The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)

Concepts Are Not Enough

There are times to be polite about a dismal bureaucratic failure. Wartime is not one of them. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) has many useful ideas but it fails to address the legacy of nearly a decade of failure on the part of the State Department, USAID, and the civil departments of the US government to come to grips with the need to provide effective civilian partners in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A new report from the Burke chair reviews the strengths and weaknesses of the QDDR in detail, and can be found at:

The QDDR does not address the failures in the top leadership of USAID and State that left the US military without effective civilian partners for much of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.  Nor does it discuss that aid programs: emphasized spending without fiscal controls regardless of effectiveness; failed to effectively coordinate the civil side of the US country team in either war; and proved unable to support the US military with solid, real world civil inputs to a joint campaign plan. It grossly understates or ignores the lack of contracting skills and controls, and the fact that both State and USAID are still floundering in seeking meaningful metrics and reporting on their efforts in both wars after nearly a decade of experience.

The QDDR ignores years of reporting on these problems by the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR), and recent reporting by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). It equally ignores a wide range of reporting by the GAO and various departmental inspector generals, and years of reporting by Congressional Staffs. 

The QDDR should have been a frank and critical effort that examined case studies in the failure to plan for effective civil and stability operations before each war, to execute effective civil operations during the initial invasions, and to develop and improve programs in the years that followed.  Instead it fails to address problems that have denied the military the civil partners they need to effectively support both wars

More broadly, there is no meaningful analysis of of the overall US aid effort over the past decades, or effort to to examine where money has gone, and the effectiveness of such spending in other countries. The differences between the quality of emergency relief  and conventional aid are not addressed in meaningful form. The extent to which the flow of US aid now goes to Egypt, Israel, and other nations with minimal US planning is not addressed. The need to create a more functional relationship between the State Department, USAID, the US military, and the US intelligence community is not analyzed in either crisis area or where more conventional partnerships with host countries need to be improved. Instead, there are long laundry lists of recommendations that are not prioritized, defined in enough detail to be credible or justified.

Most importantly, the QQDR does not provide an action plan that responds to the urgent needs to support  ongoing conflict and the need to form civil-military strategic partnerships except by assuming that problems can be solved by boosting the role of USAID and more coordination and planning on a top-down level. There are many items on the QDDR laundry lists that may eventually prove useful, but the QDDR is a Washington-centric “study” at a time when war and a major budget crisis created a need for a clear and effective plan for immediate action.

Far too much of the 19 page QDDR  Executive Summary is little more than a collection of buzzwords like “civilian power,” “21st Century challenges,” etc.. Its recommendations are little more than a morass of new organizational initiatives (and growth) within the State Department, conceptual slogans, and self-seeking politically correct rhetoric.

To the extent that the Executive Summary does make recommendations for action, they look like a compendium of slogans and maxims from business schools and textbooks on public administration. In practice, they amount to little more than another vacuous government report calling for clearer lines of responsibility and leadership, more coordination, better strategy, better people, and better planning and management – recommendations that are unquestionably valid in broad terms and meaningless in dealing with urgent, real-world needs in the field.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy