Foggy Bottom Review

The clock is ticking on the State Department's grand strategy review. Can John Kerry match his predecessor's record on the QDDR?

When he was a senator, he loved it so much that he thought it should be mandatory. But as secretary of state, will he be so sure?

I am referring, of course, to Secretary of State John Kerry and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR.

A bit of history is in order. The QDDR is the grand strategic review of how America conducts its diplomacy and development through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The QDDR mimics the congressionally-mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR, through which the Pentagon assesses its key strategies, programs, and resources every four years.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, eager to put the State Department on more equal footing with the Department of Defense, announced the first-ever QDDR in July 2009. Clinton, who had grown familiar with the QDR process as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argued that the QDDR would be the very epitome of "smart power," and would "help make our diplomacy and development work more agile, responsive, and complimentary."

Clinton recognized, as did many of her predecessors, that the architecture of America's diplomacy was more retro than modern, and the QDDR offered the promise of pushing through major reforms and presenting a policy vision without needing to get legislation approved.

But it also required a gestation period just shy of most elephants', taking 17 months to complete. During those 17 months, hardly a week went by when outsiders weren't told that the QDDR would be arriving "soon." As Josh Rogin noted in these same pages, the QDDR was first planned for release in March 2010 and then April 2010 and then September 2010, before it was finally released in December of that year. The actual QDDR report was a sprawling, but largely reasonable, document, and its findings would have generated an even warmer welcome if they had been delivered without such a lengthy wait. The Pentagon usually takes about half as much time to conducts its QDR, so the repeated delays gave the impression that the State Department had bit off more than it could chew.

Now, the speculation has begun as to whether or not Kerry will conduct the second-ever QDDR. Most think he probably will, but no official announcement has been made. For his part, Kerry almost has to lead a QDDR or else face an embarrassing climb down from his prior positions.

When Kerry was still in the Senate in 2012, he joined Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in introducing legislation that would have made the QDDR mandatory. Although the bill did not pass, it would be difficult for Kerry to explain why he insisted on a QDDR from Capitol Hill but resisted it from Foggy Bottom. Such evolutions do occur when officials move from one end of Constitution Ave. to the other, and views on issues like executive privilege and congressional consultation obviously change depending on where you sit. But killing the QDDR would be a particularly stark example nonetheless. Kerry may also feel pressure to complete a QDDR during his tenure because his predecessor did, and the secretary seems to feel a measure of rivalry with Clinton.

To live up to the "quadrennial" designation in its title, the next QDDR should be completed by around December 2014. (The Pentagon has largely adhered to the four year schedule, completing QDRs in 1997, 2001, 2006 and 2010.) But given that the original QDDR took 17 months to complete, Kerry will need to move soon if he hopes to keep the process roughly on track. The second QDDR should move more quickly than the first, but it will still take real time.

Moreover, Kerry will be conducting his review at a time when resources are tight. And although it doesn't take a lot of funding to carry out the QDDR, budget constraints can put a real crimp in grand strategies. The first QDDR called for adding 5,500 new foreign and civil service personnel, a suggestion that doesn't seem likely to fly in today's sequester-dampened budget environment.

So what should Kerry take on in the QDDR? Clinton stressed that the first QDDR was a bottom-up strategic review designed to provide both short-term and long-term blueprints that would guide strategy, resources, and personnel at both State and USAID. That standard is still a reasonable one.

But given the challenges presented by the Arab Spring and its aftermath, a number of key areas deserve particular attention. How, for example, has the United States, the longest and most vocal promoter (albeit an often uneven one) of democracy around the world come to be seen as the enemy of the average reform-minded person in the streets of Cairo? Is America's broken image in the region a function of badly managed public diplomacy or a direct result of years of misguided policy choices that have only selectively condemned autocracy?

Similarly, is it time to fundamentally rethink and review the State Department's role in directing security assistance around the globe? A look at the roughly $2 billion the United States has shelled out annually to Egypt since 1978 suggests it might be.

And in the wake of massive leaks by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning -- not to mention the death of Amb. Christopher Stevens in Libya -- it is clear that the United States has to bolster the physical and electronic security at U.S. installations around the globe. But the response can't just be more secrecy, more layers of classification, and higher embassy walls; U.S. diplomats are already too far removed from many of the societies in which they operate. The QDDR presents a perfect opportunity for a broad accounting of how the United States should balance risk and opportunity as it engages with the world.

