In This Review

The Enduring Struggle: The History of the U.S. Agency for International Development and America’s Uneasy Transformation of the World
The Enduring Struggle: The History of the U.S. Agency for International Development and America’s Uneasy Transformation of the World
By John Norris
Rowman & Littlefield, 2021, 338 pp

This comprehensive history of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government’s official bilateral foreign aid agency, deserves to be read by all students of U.S. foreign policy. The “enduring struggle” of the title is meant to refer to the difficulties of ending poverty in the developing world. But Norris’s description of the repeated attempts by the White House and the State Department to use USAID to advance foreign policy and strategic goals rather than developmental ones suggests another enduring struggle, in which Washington’s imperatives are more salient than those of low-income countries. Norris ably defends the record of USAID in promoting development but also documents its decline. Under President John F. Kennedy, the agency’s director enjoyed major resources and direct access to the Oval Office. Every president after Kennedy would contribute to USAID’s progressive marginalization, Norris shows, through poor choices of directors to lead the agency, ill-conceived administrative reorganizations, and the decision to allow the agency to lose its autonomy to the State Department. By George W. Bush’s first term, few in Washington objected when the president ignored USAID and preferred to create new bureaucracies to advance major new development initiatives, such as the task of addressing HIV/AIDS.