Matthew Lee strikes again. The Associated Press reporter who covers the State Department has a history of taking spokespersons to task. Like the time he hounded Victoria Nuland in 2011 over the Obama administration’s position on Palestinians. Again in November 2012, he clashed with Nuland over the administration’s quiet diplomacy vis-a-vis a crisis in Gaza:
LEE: Hasn’t it occurred to anybody that being less quiet would get more results. The squeaky wheel gets grease. That kind of thing?
NULAND: I’ll let the–
LEE: You’re being silent while people are dying, left and right.
NULAND: Matt, we are being far from silent.
Now look at what Lee did today, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki presiding over the Q&A session. On the agenda was something known as the QDDR, or “Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.” A fact sheet calls the cool acronymical thingy “a sweeping assessment of how the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can become more efficient, accountable, and effective in a world in which rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation create new threats, but also new opportunities.”
Psaki announced that the department is kicking off its second QDDR. Her proclamations on the matter were bureaucratic and forgettable. For instance: “The 2014 QDDR builds on the foundation established by the 2010 review as a part of Department and USAID’s processes of continuous improvement. It will focus on emerging policy and management priorities…”
Lee steered the session into unforgettable territory when he used the launch of QDDR No. 2 to look back on QDDR No. 1, a topic loaded with political content given the trajectory of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. We would normally abridge the resulting conversation, but that would be doing our readers a grand disservice.
LEE: I have one very brief one on the QDDR.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
LEE: Off the top of your head, can you identify one tangible achievement that the last QDDR resulted in?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously it’s an extensive, expansive process.
LEE: So, no.
MS. PSAKI: We’re looking at how it was done last time.
LEE: Just one.
MS. PSAKI: I know. I’m making an important point here.
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary wants it to be focused. It’s going to focus on a more narrow range of issues. It’s always to look at how we can improve things, and we’ll see where we come out on the end.
LEE: So can you, off the top of your head, identify one tangible achievement that was – that resulted from the last QDDR?
MS. PSAKI: I am certain that those who were here at the time, who worked hard on that effort, could —
LEE: One that – since you’ve–
MS. PSAKI: — point out one.
LEE: — that since you’ve come on board that you’ve noticed, that someone has said – that you noticed, that you can point back saying, “Wow, the first QDDR identified this as a problem and dealt with it.”
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, I’ve only been here since it was concluded.
MS. PSAKI: So I’m sure there are a range of things that were put into place that I’m not even aware of were a result.
LEE: I won’t hold my breath.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Stunning that Psaki was caught so flat-footed on this line of inquiry. As the QDDR fact-sheet notes, the process “began when Secretary Clinton took office.” In light of that fact, Lee’s questions don’t fall into the “gotcha” category — they’re merely logical and obvious points to raise about a Clinton initiative. That said, the clash will move with high rotation among a certain crowd of onlookers.