Rieff: Clinton’s “Muddled” Approach to Development

Yesterday, The New Republic foreign policy blog, “Entanglements,” posted a piece by David Rieff examining Secretary Clinton’s recent speech on the Global Health Initiative (GHI) at Johns Hopkins’ SAIS.  Rieff discusses Clinton’s speech in terms of the Obama administration’s approach to development – questioning whether there is enough funding and bureaucratic support to realize the numerous goals Clinton laid out.  Rieff offers a critical review of GHI and other development efforts:  the decision to have three agencies in charge of GHI’s day-to-day operations; policymakers’ claims of development assistance as a tool of “public diplomacy” and a way to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the continued priority funding for military programs.  Despite the critical tone, Rieff raises some interesting points about the overall direction of the Obama administration’s approach to development.  Read full text of the post here and see key excerpts below:

“The secretary was already on record as claiming that the initiative would be a “crucial component of American foreign policy and a signature element of smart power.” On its face, this seems highly unlikely. Anyone doubting this should ponder the fact that one military program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—a weapons platform that no one claims is needed for the counter-insurgency operations that are currently at the core of the U.S. military’s requirements—is on course to cost $325 billion, and may well go higher (the budget request for fiscal year 2011 is $11.4 billion, roughly the same as each of the six years of the Global Health Initiative). In other words, Washington is going to spend on a ‘signature element’ of its smart power less than one-fifth of what it is already committed to spending on something that even the Pentagon does not claim is a signature element of our hard power. No, money may not be everything, but ‘follow the money’ remains the best advice for understanding what the priorities of the American government really are.”

“In her SAIS speech, Secretary Clinton closed by saying that, “We’re aware of all the pitfalls and all the obstacles, internal and external.” I see no reason to doubt this…But in either designing or at least signing off on a program which grants authority for day to day running of the program to three separate agencies (USAID, the Centers for Disease Control, and PEPFAR, the Bush-era President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief), each with their own institutional interests, while calling on the resources and expertise of the National Institutes of Health, the Peace Corps, not to mention the departments of Defense and of Health and Human Services (“among others,” as Secretary Clinton said, without irony, in her speech), all reporting to Deputy Secretary Lew, the administration has laid the groundwork for a bureaucratic calamity. Rube Goldberg, call your office.”

“Of course, America’s reliance on winning hearts and minds through humanitarian relief and development assistance is not restricted to southwest Asia…In a brilliant paper published recently by the Humanitarian Policy Network in London (full disclosure: I am on the advisory board of the unit’s parent, the Humanitarian Policy Group), Michael Kleinman and Mark Bradbury analyze the effectiveness of these initiatives. While agreeing that “these military aid projects provide an entry point into communities that are potentially hostile to the US and its interests,” Kleinman and Bradbury conclude that the most they can actually be said to have achieved are tactical successes.”

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