In the United States: A Breakthrough in the Tortured Foreign Aid Debate?
In Washington this week, someone "leaked" to the media a draft of the Obama Administration's Presidential Study Directive 7, titled A New Way Forward on Global Development. This document, nearly a year in the making and still in draft form, argues that international development “ that combination of aid, policies, and resource transfers intended to improve conditions in the globe's poorer nations €“ is a "strategic imperative for the United States," and that "the successful pursuit of development is essential to our security, prosperity, and values." Well said. There are few international dynamics less controversial than the connection between poverty and hopelessness, on the one hand, and global instability on the other. Now, if only those noble, forthright words could be translated into an equally clear government mechanism for carrying out international development policy. Instead, the language in Presidential Study Directive 7 reflects deep bureaucratic divisions within the U.S. federal establishment, and serves as another reminder of the tortured foreign aid debate in Washington. That tortured debate, if the "PSD" is any indication, continues. For those of us supportive of a strong U.S. commitment to international development, the contrast with the development debate in the United Kingdom is astonishing. As this blog is written, on the eve of the UK elections, all three major parties have publicly endorsed a strong role for the Department for International Development (DFID), pledged support for DFID remaining a cabinet department, and increasing development funding.
In the United States, however, here, in the language of PSD 7, one senses €“ despite President Obama's strong statements in support of international development €“ continued uncertainly about whether the United States government really wants a center of excellence, strong and vocal, in international development. Rather, a careful reading of the draft document suggests continued bureaucratic tussles are the order of the day, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) remains a pawn in these interagency "turf" wars. For example, the PSD 7 version now available states that the USAID Administrator will be included in NSC meetings, "when appropriate." If development is, indeed, a "strategic imperative" and "essential to U.S. security, prosperity, and values," one might reasonably assume that it would always be "appropriate" for Administrator Rajiv Shah to attend. And, although, according to the draft, development will be "elevated" to a position "equal to diplomacy and defense," PSD 7 places the head of USAID one notch down from true equality. He or she will continue to report, not to the President, but to the Secretary of State €“ an uncertain form of equality, and a strange type of "elevation." A very positive innovation in the PSD 7 draft is the establishment within the U.S. government of a "Development Policy Committee," to coordinate efforts among all federal agencies €“ trade, energy, immigration, and so forth €“ with regard to policies affecting international development. This Committee is a useful innovation, but it is not certain that USAID, America's lead development agency, will actually chair this committee. Finally, even out in the developing world itself, where USAID's indisputable field-level expertise should ensure its preeminence, PSD 7 continues with the tortured uncertainty that has characterized the American foreign aid debate.
The draft document bestows on USAID the mandate to lead the U.S. development effort in the developing world, "where appropriate." When, one might reasonably ask, would it not be appropriate? Some supporters of international development are celebrating the PSD 7 draft. But, in my view, such celebrations of partial victory are a sad manifestation of just how far international development has sunk, relative to diplomacy and, especially, defense in the U.S. foreign policy hierarchy. What the people of the developing world need is not partial victories; they have had plenty of those. What they need is a clarion indication that the U.S government fully understands what they are reminded of on a daily basis: without development, there is no peace. Would that the Obama White House could, in the final version of the Presidential Study Directive, put aside the tortured formulations of the PSD 7 draft and really, fully incorporate the long-term development instrument into the national foreign policy toolkit on an equal basis.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.