Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Development Becomes State

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I have a pretty sanguine view about what is happening to the USAID community when it comes to being swallowed by the Department of State in the US. But that doesn't equate with thinking it is a good idea.

Over at The Cable a couple of reports have indicated the growing absorption of the development aid community into State - like and amoeba devouring it's nearest food source. Steve Radelet over at the Center for Global Development announced his departure to work as Senior Advisor on Development in the Secretary's Office at the State Department. Somehow, it seems to me that working on development affairs in Hillary Clinton's shop puts USAID less in charge of development work than it was a few days ago.

And that was after the appointment (finally) of a new Director over at the Ronny Raygun building, Rajiv Shah. Now, Rajiv Shah came highly praised and he is an accomplished development professional. But, although he previously helped launch the Global Development program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Shah is only 36 and was personally selected by the Secretary of State.

Despite the assurance of the Secretary of State regarding the USAID non-political development mandate, her words may not reflect reality as the combination of these two events does not bode well for the independence of USAID which had been hoped for when Obama was elected. When State finally became fed-up with the not so successful USAID efforts from the 1990s and essentially took it over, the subservience of development aid to US foreign policy goals (or whims as the case may be) become palpable.

There were many reasons for the ineffectiveness of many of USAID programs - too numerous to go into here now and not all the fault of USAID. Most of the blame can be laid at the feet of the incestuous relationship with the same beltway bandits over the past twenty years. However, independent thinking from a development standpoint now runs the real risk of disappearing into foggy bottom.

This eventuality is an issue not only on its merits, but because the Republican Party, currently and for the foreseeable future in the claws of people like Cheney, Bachmann, Palin and the teabagger brigade, could actually be calling the shots at State in the future. A development philosophy tied to them would make the USAID mandate the spearpoint for American right wing policies that would collapse the good will overseas that has been somewhat repaired by the current administration.

So, I hope Secretary Clinton has taken into consideration of who and what may be coming around the turn before creating a structure that can be used by the Darth Cheney types just as easily as by those with good intentions.

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