The foreign policy machinery in the Obama administration is finally grinding away on a difficult long-term policy and institutional problem: What should the US development and foreign assistance strategy be? Such an examination raises a seemingly endless set of questions: What roles should the Defense Department, State Department, and USAID play in the development, security, and foreign assistance mix? How should these agencies tackle their responsibilities in fragile and post-conflict states? What should be the long-term structure of the US military with respect to traditional combat missions and counterinsurgency missions? And, for the first time in history, what should be the long-term missions and capabilities of State and USAID?
The foreign policy establishment is taking these questions seriously. Defense is focusing on the next Quadrennial Defense Review, State is beginning its first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and the National Security Council is undertaking broad interagency reviews of US development, foreign, and security assistance programs and authorities. Despite this foreign policy soul-searching, the legacy of the last eight years is handcuffing the administration in the short term. All signs point to the United States pursuing a path of nationbuilding again, and it appears as though it will start in the two places that could sink all three longer-term planning exercises: Afghanistan and Pakistan.