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Bono, center, is presented with the award for international humanitarian leadership by former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., left, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during the Atlantic Council annual awards dinner in Washington, Wednesday, April 28, 2010.
Bono, center, is presented with the award for international humanitarian leadership by former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., left, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during the Atlantic Council annual awards dinner in Washington, Wednesday, April 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

WASHINGTON — Bono, perhaps the world’s most recognizable humanitarian activist, sought to make peaceniks from a roomful of four-stars in Washington on Wednesday evening with a call to put global poverty-reducing development assistance on par with defense spending.

“Development must be an equal but separate partner [to the military],” he said.

Adding to the long list of Washington’s strange bedfellows, the U2 frontman was honored for his humanitarian work by the Atlantic Council, an old guard Washington think tank that is usually focused on NATO and U.S.-European security interests.

Taking the stage following an introduction from Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., Bono noted that he was surrounded by “a lot of brass, spit and polish,” including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Jones, national security advisor to President Barack Obama, and Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of Joint Forces Command, who was also honored Wednesday.

“I wonder,” the rocker said, “who let the peacenik in?”

It is the latest sign of a growing alliance between the aid community and top U.S. defense leaders who have been advocating for the U.S. to shift vastly more resources to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, alleviating the military’s burdensome share of global security.

Now, the ONE campaign, the Washington-based advocacy group co-founded by Bono, has organized “Mission Critical,” which has signed up 50 combat veterans who have participated in humanitarian aid and development work. In Iraq and Afghanistan, counterinsurgency operations include placating populations by improving their lives with food, digging wells, and building infrastructure like sewers, roads, and schools.

But the military’s work has prompted many of the world’s leading development groups to insist on a firewall rules between aid and military objectives, which Bono recognized Wednesday.

“I’m not suggesting that we do each other’s jobs — far from it. I’m not suggesting that soldiers should braid flowers in their hair or [start] carrying stethoscopes or fertilizers in their packs,” Bono said. “There’s a bright line that separates what we do from what you do and that’s OK, but our ultimate goals are the same goals.”

Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have joined a long line of defense leaders calling for more help from U.S. foreign policy agencies that could prevent future military actions.

Last week, in an essay published in the journal Foreign Affairs, Gates again called for more resources for the State Department to correct “imbalances within the national security system.”

And, at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s request, Gates “sent a specific letter in support of [the] State Department budget” to Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad, D.-N.D., Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday. Gates’ sent the letter the day of the budget “mark-up”, which sets spending limits for appropriators. Conrad surprised observers by cutting the international affairs budget by seven percent.

“And how about that cat Bob Gates?” Bono said. “A secretary of defense who hammers Congress for more aid? I mean, are you people on drugs? What is going on?”

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