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The Trouble With Clinton’s State Department Report Card

U.S. News & World Report

Among the U.S. State Department’s perennial challenges is to live down the hackneyed sobriquet of “striped-pants cookie-pushers,” with its implied weakness, elitism and ineffectual foppery. Another is to overcome what it sees as its perennial under-funding.

Trying to kill two birds with one stone, the department has for some years styled itself as the nation’s first line of defense, an indispensable contributor to our national security. Its less-than $30 billion budget, dwarfed by U.S. defense and intelligence expenditures, looks like a national security bargain. And so it is.

But since talk is cheap, to bolster its case, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton innovated the State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) – a direct lift from the 1997 Defense Authorization Act’s mandate for a Quadrennial Defense Review. Hillary’s QDDR called forth a whole raft of monitoring and evaluation initiatives “for evidence-based decision-making.”

The aim is clear: simultaneously improve the State Department’s internal management while bolstering its case for adequate resources through a quantitative demonstration of effectiveness. And so, now, to implement this “QDDR mandate,” beltway contractors are queuing up to devise these evaluation schemes and then apply them to the State Department’s and USAID’s (the U.S. Agency for International Development’s) programs.

This is all so self-evidently sensible and managerial. How could anyone object?

Well, first, this is just the kind of thing that’s instantly attractive to spendthrift Democrats whenever they drift into a thoughtful, reflective moment. It’s a “two-fer”: It enables them to posture as eagle-eyed stewards of taxpayer money while equipping themselves with data and statistics to spend even more of it. But more than that, Hillary’s seemingly unobjectionable initiative – assuming it’s really implemented in a serious, not a haphazard, fashion – could end up further dumbing down American diplomacy.

How? Unlike the military programs from which the QDDR is copied, diplomacy involves many intangibles – combinations of private communication and public rhetoric; maneuvers with friends and allies, neutrals and others, bilaterally and in multi-lateral organizations; blandishments of different inducements and expressed or implied consequences – all sequenced strategically and tactically in time.

It’s not quite as straight-forward as determining whether a new tank procurement is on schedule, on budget, and meeting its performance targets, or whether a new aircraft design can achieve its maximum operating ceiling, turn rate, or payload capacity.

A lot has to do with time – specifically when the evaluative judgments and assessments are made. Take, for instance, President Reagan’s bold arms control approach with the Soviet Union. Assessed in, say, the election year of 1984 – when the Soviets had walked out of the Geneva Strategic Arms Reduction Talks for over a year due to Reagan’s intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) deployments to Europe and his Strategic Defense Initiative, and when talks on an INF agreement to ban all such U.S. and Russian weapons were similarly on ice – Reagan’s arms control diplomacy looked to many like a failure.

But fast-forward to 1987 – the year after the spectacular collapse of Reagan’s and Gorbachev’s Reykjavik Summit – when Reagan signed an INF weapons ban with Gorbachev in Washington. Then Reagan’s tough stance looked pretty smart. Fast-forward another few years, to Moscow in July, 1991 where George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev signed a START I nuclear arms treaty embodying the dramatic reductions, throw-weight and multiple-warhead limitations that Reagan demanded, and Reagan’s policy looked inspired. Fast-forward less than six more months more, to Christmas of 1991 and the dissolution of the USSR, and Reagan’s policies looked like genius.

Or consider the Clinton Administration’s years-long, torturous military-intervention-cum-diplomacy in former Yugoslavia that finally put an end to Serbian atrocities and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Take a snap-shot at any point up to the conclusion of the Dayton Peace Accords and you’d probably have, at best, a qualified, if not a negative or doubtful, verdict. Put that snapshot in the hands of partisan detractors and you’d have headlines – as unhelpful abroad diplomatically as they will be at home politically.

Of course, if you’re not attempting something as bold and gutsy as staring down the Soviet Union over nuclear arms reduction during a Cold War or facing down a genocidal, nationalistic thug like Slobodan Milosevic, maybe getting your bureaucracy to write you a diplomatic report-card that rewards things like “leading from behind” and “preserving the relationship” – and likely penalizes risky, high-stakes measures against today’s thugs, like Kim Jung Un or Bashir Assad – well, that might look good all the way around, politically and budgetarily.

The trouble is that someday we may have a president with a larger, longer-range strategy and the ambition and capacity for strong international leadership. It would be too bad if Hillary’s little diplomacy report-card idea turned out then to be a stumbling block.

Will Hillary Clinton Ever Pay for Her Benghazi Blunder?

