WASHINGTON – In what is becoming a regular affair, Defense Secretary Robert Gates again took the stage with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call for more U.S. spending on global development as a national security buffer to keep U.S. troops out of fights.

“Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers,” Gates said.

The joint appearance, along with Treasure Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, comes one week after President Barack Obama announced a U.S. national policy on global development in a speech at the United Nations. The presidential directive did not outline specifics or spending levels, but Clinton said it marked the first official policy on global poverty of its kind since John F. Kennedy.

“We truly are elevating development to the highest levels of the United States government,” said Clinton, offering assurances that the U.S. has been acting on principles in the Obama directive.

On Tuesday, the cabinet members framed development as a conflict prevention tool that saves the lives of U.S. servicemembers, speaking to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a Washington advocacy group.

“Development contributes to stability, it contributes to better governments. And if you are able to do those things, and you are able to do them in a focused and sustainable way, then it may be unnecessary for us to send soldiers,” Gates said.

He and other defense leaders have long said a “whole of government” approach was needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling for more non-military help in stabilizing and rebuilding those countries, from judiciary and law enforcement trainers to border agents, health care workers and educators.

Gates said that after decades in which USAID replaced its cadre of staff experts to become a contracting agency, the U.S. now needed to field more of its own development workers, “for which it is a calling and a profession.”

In 2009, Gates floated having the U.S. military send its reservists who have equivalent development skills, such as agriculture workers, into war zones in plain clothes as a stop-gap measure. He has since dropped that suggestion.

“Let’s just say it’s not our core competency,” Gates said of the military.

Critics are pushing the administration to back up its rhetoric with comparable spending increases, and Gates and Clinton again carried that plea. “It is really easy for him to get his budget,” Clinton said of the defense secretary. “And it is really hard for me to get our budget.”

“The kind of message that you’re hearing this morning is starting to take hold and is starting to make a difference on Capitol Hill,” said Mark Green, former member of Congress and ambassador to Tanzania, at the conference earlier in the day.

At a San Francisco speech this summer, Gates said Congress was “part of the problem,” for shortchanging the necessary budget for U.S. goals in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, he went further, saying that despite spending hundreds of billions on the U.S. military in Iraq over many years, the administration has been unable to get Congress to provide the money for civilian agencies to finish out the job of leaving behind a stable Iraqi government.

“The Congress took a huge whack at the budget the State Department submitted,” Gates said. “It is one of these cases where, having invested an enormous amount of money, we are arguing over a tiny amount of money.”

Gates and Clinton have shared the stand many times, giving joint testimonies in Congress, and making two joint overseas trips to Mexico and the Korean peninsula, with a third to Australia coming next month. They have appeared together on every Sunday talk show twice, and last year the pair did a rare prime-time appearance on CNN.

Playing off of the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, a key strategy process and guidance for the Defense Department, Clinton tasked her department to undertake a first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR.

That document is supposed to inform and guide Congressional appropriators to fully fund the administration’s programs, but is now overdue. Clinton said the QDDR would be released within 30 to 60 days and she hopes it will help establish a development budget that creates a long-lasting political constituency in Washington that could resist partisan changeovers and tendencies to cut foreign aid.

“We are determined in this administration to put development on a firm footing, and leave it there,” Clinton said.

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