Kerry's QDDR will need to look forward and envision the world as it will be in decades to come. As more and more urban centers outstrip entire countries in terms of population, how will the United States refocus its diplomacy on global megacities? How will it balance outreach between national officials and major players in local government?

The hard reality of dealing with climate change will also need to be front and center. House Republicans can still pretend that climate change doesn't exist, but the secretary of state doesn't have that luxury. How will the United States revamp its diplomatic and humanitarian relief operations to meet a world where increasingly severe weather resulting from climate change is spurring more volatile patterns of migration and potentially sparking political instability?

Kerry's advisers have been quick to make the case that the secretary sees himself in the model of notable predecessors at Foggy Bottom like George Marshall, James Baker and Henry Kissinger. Kerry may well see Middle East peace as potentially his grand diplomatic triumph, but getting the QDDR right is the kind of architectural triumph of foreign policy that has eluded most modern secretaries. The question is: will it elude Kerry?

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Egypt's Algerian Moment

Did Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi just set Cairo on the path to its own "black decade"?

Despite the roughly 1,000 miles of Libyan desert that lie between them, Algeria and Egypt have never seemed as close as they do now. When Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcibly removed President Mohamed Morsy from office in early July, a few far-sighted observers wondered if Egypt's military was about to repeat the tragic Algerian mistake that set off a decade of civil war in 1992. Events over the last week underscore the brutal similarities -- but it is far from clear that either tragedy was the result of mere miscalculation. Instead, then and now, the tragedies have been largely willed.

After a great spasm of popular revolts shook Algeria in 1988, the government -- controlled by the country's army and the socialist National Liberation Front (FLN) since independence in 1962 -- undertook a series of civil and political reforms. A new constitution in 1989 unshackled the press and political system, allowing Islamist as well as secular parties to speak freely and run for political office. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a motley collection of both moderate and militant Islamist movements, rode this wave of liberalization to victory in a series of municipal and provincial elections in 1990.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the generals found themselves at a crossroads: Given the surging strength of the FIS, should they proceed with national elections or simply deep-six the experiment in democracy? In the end, they did both. Despite deep misgivings on the part of the army and many secular parties, Algerians streamed to the urns in December 1991 for the first round of parliamentary elections. The results confirmed the strength of the FIS and left the army, the FLN, and most secular Algerians deflated. The Islamists won 188 of 231 seats, while the FLN was left with the electoral crumbs -- a mere 15 seats.

Just days before the second round of voting was scheduled to take place in mid-January, the military and its civilian intelligence appendages -- known as le pouvoir, power, or deep state -- forced the resignation of democratically elected President Chadli Benjedid, who had announced he was willing to work with an FIS-led government, and scrapped the elections. Le pouvoir, meanwhile, began to arrest those FIS leaders who had not already fled or gone underground. While the generals assured Algerians that they would return power to a civilian government as soon as stability was reestablished, their soldiers were constructing concentration camps for thousands of suspected Islamic militants in the Sahara. In effect, they practiced the very same counterinsurgency methods the French used against them during the bloody war of independence between 1954 and 1962 -- an irony not lost on historians.

Nonetheless, both inside and outside Algeria, many felt an uncomfortable sense of relief. Secular Algerians -- mostly urban, educated, and francophone -- worried that if the second round of voting took place in January, they would face the prospect of life under a regime that practiced what U.S. diplomat Edward Djerejian would fatefully term "one man, one vote, one time." The FIS, for its part, did little to dispel the seculars' fears; Ali Belhaj, leader of the FIS's radical wing, declared in 1992: "When we are in power, there will be no more elections because God will be ruling."

The extremity of Belhaj's words easily drowned out the conciliatory pronouncements made by more moderate FIS leaders -- like Abbasi Madani, who insisted that "pluralism is a guarantee of the cultural wealth and diversity needed for development" -- and set off alarm bells in Paris and Washington. While the French worried about the prospect of an Islamist government running the affairs of a country with which it had such complex historical and economic ties, Americans feared the implications that these changes would have for Israel's security and saw the Algerian military as more sympathetic to their regional ambitions. 

As a result, the international response was at least implicitly sympathetic to the Algerian military, with French President François Mitterrand going farther and supporting the coup outright. His prime minister, Alain Juppe, likewise cast it as a blow against terrorism. While the military's actions raised serious philosophical issues about democracy and its limitations, few thought this was the time or place to debate them -- all the more so as the first waves of bloodletting crested with a series of civilian massacres carried out by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a militant organization created by members of the FIS and staffed with legions of disaffected and unemployed youths.

