Daniel W. Drezner

Can Foggy Bottom reverse the feedback loop?

FP‘s Josh Rogin ably summarizes the State Department’s rollout of the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), an exercise that was clearly inspired by the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review. This was Anne-Marie Slaughter’s signal achievement during her tenure as Director of Policy Planning,* which leads to the obvious question of whether it really matters. ...

FP‘s Josh Rogin ably summarizes the State Department’s rollout of the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), an exercise that was clearly inspired by the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review. This was Anne-Marie Slaughter’s signal achievement during her tenure as Director of Policy Planning,* which leads to the obvious question of whether it really matters.

The QDDR is dedicated to Rickard Holbrooke, who passed away earlier this week. In a revealing Financial Times article, Brain Katulis of the Center for American Progress makes a particularly telling point about the arc of Holbrooke’s career:

"If you compare Holbrooke’s tenure in his job as representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he was able to do in the 1990s on Bosnia, you really see that the balance of power in the interim had shifted from the state department to the Pentagon," said Brian Katulis at the Centre for American Progress in Washington.

Katulis hits upon a theme that has been a source of concern here at this blog for a good long while. For at least a decade, there’s been a vicious feedback loop: State loses operational authority and capabilities because of poor funding, which leads to more tasks for Defense, which leads to even more lopsided funding between the two bureaucracies, which leads to an even greater disparity in responsibilities, and so forth.

Will the QDDR change that? That’s sorta the point of the whole exercise — the phrase "civilian power" appears 281 times in the QDDR. I’m dubious — the only way this works is through greater staffing and greater funding for U.S. foreign aid, and in this Age of Austerity, the first things that get cut are…. diplomats and foreign aid funding.

I’d love to see Hillary Clinton make the case to Congress than an extra $50 billion for State would improve American foreign policy enough to cut, say, $100 billion for DoD. I’d love a free pony too, for all the likelihood that this will happen.

I’m not the only one who’s dubious. The Christian Science Monitor‘s Howard LaFranchi ends his story on the QDDR as follows:

[E]xperts, as well as some military officials, have pointed out that the concept of "civilian power" sounds good, but that the US diplomatic corps is not prepared and doesn’t have the numbers to take over many tasks from the military.

Clinton acknowledges that the shift in priorities and organization is "a work in progress," but she also emphasizes that someone will be designated at both the State Department and at USAID to oversee implementation. "I am determined that this report will not merely gather dust, like so many others," she said. And she wants Congress to approve making the QDDR a regular and required State Department policy-review process.

Slaughter echoed those words in a humorous sum-up with reporters. "I’m pretty sure you’re thinking, ‘I’ve heard this before,’ " she said – a big plan to change the way a government agency works. "But this is different."

The big difference, she insisted, is that Clinton has given the reorganization top priority: "She knows … we can’t afford to continue working in the way we have been."

Reading the QDDR, it’s clear that there’s a hope that Foggy Bottom will scrape together more resources through wringing greater efficiencies out of the current budget. This is certainly possible — no one is going to label the State Department a lean, mean fighting bureaucratic machine — but color me skeptical that there’s all that much savings of "government waste" in them thar hills.

To be fair, however, one report is not going to change a dynamic that’s been building for more than a decade. It’s only a first step. Still first steps are better than no steps. We’ll see if this remains Clinton’s top priority.

*I have no inside knowledge about this, but am simply assuming that Slaughter will be returning to her academic haunts after the standard two-year leave has expired — in other words, in early 2011.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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