Arrested Development

Making Foreign Aid a More Effective Tool

Washington's foreign aid programs have improved in many ways during the Bush presidency. Official development assistance has increased from $10 billion in 2000 to $22 billion in 2008, funding two dozen presidential initiatives, many of them innovative and groundbreaking. At the same time, however, the organizational structures and statutes governing these programs have become chaotic and incoherent thanks to 20 years of accumulated neglect by both Republicans and Democrats in the executive and legislative branches. The president has elevated development to a theoretically equal place with defense and diplomacy in what is considered the new paradigm of national power: "the three Ds." But this vision has not been realized because of organizational and programmatic chaos. The Defense Department's massive staff has assumed roles that should be performed by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Pentagon's $600 billion budget has eclipsed those of the civilian agencies.

The Pentagon recognizes this problem. In November 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for a "dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security." Gates pointed to the "asymmetric-warfare challenge" U.S. forces face in the field and insisted that "success will be less a matter of imposing one's will and more a function of shaping the behavior of friends, adversaries, and, most importantly, the people in between." In March 2008, retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni and Navy Admiral Leighton Smith, representing a group of more than 50 retired flag and general officers, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of a budget increase for the State Department and USAID. Zinni and Smith said, "We know that the 'enemies' in the world today are actually conditions -- poverty, infectious disease, political turmoil and corruption, environmental and energy challenges."

The U.S. foreign assistance program has traditionally sought to support U.S. national security and promote economic growth, poverty reduction, and humanitarian relief abroad. Modern foreign aid efforts began with the Marshall Plan, which was justified as a national security measure, a humanitarian contribution, and an effort to build markets for U.S. exports. In the intervening years, the policy rationale for aid has not changed much, and it remains as compelling now as it was then.

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