Foreign Policy Blogs

2010: Year in Review

Here are a few items worth reviewing from 2010 and some things to keep an eye on in 2011.

Notable Events in 2010:


  • Release of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR): This is the long-awaited (14 months) road map for reform of the State Department and USAID – what they do, how they do it and who is doing it.  The real impact of this document remains to be seen in 2011 as its recommendations are implemented, or not.  As with any major reform agenda, the devil is in the details. But the broad outline of recommendations is impressive, as Stephen Johnson of FP notes:

Still, as a guide to intended reforms, the QDDR seems ambitious. It would expand functional areas by adding new under secretaries for economic and security matters, make international communications a core competency, and strengthen links between diplomacy and development assistance by consolidating the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) into a department that would have more of a programmatic orientation. Under a new lead-agency concept, USAID would focus on food and health issues, while State would manage democracy promotion and stability operations. It would make antiquated State and USAID personnel systems more responsive to mission needs. And, it contemplates a goal-driven planning process to improve policy planning and crisis coordination.

The QDDR also recommends using smaller contracts, expanding the workforce at State and USAID, focusing on high-impact initiatives (supported by rigorous evaluation), better coordination between State and USAID and elevating conflict response/prevention to a core mission.  As relates to democracy promotion, the QDDR calls for:

  • Establishing an Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights tasked with creating “the political space necessary for democracy to flourish.”
  • Creating a position of Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies.
  • Launching at USAID – which was the world’s first development agency to establish democracy, human rights, and governance as a core development objective – a Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.

This all constitutes major shifts – structural, staffing and cultural – and we can only hope that the lessons of USIA’s absorption into State will be heeded.  But this has the potential to change some major elements of how the US engages the rest of the world.  Key questions that remain include how reform efforts will be affected by the US federal deficit and how the role of contractors will be affected by the QDDR.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton- Image Credit: Foreign Policy

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton- Image Credit: Foreign Policy

Wedel focuses on two things: the outsourcing of government, and the capture by private interests of information and debate. She writes with passion about the risks of allocating previously public tasks (from designing weapons to running prisons or disbursing foreign aid) to corporations that are formally private, albeit sometimes very well connected with officialdom. As she argues, the conservative ideal of lean government, pared of unnecessary red tape, very easily slides over into government by contractor: the handing out of very sensitive jobs to operators who are relatively free from public scrutiny. After a certain point, contractors who deliver services to the government actually become the government. As a result, administration is not small, but rather comparable to an iceberg: a giant object of which the greater part is invisible. Demarcation problems are especially acute, Wedel believes, when big contractors have the task of choosing and overseeing smaller ones. Things also get fuzzy when contractors are installed deep inside government departments to form mixed teams. Sometimes the same individual can be classed as a regular government worker for some purposes and a contractor for others. Questions about who is accountable to whom for the use of public funds become impossible to answer.

Her book was followed up by a series of articles on, also called Shadow Elite. One post in particular, Selling Out Uncle Sam & Outsourcing American Power, is a reminder of what is lost when essential government functions are contracted out to private interests.

When information that is supposedly of and for government is in private hands, it is not just that government often isn’t kept in the loop. The information, and the power that goes with it, can be used to serve private agendas with the risk of corporate and private players influencing policy to suit those agendas. This is far more insidious than simply hiring a contractor to provide food service or even contracting security assistance in a war-zone like Iraq. Contractors are now routinely carrying out what’s known as “inherently governmental functions,” the work so fundamental to the public interest that only federal workers should conduct. The privatization of information is especially dangerous when these core functions are outsourced.

This point about information can be expanded into other areas of government function that have been outsourced.  The State Department is not immune to this outsourcing and USAID is enormously dependent on contractors.  In 2011 the implementation of the QDDR is going to collide with the vested interests of contractors.

  • Appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to Syria: In this last week of 2010 President Obama appointed Robert Ford to be the first ambassador to Syria since 2005.  The was a recess appointment bypassing Senate confirmation.   The appointment is noteworthy for U.S.-Syrian relations, of course, but also makes the broader point that having an ambassador representing U.S. interests in a country does not constitute blanket approval of that county’s policies.

Person of the Year:  Maggie Doyne, D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Entrepreneur.  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Timeshighlighted her in a column this year and her story caught my attention and I also had a brief post on it.  But her work deserves much more attention. Honorable Mention: Senator Richard Lugar for crafting a bipartisan compromise on the U.S. Senate ratification of the START Treaty.

Maggie Doyne, D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Entrepreneur: Image Credit - Aristide Economopoulous

Maggie Doyne, D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Entrepreneur: Image Credit – Aristide Economopoulous

What to Watch in 2011:

  • As noted above, how will the QDDR be implemented?  What vested interests will resist major structural changes?
  • How will the U.S. respond to the worsening situation in Zimbabwe (does anyone remember that Robert Mugabe is still there?) and the dangerous political game of chicken in Ivory Coast?  The U.S. has precious few levers available but both situations have the potential to go from bad to worse very quickly.
  • Presidential elections in Egypt are scheduled to take place in September. Who runs?  Who wins?  Will anything change?  No matter what the answers to those questions are they will pose a challenge to U.S. policy toward Egypt.
  • Sudan’s existential election takes place next month. Will there be a new country in southern Sudan?  Will there be a war either way?  Contractors are already staffing up to to work there so look for a massive transfer of the permanent development industry from Afghanistan and Iraq to Sudan.



James Ketterer

James Ketterer is Dean of International Studies at Bard College and Director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program. He previously served as Egypt Country Director for AMIDEAST, based in Cairo and before that as Vice Chancellor for Policy & Planning and Deputy Provost at the State University of New York (SUNY). In 2007-2008 he served on the staff of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education. He previously served as Director of the SUNY Center for International Development.

Ketterer has extensive experience in technical assistance for democratization projects, international education, legislative development, elections, and policy analysis – with a focus on Africa and the Middle East. He has won and overseen projects funded by USAID, the Department for International Development (UK), the World Bank and the US State Department. He served on the National Security Council staff at the White House, as a policy analyst at the New York State Senate, a project officer with the Center for Legislative Development at the University at Albany, and as an international election specialist for the United Nations, the African-American Institute, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has also held teaching positions in international politics at the New School for Social Research, Bard College, State University of New York at New Paltz, the University at Albany, Russell Sage College, and the College of Saint Rose.

Ketterer has lectured and written extensively on various issues for publications including the Washington Post, Middle East Report, the Washington Times, the Albany Times Union, and the Journal of Legislative Studies. He was a Boren National Security Educational Program Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and in Morocco, an International Graduate Rotary Scholar at the Bourguiba School of Languages in Tunisia, and studied Arabic at the King Fahd Advanced School of Translation in Morocco. He received his education at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and Fordham University.

Areas of focus: Public Diplomacy; Middle East; Africa; US Foreign Policy

Contributor to: Global Engagement