In the wake of the subsequent assassination of President Mohamed Boudiaf -- perhaps ordered by the military, unhappy with the president's anti-corruption policy -- the generals declared a state of emergency and waged a merciless campaign to crush the Islamist opposition. The rest of the decade, during which more than 100,000 civilians were killed and countless others were maimed or raped, was consumed by civil war. Most historians have rightly been harsh on both sides, and many view the military's decision to crack down on the FIS as tragic blunder. Ray Takeyh, a former U.S. State Department official and current fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, described it as one "of the greatest miscalculations in modern Algerian history."

But these assessments beg crucial questions. Most obviously, as many observers are now wondering about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, what if the greater miscalculation belonged to the FIS? Put another way, what if scuttling the election was not a miscalculation on the part of le pouvoir, but a deliberate decision to invite open conflict in which it could eviscerate its Islamist opponents? Of course, the generals may well have been surprised by the radicalization and tenacity of the armed Islamist groups, and how the counterinsurgency would spill across the Mediterranean and into France. (The 1995 metro bombings in France and the attempted Air France hijacking in 1994 are the most memorable instances.) And perhaps they did not anticipate that the fever would not break for another 10 years, leaving scars that will long mark the Algerian nation.

But by means either Machiavellian or misbegotten, the Algerian generals succeeded in eliminating a credible Islamic interlocutor. By banning the FIS and pursuing moderate figures as relentlessly as extremist ones, they guaranteed the radicalization and fragmentation of political Islam in Algeria. As a result, by the end of the decade, the country's cagey new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was able to offer an amnesty to the remaining armed groups that effectively ended the civil war with the military on top.

During the so-called "black decade," Algeria's civil society, not the generals, paid the price for taking on the FIS militarily. Moreover, not only did the Algerian military's merciless tactics pummel the insurgency (and an untold number of innocents), but the army also succeeded in reinventing itself -- much like the French army had done during Algeria's war of independence. As the historian Luis Suarez has noted, the army both "modernized its tools of repression" and became the most important employer in Algeria. In an ironic turn of events, many of the unemployed youths who had voted for the FIS were now, in pursuit of paychecks, enlisting in the fight against them.

In the long run, le pouvoir emerged triumphant. On the verge of being neutralized by the FIS in 1992, they instead became and remain Algeria's most powerful institution. This, of course, brings us back to Egypt's situation. The historian James Le Sueur has suggested that Algeria's generals in 1992 had their eyes on Turkey as their model -- maintaining a secular state where the army's preeminence, power, and perquisites went unquestioned. Of course, 20 years later the Turkish model itself has dramatically changed. Is it possible, then, that the Egyptian generals are now focused on an Algerian model?

With the violent resurgence of the Egyptian deep state over the past month, the similarities are certainly striking. Following on the heels of the army's mass killing of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators last week in Cairo, 37 pro-Morsy prisoners were reportedly killed while in the custody of security forces, while another 25 police officers were murdered by Islamist fighters in the Sinai. Other, perhaps more telling, parallels involve the Egyptian military's detention of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood officials in secret locations; its insistence, now parroted by the Egyptian media, that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization; the imposition of a state of emergency; and the evaporation of a political center where both sides could conceivably meet.

The most dismal similarity is that both the Algerian and Egyptian generals declared that, rather than executing a coup against democracy, they were defending democracy against Islamic fanatics attempting to hijack the political process. Two decades later in Algeria, democracy remains elusive, and army and intelligence chiefs still play a powerful role in government. But the fact that the seismic events of the Arab Spring barely touched Algeria suggests that the army succeeded in its principal goal: defending its own interests against an independent Islamist political force.  

The ambitions of Sisi and the Egyptian deep state may be no different, and their hardline attitude is certainly similar to that of the Algerian generals. During the 1990s, le pouvoir was divided between two camps: the conciliateurs and the eradicateurs. Whereas the former sought a political answer to the civil war, the latter insisted on a military solution. In the end, the eradicateurs carried the day, and it was only after a decade of civil war that the conciliateurs were allowed to play a productive role in working with what was left of the Islamist opposition. In Egypt, it is clear that the eradicateurs have also won the first round against the conciliateurs. If they continue to shape the state's response to the current crisis, Egypt may well be headed for its own black decade.