U.S. News & World Report

Who would have thought that the most frequently quoted person at a weekend-long leadership retreat of a venerable conservative intellectual society would have been Hillary Rodham Clinton?  How could it be that, one after another, these pillars of the conservative movement—people who, in an earlier time, Hillary dismissed as “a vast right-wing conspiracy”—would be citing her rhetoric?

It wasn’t her credentials as a former “Goldwater girl” who came to town to take her first job with Ed Feulner, the soon-to-retire president of the Heritage Foundation, in one of his early Washington roles that made her top-of-mind for this assembly.  It was something she said more recently—last month, in fact—that everyone found so memorable.

“What difference at this point does it make?!”  That was the Hillary Clinton quote on everyone’s lips this past weekend in Annapolis. Hillary’s remark from her appearance the week before last before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, trying to explain and justify the Benghazi tragedy, wasn’t being cited admiringly.  Nor was it being used as a sign—or sigh—of despair about the political and social trends that cause conservatives to agonize so these days.

No one was copying Hillary. They were mocking Hillary. For those attending, her remark was the apotheosis of self-serving cynicism and irresponsibility. (In other words, precisely what you’d expect of a Clinton about to check out from long service in the Obama administration.)

From her performance before the Foreign Relations Committee senators, it’s not obvious whether Hillary’s memorable moment was coached in advance during prep work with her staff or something that came spontaneously—like that supposed demonstration in Benghazi! What is clear is that it was intended to be the sort of climactic “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” moment that attorney Joseph Welch used to effectively shut down Sen. Joseph McCarthy almost 60 years ago—a sharp rebuff that puts the “inquisitors” on the defensive and deflects the “inquisition.”

The trouble is: The answer to Sen. Ron. Johnson’s question about the true origin and nature of the Benghazi attack really does matter.

It matters for security planning.  No one can reliably predict when some Internet posting or cartoon contest will so enrage some public somewhere—most likely in the Islamic world—as to start a riot that can overwhelm an isolated U.S. consular outpost—or even an embassy in a less-than-cooperative capital.  If that’s the problem, achieving actionable warning and ensuring “adequate” security in outposts like our leased Benghazi facilities would be almost impossible. But if the challenge is the threat of deliberate and organized terrorist attack—also tough to detect in advance and prepare for, especially in places like Benghazi—you nevertheless plan and prepare for it differently. And correctly diagnosing the security challenge up front is key to formulating the right security posture. No competent manager could miss this.

It also matters for pubic credibility. Benghazi played out in the midst of a presidential election campaign. An administration that had consciously minimized the George W. Bush’s global War on Terror and portrayed the terrorism threat, post-bin Laden, as substantially defeated, now had four dead bodies on its hands—one an American ambassador, the first such humiliating loss since 1979, under Jimmy Carter. We probably shouldn’t be flabbergasted, under the circumstances, that Obama’s administration had trouble getting its story straight.  But Susan Rice’s famous appearances on the Sunday talk shows five days later and President Obama’s United Nations address two weeks later, still sticking to the “spontaneous demonstration” narrative, look like dishonesty and dissembling.  Since Hillary earned her spurs in the Watergate investigations, you might have thought that she’d attach some importance to telling the truth—to the American public and to the rest of the government.

But Hillary has also adopted the posture of the “stand-up” leader in the Benghazi debacle, claiming, “As I have said many times, I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right.” But nowadays, in the consequence-free society we seem to now inhabit (on which I’ve remarked previously in U.S. News), Hillary’s (or any other Washington official’s) claim to take responsibility sounds a lot like comedian Rich Little’s old Watergate satire of Richard Nixon.  In it, Little’s Nixon character explains, “I am responsible. But I am not to blame. What, you may ask, is the difference? People who are to blame go to jail.” Or, in the case of Cabinet members, at least resign—on the spot, not months later, on their own personal political schedule. What’s the consequence for Hillary? None. She left the State Department in her own sweet time and under her own steam, lionized by the mainstream media and with accolades even from some of the Republican senators grilling her about Benghazi.

Will any of this evasion be remembered as 2016 rolls around? I doubt it. This sad spectacle of shrugging off responsibility while pretending to embrace it is likely to be buried as deeply in the mists of memory as those Rose Law Firm records Hillary couldn’t find for so many years. After all, she’s become Saint Hillary.

