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Can Congress 'save' the QDR?

The Quadrennial Defense Review -- yes, that.

For each presidential term, it was supposed to be the guiding blueprint for the defense of the United States, the Puzzle Palace's ur-review that began with the soups the other reports skipped and ended at nuts the other reviews ignored. And this thing would get so much input from so many key stakeholders it would blow your mind.

But something happened to the QDR -- or, more likely, nothing happened to it, but people started becoming disappointed with it. Hill people, specifically, who didn't like the idea the big mega-doc they were getting had been drafted more to support a given defense budget request and less to truly, fully survey the potential threats out there. Congressional defense advocates wanted DoD to take the gloves off in the QDR about every potential threat to the U.S., no matter where it occurred. That would not only give a "complete" depiction of the global strategic picture, it would also have the effect of giving powerful DoD justification to more, ever more, big weapons programs.

Lawmakers eventually got so frustrated with the Pentagon's QDR they appointed a panel to review it and produce their own take -- yes, a review review -- which came back and said, hey, turns out we need lots more ships, fighters, bombers, after all. In producing what was effectively a rival QDR, however, Congress also largely stalemated what had once been Washington's national security strategy apparatus. When everybody can just review everyone else's review to get what they want, the result is quicksand.

A top House QDR critic, however, wants to break this deadlock. Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, who has been dueling with the Building over the QDR for years, announced late Wednesday that this week's defense authorization bill has a provision that could save DoD's flagship review. Here's how Forbes' office put it:

Forbes’ Amendment declaring the QDR a critical strategic document that should not be influenced by budgetary pressures: In recent years, the QDR review has become overly constrained and informed by budget limitations. The Forbes amendment addresses this problem by making clear that the QDR is a strategic document, not a budgetary document, and should be based upon a process unconstrained by budgetary influences so that such influences do not determine or limit its outcome.
Now the Pentagon can breathe free -- if the new Air-Sea Battle Office says the Air Force needs Luke Skywalker's X-Wing starfighter to defeat an "anti-access/area denial" environment out in the Western Pacific, it can put that in the QDR. If the Army feels like it needs to bring back Atomic Annie to deal with the threats on tomorrow's battlefields, it can put that in there. Weapons free, boys!

The question now will be whether the Pentagon actually uses this "clarification" of the QDR as a "strategy" exercise, not a budgetary one, or whether, in a few years, we'll be back to square one anyway.

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