The Cable

White House proposed taking development role away from State

The White House is moving closer to finishing a sweeping review of U.S. development strategy that aims to put development on par with diplomacy and defense as a "central pillar" of U.S. national security, according to sources familiar with the issue.

The Cable has obtained a draft copy (pdf) of the review, which is titled "A New Way Forward on Global Development" and is known internally as the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development or PSD-7.

"The Obama Administration recognizes that the successful pursuit of development is essential to our security, prosperity, and values," the draft document reads. It promises a "new approach to global development that focuses our government on the critical task of helping to create a world with more prosperous and democratic states."

Sources cautioned that the draft document was presented at a deputies committee meeting two weeks ago and has been updated since. But they said that certain key passages have already exacerbated tensions between the National Security Council and the State Department, which is finalizing the interim report for its own wholesale policy review, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). The NSC declined to comment.

One important section of the seven-page document would establish an interagency "development policy committee"  -- moving the responsibility for coordinating U.S. policy on development out of the State Department.

At issue is whether Foggy Bottom should have the ultimate authority over development policy or whether oversight should be done by the new interagency body, which reports up to the president.

The draft document also calls for an overall review of U.S. development strategy every four years (separate from the QDDR), and the design of country and/or regional strategies to "organize U.S. engagement and inform resource allocation."

The idea of a government-wide, independent committee to oversee development is one that Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry, D-MA, and Richard Lugar, R-IN, also support.

The draft also outlines of how the relationship between State and USAID should work  -- and those outlines don't jive with how we hear the QDDR is shaping up. For example, the document says that USAID should have "responsibility and accountability for a core development and humanitarian assistance budget," as well as a robust policy planning staff, a leadership role in setting strategies and the "mandate, where appropriate, to lead U.S. government development efforts in the field."

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah would "be included in NSC meetings where  appropriate" if this draft document's recommendations were adopted, but he would also still report up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not directly to the White House as some might hope.

Officials have indicated that in State's QDDR, USAID would also get its own policy planning staff but would probably not control its own budget. State Department officials argue that by keeping control over USAID's budget, they would be in a stronger position to advocate for it.

"You can see many things here that try to establish more balance and reorient the authority over  development back toward the NSC and the White House," said one development leader closely observing the process. "Each of those things could invite some pushback from State."

Overall, the document is a good draft, this observer said, noting that it could go through several revisions before being finalized. "We're not hugely supportive of the USAID administrator reporting to the secretary of state, but a lot of this is largely positive in terms of strategy and overall direction."

The QDDR is led by Shah and Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, with heavy input from Policy Planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter. The PSD-7 is led by top NSC aides Gayle Smith, Michael Froman, and Jeremy Weinstein.

The interim report of the QDDR is expected to be released soon. There has never been a promise from the White House that the PSD-7 would be released publicly.

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Obama administration plays quiet role in Iraq elections controversy

The Obama administration has been actively, but quietly working with both sides in the Iraqi elections controversy, which is getting ugly over in Baghdad.

There's a lot of criticism in Washington today of the Obama team's approach to the aftermath of the Iraqi national elections last month. Leading conservatives are accusing the administration of taking too much of a hands-off approach as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki works to get enough candidates disqualified to turn the tide toward his State of Law list and away from the Iraqi List led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

"The United States might be about to lose an opportunity for success in Iraq by tolerating a highly sectarian, politicized move to overturn Iraq's election results," scholars Frederick and Kimberly Kagan wrote in Friday's Washington Post. "Washington must act swiftly to defend the integrity of the electoral process and support Iraqi leaders' tentative efforts to rein in the ‘de-Baathification' commission that threatens to undermine the entire democratic process ... Staying silent is not the same as remaining neutral."

Administration officials maintain that this is exactly what it is doing, even if the public can't see it.

"The administration has been deeply engaged in this process from the beginning, at every level, with Ambassador [Christopher] Hill, General [Raymond] Odierno, the vice president, and others frequently making our views known and offering our assistance where appropriate," one senior administration official told The Cable, noting that Vice President Joseph Biden has been in regular contact with Iraqi leaders since the election.

The administration's effort is about process, being careful not to openly criticize either side but still setting down some clear definitions about what a fair process should look like.

"As we've said all along, it is for Iraqis to decide these matters," the official said. "But it is imperative for the credibility of the elections and of the election certification process... that the procedures be fair and transparent. It is also imperative that every vote count and no Iraqi be disenfranchised."

What that means practically is that if and when candidates are disqualified, their parties should have a right to replace them as if they won a seat and to retain their votes if they did not.

That doesn't seem to be what's happening on the ground in Baghdad, according to James Danly, a former platoon commander in Iraq who is now a fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, the think tank run by Kimberly Kagan.

He said that the Accountability and Justice Commission (AJC), which happens to be controlled by Ahmed Chalabi and Ali Faisal al-Lami, is clearly trying to swing the close election to Maliki's more religious Shiite list and away from Allawi's more secular list, which derives some support from Sunni groups.

Hill and General Odierno heavily criticized Chalabi's commission before the elections, when it tried to disqualify hundreds of candidates due to their alleged ties to the now-defunct Baath Party. They both have said that Chalabi is "clearly influenced by Iran."

ISW has prepared charts showing the current state of play in the post-election politics. They aim to show that if the Independent High Electoral Commission upholds the decisions of the AJC, that could tip the balance away from Allawi and give Maliki the chance to form a government by himself.

"The AJC is not only trying to get rid of the candidates that were elected, they are also trying to throw out the ballots that were cast for those candidates," Danly explained, which would be in direct violation of what the White House considers a fair and transparent process.

Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, agrees with the Kagans that U.S. influence and even pressure should be applied to help encourage a fair outcome. But he also agrees with the White House that such pressure is better applied behind the scenes.

"Continued U.S. involvement like that is necessary and appropriate. We cannot tolerate an extra democratic process here and we need to do what we can to prevent that," Biddle said, noting that the State Department traditionally has a more hands-off approach than the military, which has argued for more direct intervention.

The real problem with the elections process now is ambiguity about how the commissions are making their decisions, Biddle said, as well as uncertainty about whether Maliki is trying to strong-arm his way to a win or simply trying to play every card in his hand.

And there will be many more twists and turns before either candidate can declare victory. The recount of votes in Baghdad, which starts Saturday, could turn the whole story upside down once again.

Regardless, if the victor takes power in a process that is deemed by the Iraqi people as illegitimate, that could reignite the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq for years, just as U.S. troops are leaving.

"We're way early in the process of civil war remission to expect that sectarianism is gone," said Biddle. "That's why a lack of democratic credibility here could be very dangerous."