The Dangers of Obama’s Nuclear Disarmament Promise

The Obama Administration is reportedly studying further, drastic reductions in U.S. nuclear forces — unilaterally or negotiated with Russia — later this year, possibly down to a few hundred operationally deployed nuclear weapons.  Would the U.S. remain a super-power, defending and deterring attacks on our allies worldwide, with a nuclear arsenal the size of Pakistan’s?  Wouldn’t it be ironic — not to mention dangerous — if U.S. reductions intended to point the way to Obama’s goal of a nuclear-free world ended up encouraging wider nuclear proliferation, a build-up of rogue nation nuclear capabilities, and a heightened risk of nuclear conflict?

To read the rest of Mr. Hughes’s article, see his U.S.News.com post here.

A Reckless Gamble

Did you know that the United States is the only nuclear power in the world that lacks the ability to make new nuclear weapons?  This means that as the Obama Administration contemplates further deep—and unilateral reductions—in the US nuclear arsenal, we will have no ability to rebuild our forces if world conditions worsen.

In this piece, Mark Davis and Philip Hughes draw on their White House experience to suggest a “pause and plateau”–a pause in nuclear negotiations, and a plateau at current agreed-upon force levels for five years.

To read the full article in The Hill, please click here.

Cuba Is Reforming, But Not Nearly Enough

After a week of visiting Cuba in early February with a group of former U.S. Ambassadors, I was both impressed — and appalled.  Change is definitely under way in Cuba — with small businesses being allowed to start up in a few sectors of the economy and people are allowed to buy and sell home and autos for the first time in 53 years.  But over half a century of ‘revolution’ have left the country a physical wreck.  Even its vaunted health care system proved remarkably hollow on closer inspection.  And the living conditions of Cubans aren’t visibly different from, and in significant ways appear poorer than, their neighbors in the poorest Caribbean islands — except that, unlike their Caribbean neighbors, Cubans are not at all free.  The irony is: Cuba is changing — economically — precisely to avoid and forestall changing politically.  But that’s precisely the change the Cuba needs: a management change at the top, to relieve the country of the crew that’s been running the show for over half a century.

You can read more in my column at US News and World Report, here.

The Nuclear Pause

Two White House Writers, G. Philip Hughes and Mark Davis, in a groundbreaking piece express concern about continuing reductions in U.S. nuclear forces in a world in which China and Russia are rapidly modernizing their forces, and proliferation is increasing. This is a special concern, since the United States is the only nuclear power in the world that has relinquished its ability to serially manufacture new nuclear weapons.  Hence, their call for a “Nuclear Pause” on new reductions agreements, and a “Plateau” in overall force levels.

 

 

Dealing with Defense Contraction

As the DoD budget declines, contractors are going to have to look beyond what they are now hearing from the customer (the Pentagon, the military services and Congress) and think hard about what their customers will likely need in the near future.  In this Defense News piece, WHWG’s Philip Hughes and Mark Davis look to the challenge contractors face.

Cryptic Ads Confuse DC Commuters

Despite calls for drastic spending-cuts, government contractors are advertising at record levels.  In fact, DC’s local WTOP-FM, which targets government managers, reports an increase in government contractor advertising by as much as 15 percent this year.

There’s one problem though: no one can understand the ads.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal this week, an increase in competition has led like Northrop Grumman and Quinetic North America to expand their marketing efforts in a way that has touched the broader public.

The “wooing” of government procurement officers used to be “conducted mainly in private.” But as the advertising has become more widespread, many Washington-area residents are utterly confused by cryptic ads plastered across metro cars and local buses.

The ads talk in governmentese, using “mysterious acronyms” the WSJ says gives “the ads the flavor of coded Cold War era shortwave radio broadcasts: ISR, F136, IPV6 and ICD-10.” And it seems the more obscure the ad the better. Take one for instance, that simply reads: “THOSE WITH A NEED TO KNOW, KNOW.”

But it may be that these enigmatic ads are a bit too unintelligible: even procurement officers claim they often can’t understand them.

According to the article, Northrop Grumman ran an ad in a metro stop picturing a “bombed-out city neighborhood,” followed with the text, ‘By the time you’ve identified the threat, we’ve already taken it out of the picture.’ In the lower, right-hand corner, a single clue: ISR.”

A lengthy online conversation ensued in which viewers revealed they “still don’t even get what they mean.”

Read the full article here.

 

C4ISR: A “Growth Stock”

As pressure on Discretionary Federal spending – the largest chunk of which resides in the Defense budget – mounts under the impact of recession-related deficits, wartime spending, and the Obama Administration’s ambitious social spending agendas, DoD planners are looking for ways to get more combat capability out of the military services’ existing weapons inventories.  One answer, likely to come in for enhanced DoD spending even in a challenging budget environment, is the entire field of C4ISR. Read