Permissible Arms

A new Director for Chrismukkah

Posted in usaid by Karaka on 3 December 2009

It didn’t slip my notice that, early last month, Obama announced his nomination for USAID. Rajiv Shah, currently an Under Secretary at the USDA. His hearing was Tuesday, news that was likely eclipsed with the West Point speech.

I do think it’s a net positive that any nomination has been made, after nearly ten months and a bit of moaning about it. And Dr. Shah has a pretty impressive resume.

Josh Rogin at The Cable obtained the written answers Dr Shah submitted prior to the hearing, which give some insight into his perspective on the troubles USAID faces and the department’s role in US foreign policy–particularly in Afghanistan. But as Diplopundit notes:

The whole thing is worth reading although one comes away without the answer to the questions we really want answered. The only thing that seems sure from this and from the hearing is that we won’t really know how much change there will be for USAID until the roll out of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review next year.

Important point. Given the significant changes made to USAID administration ca. 2006, it makes me curious as to how, or if, USAID will play against this escalation in Afghanistan. (Which is, of course, but one of USAID’s development locales.)

TNR also came out with thoughts on USAID this week that touch on the balance Shah faces as USAID’s role comes to be redefined for Obama’s administration, during the QDDR taking place in the State Department.

Into this debate over the role of foreign aid–self-interest versus altruism? short-term versus long-term?–steps Shah. It’s impossible to know how the new USAID chief will act, although, as a young pick with no prior experience at the agency, he seems likely to defer to Clinton. One thing is for sure: He won’t have a lot of time to get his bearings. As soon as he’s confirmed, he will probably join the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which will aim to provide a blueprint for coordinating diplomatic and development efforts.

The State Department denies that the QDDR will be used to justify a shift toward strategic aid as opposed to pure humanitarian aid. At a briefing about the QDDR in July, Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter was asked: “Traditionally, humanitarian aid has been kind of walled off from the diplomatic objectives of the United States. Should this be seen in some way as a blurring of that bright line?” She answered no; but USAID watchers still worry that State Department control of the agency means a certain approach to foreign aid will prevail. Says Atwood, “Diplomats are trained for certain expertise but development is not one of them. … If you believe in that, you need a strong and independent voice representing development interests at the table–because otherwise the tendency is for short-term political priorities to win out over long-term development goals.”

I highly recommend reading Shah’s answers to the Kerry-Lugar hearing, even if I don’t find them to be wholly satisfying. This is the first real movement USAID has had this calendar year, and I’m interested to see how it goes.

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