Review Day

Drum roll, please… the day of the Afghanistan strategy review has finally arrived. As anticipated, the report says that U.S. forces can begin drawing down in Afghanistan starting in July, though the number of forces that can leave is still vague. Citing headway made against insurgents as a positive, the review notes that the progress thus far is fragile and can easily disappear unless it is consolidated by, for example, going after militants in Pakistan. An unclassified summary was released today, and President Obama, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is expected to present the strategy review today.

But the Afghan report isn’t the only review on the radar. Yesterday, Secretary Clinton described a series of reforms she’d like to make to the State Department and USAID following an assessment of the agencies—the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (or QDDR). Of course that brings the QDR—the Quadrennial Defense Review—to mind, and Clinton is in fact seeking to elevate diplomacy and development to the level of defense activities. The list of changes, some of which echo Secretary Gates’s suggestions for the Pentagon, include beefing up cooperation between agencies, decreasing the use of contractors and making efficiency improvements in light of tight finances. As Clinton said, “We have tried to minimize costs and maximize impacts, avoiding overlap and duplication, and focus on delivering results.” The goal is to use diplomacy and development to advance national-security interests. As Gates for one has advocated in the past, civilians can be put to good use in the areas of infrastructure building and humanitarian assistance—the development work the military isn’t all that well suited for but has been doing of late.

All went according to plan at the UN Security Council yesterday. At the session, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, delegates voted to lift Saddam-era sanctions on Iraq. Also yesterday, Biden went to New York to visit the family of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who is in the hospital recovering from surgery.

Defense Secretary Gates is trying to push Congress into action. He wants the body to pass a spending bill, including $158 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before the holidays. Also on the Hill, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee wants General David Petraeus, commander of forces in Afghanistan, to speak directly to the committee about the situation on the ground.

And Larry Summers, the director of the National Economic Council, is expected to remain in office until the end of the year, at President Obama’s request. Summers announced in September that he would be leaving the position.