Realizing the value of Foreign Aid

The importance of foreign aid programs in building capacity, empowering foreign populations, and denying physical and ideological sanctuary to our adversaries is finally coming to the forefront. The militarization of America’s foreign policy is more than Defense leadership in informational engagement and propagating a comprehensive approach to stability operations, but in the management of foreign aid for development. As was noted in a conference call with LTG Caldwell this week, the percentage of the foreign aid budget the Defense Department manages has skyrocketed.

Adam Graham-Silverman writes about this inappropriate shift from civilian to military-led foreign investment, as well as increased politicization of administration of aid, in the Congressional Quarterly:

Meanwhile, the United States’ diplomatic corps has been struggling with its own internal war of attrition. The State Department and agencies administering foreign aid had seen their funding remain essentially flat over the Bush years, even as outlays for Defense skyrocketed in the wake of Sept. 11 and during the Iraq invasion. The Bush White House increasingly came to depend on military forces to administer front-line economic assistance and diplomatic aid. The Pentagon now operates more than a fifth of all U.S. government reconstruction projects worldwide, and the State Department now has 6,500 foreign service officers, fewer than the number the Army plans to hire this next fiscal year alone.

The next president will probably also have to do some rethinking and streamlining of foreign aid commitments — one realm where Bush significantly stepped up spending, quadrupling aid to Africa, for example. But in adding global AIDS and malaria programs and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Bush complicated an already tangled bureaucratic web. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice created a new foreign assistance director’s office in the department and sought to bring aid programs under its aegis, further complicating communication and raising criticism that development serves political, not humanitarian, needs.

As a result of this bureaucratic proliferation, nearly two dozen agencies now have a hand in foreign assistance, but no single outfit has the mandate to lead, say critics such as Steve Radelet, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. He leads a group of activists and implementing organizations that argues Congress should create a Cabinet-level department of foreign assistance to better consolidate and administer foreign aid. Neither McCain nor Obama has committed to that — but most Washington observers agree that more money and personnel are necessary. Despite significant commitments to programs such as Bush’s popular Africa AIDS initiative, the United States now spends only 0.4 percent of its budget on foreign aid — well below the 0.7 percent it has committed.

Last week, Congress enshrined into law an office Bush created in 2004 to create a new civilian corps in State to oversee post-conflict operations in global trouble spots. Those kinds of actions, experts say, will go a long way toward refurbishing the U.S. image: Passing out aid in the wake of earthquakes or tsunamis creates more broad-based good will, they suggest, than statements from the podiums of international institutions. “If you parse it out, it’s not that Americans grow horns out of their heads,” said public diplomacy advocate Matthew Armstrong of the present tenor of anti-American sentiment abroad. “It’s the policies.”

Such an approach would mean a lot more soft speaking for the next president, without the ready recourse his predecessor had to the big stick. One White House veteran seems to be preparing for such a prospect. In a recent Foreign Affairs piece, Richard Haass, a onetime high-level Bush staffer who now chairs the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that America’s post-Cold War dominance was ceding to a new “nonpolar” world order. “With so many more actors possessing meaningful power and trying to assert influence, it will be more difficult to build collective responses and make institutions work,” he wrote. “Herding dozens is harder than herding a few.”

There needs to be a major revamp in how the United States engages the world that extends beyond reshaping our informational activities. The importance and value of foreign aid must be raised and viewed as vital to success in our struggle for minds and wills. 

By the way, how’d you like my money quote on it’s not who we are but what we do? I would have preferred he used something else from our interview, but it gets the point across.

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