The report is broadly critical of the QDR, which puts Nagl in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the work of his colleagues while not being too rough on the woman who founded the think tank where he's now president, former CNAS pooh-bah and current Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy. This is even harder than eating soup with a knife!
Who else thinks that saying you're "unable" to do something that's required by law is a tolerable excuse? I mean, seriously, that's your excuse? They were unable to do what Congress has mandated they do because there was some other stuff going on? Can you imagine trying that one at work (or on the IRS)?
Nagl ... told The Cable in an interview that his panel's report doesn't necessarily contradict Flournoy's document.
"The QDR was a very good product and did a good job of focusing on the wars we're in, but was unable to focus on the far out, which is was congressionally mandated to do. Plus the panel could look at things that were outside the Department of Defense," he said. "We also have the luxury of thinking deeper and seeing some troubling trends."
Ok, so the panel had some luxuries, like not fighting a war at the same time as trying to accomplish its goal. (The Defense Department also has something like a squillion more people to devote to the task than the QDR Independent Panel, but whatever.) And I know how hard it is to develop a massive document like this, especially one that's consensus-built. But there is really no excuse for failing to do what's directed.
Oh, wait. Yes there is.
One of the problems with the QDR was that it came out before President Obama's National Security Strategy and therefore couldn't be properly aligned with the overall vision, Nagl said. "The entire process is not as tightly organized as we would like to see it and it doesn't cascade down from the top as we'd like it to."Yeah. That is a problem.
As I've told you before, the way we formulate national strategy is all kinds of effed up right now. The QDR should really be informed by a National Military Strategy that's nested within a National Defense Strategy that's nested within a National Security Strategy, all of which should coherently articulate American interests, strategic objectives, means, choices, and associated risk. But let's be clear: the QDR is not a strategy, per se; it's a strategic review. The QDR is overlaid on the various strategies, articulating how the various tools of national power housed in DoD will be applied to threats and strategic challenges. The NSS hadn't yet been published when the QDR came down the pike, and that's a problem. (Of course, the NSS sucks so badly that it wouldn't have helped to produce a better QDR anyway, so I've always found the bleating on that note to be sort of silly.)
All of this is a long way of saying that I agree with the Independent Panel report's general conclusions about the shortcomings of the QDR, as outlined in the introduction:
The initial Bottom-up Review [the QDR's predecessor] was considered a success. Of course there was much debate about the conclusions, but Congress thought the process was worthwhile and mandated that it be repeated every four years. Unfortunately, once the idea became statutory, it became part of the bureaucratic routine. The natural tendency of bureaucracy is to plan short term, operate from the top down, think within existing parameters, and affirm the correctness of existing plans and programs of record.That is exactly what happened to the QDR process. Instead of unconstrained, long term analysis by planners who were encouraged to challenge preexisting thinking, the QDRs became explanations and justifications, often with marginal changes, of established decisions and plans.I'm not going to get into the specific recommendations made by the panel in the sections of the report that amount to a re-do of the QDR (but suffice it to say that it's definitely informed by the now-published NSS, and amounts to something like "more of EVERYTHING, wwwhhhheeeeee!!!!"). But the fact of the matter is that the QDR needs to be focused on the big picture, on strategic evolution, and on reconceptualizing the way that the nation's military tools can be applied to the task of achieving our strategic goals -- not our intermediate operational objectives. I didn't hate the document as much as some people did, but the Independent Panel got this part right.