Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Moving on Humanitarian Aid Policy

InterAction, the association of American private voluntary organizations, is writing to President Obama to urge him to nominate an Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The aid machine chugs on even with acting leadership, but important systemic decisions must be made that require a confirmed leader.

The association letter said there has been a missed opportunity for policy review regarding Afghanistan-Pakistan and the Gaza crisis. I would add that creative responses to the Sudan humanitarian aid cutoff that would apply to future such actions by dictators also would have been helpful. Missed opportunities mean we continue policies that may be inadequate. All too often, making corrections retroactively means people have suffered while waiting for change to come, or in some cases, have died.

Humanitarian aid issues are global, but Africa has significant challenges that beg to be addressed now. The lack of leadership on humanitarian issues unbalances the equation under which Africom was created. While the Department of Defense took the lead in discussing the combination of military, diplomatic and humanitarian policy that was to be the hallmark of Africom, it was always USAID that was supposed to handle the humanitarian phase. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are strong personalities with their own ideas for the role of the military and diplomats in the Africom scheme. There must be a permanent USAID Administrator to counterbalance their head start.

Without a full-time Administrator, aid may continue to flow, but no long-term planning will be possible, and creativity will be limited by the uncertainty of not having permanent leadership in place. The Administration is supposed to be instituting a “Smart Power” toolkit to provide non-military means of exerting American influence. That toolkit is not complete without permanent leadership at USAID.

The current confirmation process is complex, and according to some nominees, onerous. However, some way must be found to get the new USAID head in place if we are to see any significant integration of development into American foreign policy.

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