February 19, 2009
An important city in the Americas, of course, is our own nation’s capital. I spent last week there on a variety of interesting meetings, speeches, presentations, and briefings. It was a fairly “typical” – and very busy – week for a Combatant Commander, in that when I do make the trek north to Washington, I try to bundle together a wide variety of tasks. Here is a quick sense of a four-day visit to the “seat of government:”
Perhaps most interestingly, I had a chance to interact with President Obama, along with the four Service Chiefs, the ten Combatant Commanders, the Chairman and Vice Chairman, Secretary Gates and freshly confirmed Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn. We had a short video-teleconference from the Pentagon with the President and he laid out his approach on national security, fully consistent with comments he made throughout the campaign.
I also spent the better part of two days on Capitol Hill, meeting with Senators and Representatives from both parties. I discussed the region with each of them, and provided a progress report on the past year – lots of good news to report, from the rescue of our three U.S. hostages in Colombia back in July 2008, the interdiction of 220 tons of cocaine, excellent military-to-military relations throughout the region, and over 300,000 patient treatments by medical teams doing training missions “down south.” We also talked about our interagency approach which is very simple: at Southern Command, we do DEFENSE, and we don’t do diplomacy or development. But we always look for ways we can be helpful to our interagency teammates at State and the Agency for International Development, as they do the hard and vital work of diplomacy and development, respectively. We don’t want to militarize foreign policy, and our job is to support our partners while they lead in those areas.
In addition to the Hill calls, I gave four major addresses – one to a superb new think tank, the Center for New American Security or CNAS as part of the National Security Leaders Forum event series. Founded by Kurt Campbell and Michèle Flournoy – both old friends and now coming into the administration in very senior policy positions at State and Defense respectively – CNAS is populated with some of the really bright up-and-coming stars in the security / policy scene. It was a good talk, done over at the Willard Hotel, and focused on our support for interagency partners.
I also spoke at a Conference of Political Advisors (State Foreign Service Officers) to the Combatant Commanders and other Defense activities. I had a chance to thank them for their good work. At Southern Command, our senior State Foreign Service Officer is Ambassador Paul Trivelli, who is one of two Deputies with authority throughout our enterprise. There was also a chance to speak at a Stability Conference led by Creative Associates International, Inc., a private sector organization very engaged in development throughout the world. This was a further chance to discuss ways Southern Command can help our interagency partners.
I also had a round-table with various Human Rights Organizations. I get a lot out of doing those in terms of hearing their perspectives on the issues of military human rights violations in the region, the concerns about Guantanamo detention, reported assaults on labor leaders and human rights activists. The dozen or so participants were all passionate, well-informed, plugged into the region, and utterly sincere. I respect them deeply, while not always agreeing with their approach. We concluded a two hour discussion – as always – with a great deal of mutual respect. I learned a great deal.
I had a chance to have dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant, Dukem, with Reuben Brigety, a brilliant scholar and Naval Academy graduate (where he was Brigade Commander) who is an expert on the nexus between security and development. Over excellent food, ordered by his wife, a physician of Somali descent, in fluent Amharic, we discussed plans to collaborate on an article for Foreign Affairs. Two of his friends joined us for a lively conversation about the unfolding world of this 21st century.
Finally, I had a small dinner with former Governor and newly confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. The commandant of the Coast Guard – which of course is in DHS – hosted the dinner. Admiral Thad Allen has grown to be a very close friend and colleague. He was a superstar in the Coast Guard for years, and his brilliant work during Katrina as the Principal Federal Officer is legendary. Over a Mexican dinner in honor of the Governor’s home state of Arizona, we exchanged views on Southern Command partnering with the Coast Guard on potential migrant operations in the Caribbean and on counter-narcotics work.
All in all, a “typical” week in DC – lots of interagency conversations, plenty of outreach to the public sector, and time with my bosses in the chain of command. While the weather wasn’t as nice as Miami, the lively discussion and honest debate over important issues made up for the differences.