Clinton Orders Review to Enhance ‘Smart Power’

In a new initiative designed to reduce the imbalance between "hard" and "soft" power in U.S. policies abroad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has launched a planning process designed to better coordinate U.S. foreign and development policies in pursuit of what Clinton has called "smart power."

Speaking at "town-hall meetings" at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Friday and Monday, respectively, Clinton said her "Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review," or QDDR, will be a "bottom-up strategic review" that would offer "a comprehensive assessment for organizational reform and improvements to our policy, strategy, and planning processes."

The process will be modeled on the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a comprehensive assessment completed every four years that helps establish Washington’s global military strategy over the medium to long term and the steps needed to implement it.

"Our goal is to use this process to guide us to agile, responsive, and effective institutions of diplomacy and development, including how to transition from approaches no longer commensurate with current challenges," she said Friday. "It will offer guidance on how we allocate our resources; how we deploy our staff; and how we exercise our authorities."

The new initiative comes as Congress is on the verge of approving a nearly $50 billion foreign aid and international operations bill designed in part to provide a major boost for Washington’s so-called "soft power" overseas both by increasing the size of the foreign service and the number of development specialists employed by USAID and its companion organization, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

Since the end of the Cold War, both the State Department and USAID have been relatively starved for resources, with the result that the gap in spending and other resources between the Pentagon, on the one hand, and the two civilian agencies, on the other, has grown ever-wider; for every dollar devoted to diplomacy and development this year, for example, $18 have gone to the military.

Indeed, even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Adm. Mike Mullen, have complained repeatedly over the past two years that the military has been forced to take on functions, such as basic development work and emergency humanitarian relief, that have historically been handled by the civilian agencies due to the lack of available civilian personnel and expertise.

In announcing the new initiative Clinton herself said the QDDR would hopefully give State and USAID firmer footing for advancing their interests in Congress, which holds the government’s purse-strings, as the QDR has done for the Defense Department. State-USAID cooperation, she added, constitutes "a crucial element of exercising smart power."

The move was welcomed by groups that, like Gates and Mullen, have long complained that the civilian agencies in U.S. foreign policy have gotten far too few resources and attention compared to the military.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), which includes among its advisory boards dozens of retired generals, as well as another 10 former secretaries of state, Pentagon chiefs, and national security advisers, praised the initiative as "an important step toward elevating and strengthening the civilian-led tools of diplomacy and development."

"The QDDR, along with President Obama’s [fiscal year 2010] International Affairs Budget request, demonstrate the administration’s commitment to a smart power foreign policy approach to address the global challenges of the 21st century," whose board of directors consists of a who’s who among both defense contractors and development agencies.

The initiative will be chaired by the undersecretary of state for management, Jack Lew; the director of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning, Anne-Marie Slaughter; and the yet-to-be-nominated administrator of USAID.

According to reports, the likely nominee, Harvard anthropologist and global health specialist Paul Farmer, is still undergoing a lengthy vetting process that has exasperated Clinton and much of the development community. Clinton herself complained Friday the six-month delay in the formal nomination was "frustrating beyond words," "a nightmare," and "ridiculous."

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a group of non-governmental development agencies, also praised the initiative which it said provided "further evidence that [Clinton] is more committed to development than any secretary of state in history."

At the same time, the group called for the QDDR process to include "input from a broad range of relevant stakeholders," both in and outside the government, as well as other bilateral and multilateral donors and aid recipients. It also urged that the next USAID director be given a seat on the National Security Council "from which to help align the findings of the QDDR with U.S. foreign policy."

That was echoed by Sheila Herrling of the Center for Global Development (CGD), an influential think-tank, who cautioned that isolating diplomacy and development from other aspects of U.S. foreign policy, including defense, risked weakening the QDDR’s impact.

"In order to truly make our diplomatic and development efforts more effective, they cannot be treated in isolation from the rest of our U.S. government policies and programs," she wrote on her CGD blog. "There needs to be much greater coordination and coherence between our diplomatic and development activities and that of defense, trade, and investments in multilateral institutions to ensure that what we give with one hand we don’t take away with the other."

Some analysts expressed concern that tying diplomacy and development so closely in the planning process could actually work to further subordinate USAID and the MCC to Washington’s diplomatic goals, its national security interests, or even the State Department’s bureaucratic culture, as one Republican foreign affairs staffer complained in response to Herrling’s blogpost.

Clinton tried to reassure one questioner about development’s status in the way the Obama administration will try to balance the various interests, insisting that, "Development stands on its own pillar of our foreign policy, as do diplomacy and defense And at their best, they reinforce each other."

When asked Friday if the new State-USAID collaboration "blurs the line" between U.S. humanitarian and diplomatic objectives, Slaughter answered, "to the extent that [humanitarian assistance] is a foreign policy objective," the QDDR "is not going to subordinate it to something else, and it’s certainly not going to interfere with our ability to supply it."

But others were more skeptical, noting that U.S. foreign aid goes mainly to countries and conflicts that are of strategic interest to Washington, and that was unlikely to change. The list of top aid recipients in the proposed 2010 foreign assistance bill includes Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, and Iraq.

"In practice, we’ve placed development dollars and expended most diplomatic efforts in areas where we are concerned about terrorism, insurgency, and challenges to our access to vital resources," noted John Feffer, a foreign policy analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies. "It remains unclear to me the degree to which development and diplomacy will remain subordinate to our national security interests, as they have been traditionally defined, as a result of this initiative."

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.