Wednesday, January 18, 2006

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The reorganization of foreign aid, continued

Last month I posted on subterranean rumblings about a reorganization of foreign aid.

Guy Dinmore reports in the Financial Times that the first public step in this reorganization starts tomorrow:

The Bush administration is expected to announce on Thursday a controversial restructuring of its foreign aid system under Randall Tobias, a retired pharmaceuticals executive who currently heads the US global Aids programme.

Mr Tobias will be named the new head of USAID, the state aid agency with a $14bn (£8bn) budget, replacing Andrew Natsios, who resigned last week. Mr Tobias will also be appointed to the newly created position of deputy secretary for development as Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, pursues what she calls her assertive strategy of “transformational diplomacy”.

The Bush administration wants its multibillion-dollar aid programmes to serve its foreign policy goals better. Critics are worried that by in effect merging USAID into the State Department, the agency will lose some of its independence, and development will become purely politicised.

I'll hold off on commenting until I see more of the proposal. What interests me about Dinmore's story is what comes next:
Ms Rice was expected to announce the changes on Thursday, officials said, following a keynote speech to George­town University on Wednesday in which she sketched out a “sweeping and difficult” transformation of US diplomacy and its institutions.

As part of those changes, 100 US diplomats will be transferred this year from Europe and Washington to countries including China, India, Nigeria and Lebanon. Hundreds more will follow over five years. A senior official compared the shift to the Pentagon’s drawdown of forces from Europe after the cold war.

“In the 21st century, emerging nations like India and China, and Brazil and Egypt, and Indonesia and South Africa are increasingly shaping the course of history,” Ms Rice said.

The US global posture did not reflect these changes, she said, noting that the US had nearly the same number of diplomats in Germany, with a population of 82m, as in India, with 1bn people....

She defined diplomacy as seeking “to change the world itself”, not simply reporting on it. Drawing on the lesson of Afghanistan and how it provided a haven for al-Qaeda, Ms Rice said she had an “expansive vision” for the State Department’s new office of reconstruction and stabilisation, mandated to deal with post-conflict situations.

“Should a state fail in the future, we want the men and women of this office to be able to spring into action quickly,” she said....

Diplomats had to get into the field, she said, noting that there were 200 cities with more than 1m inhabitants but no US diplomatic presence. “This is where the action is today, and this is where we must be,” she said.

Here's a link to Rice's speech. I still need to digest all of it, but I do like the reallocation of diplomatic personnel towards the large developing countries.

posted by Dan on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM


"As part of those changes, 100 US diplomats will be transferred this year from Europe and Washington to countries including China, India, Nigeria and Lebanon."
"I do like the reallocation of diplomatic personnel towards the large developing countries."

Large developing countries, and then Lebanon. Lebanon doesn't even have 4 million people. Its economy is nothing. It is a mess politically.

I take this as a sign that the USA wants to specifically put more pressure on Syria. Being Arab myself, I hate hearing this. We do not need another war in the Middle East. And the Lebanese spent years trying to become independent of Syria and all the other countries that used it as a battle ground for so long, and now it looks like it will officially become the launching off point for the American Middle East project. This is very very bad.

Even if it is not specifically Syria they are after, I doubt that the USA plans to have those extra staff sit on the beach all day. Many Lebanese are already worried that they have traded one occupation for another, and this seems to confirm it.

damn it.

posted by: Joe m. on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

"it looks like it will officially become the launching off point for the American Middle East project" Nah, we'll launch from Iraq.

posted by: ic on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

Occupy Lebanon with diplomatic personnel to attack Syria?

Which is it: they'll talk Syria to death or they'll depleat Syria of all it's five star restaurants?

posted by: Huggy on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

Thanks for the link, Dan. A cursory view of the address leaves more questions than answers. Big question: will larger presence in third world countries really improve intelligence gathering/influence mongering? Historically, the larger the official presence of an outside power, the LESS interaction with the local population, as well as with expats outside the official realm who are often more connected to local trends than govt employees can ever be.

My initial response to the idea of opening forward posts in large, fast-growing cities is positive. These frontier towns have always been more important than and culturally distinct from the metropoli--kudos to Condi for recognising this. However, there are serious concerns here as well, namely, who will perform these missions and how long will their leashes be? This is, in effect, an attempt to recreate the old district magistrates of the British Empire. The power these men wielded is unlike anything in the current repetoire of the State Dept. Makes me nervous.

As for the idea of having cyber-representatives to deal directly with those foreigners currently lacking easy access to bricks and mortar embassy/consulate staff--it strikes me as ill-conceived bordering on dangerous. The D of S should not go into the business of blogging round the provinces. There is no way to know with whom one is speaking, what they want, or how they will interpret your words. This kind of "forward thinking" leap into new technologies will diminish the ability of the center to control its message, could seriously damage our image in places where it needs to be improved, and wildly experimental.

I think the attempt to leap directly from the 19th century world of cables and cocktail parties to the 21st cybbereality cannot be accomplished in one feel swoop. Take a breath Condi.

posted by: Kelli on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

It's about god damn time.

I hope that Indonesia gets some of those diplomats too. As a front in the War on Terror, and a country that has 230 million inhabitants, as well as a sleeping giant of an economy -- which will remain so until effective institutions arise -- I think it deserves that much.

But this is a very exciting development from our lame duck administration.

posted by: Admiral on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]
Reforming US Development Policy: Four Critical Fixes

posted by: post pc on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

These American Presence Posts that Rice spoke of - small diplomatic operations in cities without embassies or consulates - originated in the fertile mind of Felix Rohatyn, Clinton's last ambassador to France, who opened such posts in French provicial cities in the 1990s.

One problem: In more dangerous places than France, the State Department may find itself hard-pressed to keep these people safe.

posted by: Harry on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

A friend called this the most cunning and evil way to purge a federal bureaucracy he had ever seen.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

What I liked about the speech was the part where Rice, in no uncertain terms, justifies the need for such reorganization on the basis of a threat analysis fully formed from an explicitly liberal perspective.
All that realism she espoused back in 2000--out the window:

"And the greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them. The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power. In this world it is impossible to draw neat, clear lines between our security interests, our development efforts and our democratic ideals."

Condi the Liberal, how odd that sounds.....

posted by: peter on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

I think Tom Holsinger's comment is central.

What we have now is a speech. How will it translate into action over then next 13 years? How will it get transformed by a bureaucracy that tends to do what it wants and interpret its actions in terms of whatever policies are in fashion at the moment?

But in the short run, it makes an effective purge. Take all the people you don't like and send them off to hardship posts where they have little influence or communication.

posted by: J Thomas on 01.18.06 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

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