U.S. Brings Aid into 20th Century

Yesterday, in response to the Obama administration's announcement that it was "changing the way we do business" on development, I remarked on Twitter that it is more likely "changing the way we do bureaucratic infighting on development." It was a bit snide, I admit, as is the title of this post. And it bears noting that aid advocates have applauded the changes.

But really, my expertise on international aid and development comes from having spent some time visiting with development workers of various nationalities while travelling in Ecuador back in 1993 and 1996. Which is to say, I have no expertise in international aid and development. But I know that the kinds of things being rolled out today were already pretty commonly accepted back then by people who do have that expertise as the way we should be doing business on development. So hat's off to the Obama administration for finally getting us into the 20th century on this stuff, which is certainly progress. Hopefully the turf wars that usually accompany this kind of shift won't get in the way of meaningful results.

On a related note, when people talk about the militarization of foreign policy, they usually target the ways in which the military has become the principle actor on policies -- like aid and development -- that previously were the exclusive domain of civilian agencies. But there's a related component that has to do with mindset and conceptual thinking. President Barack Obama has been taken to task in the past, most notably regarding the National Security Strategy document, for blurring the boundaries of what constitutes national security concerns, to the point that the very concept loses its meaning. And as he also justified these new guidelines by using the logic of national security, he opens himself up to the same criticisms.

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