(AFP) – Jan 23, 2009
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed Friday to make development aid an "equal partner" with US diplomacy and defense because of its power to promote positive attitudes toward the United States.
Clinton and President Barack Obama have said they will resort less to military force than the administration of George W. Bush in order to blunt the wave of anti-American sentiment it spawned internationally.
Clinton drew loud applause when she told the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which depends on the State Department, that the new team would ensure USAID is "strengthened" and "adequately funded."
"I wanted to come here today with a very simple message," Clinton told hundreds of cheering USAID staff a day after she took over the reins of US foreign policy.
"I believe in development and I believe with all my heart that it truly is an equal partner along with defense and diplomacy in the furtherance of America's national security," said Obama's chief diplomat.
Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, was faulted for weakening USAID's mission by bringing budget and policy staff over to the State Department and leaving the agency a virtual "skeleton," former USAID official Carol Lancaster said.
But Lancaster acknowledged that the Bush administration earned praise for programs to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa, citing the previous administration's broader support for foreign aid and development.
Rice also drew criticism for turning the work of post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq over to the Pentagon.
Clinton complained that the military now has "unfettered access" to funds to spend on schools and other projects, while diplomats and development experts must jump bureaucratic hurdles to obtain relatively little financing.
"It is not a sensible approach," Clinton said.
The top US diplomat said Obama believes in the role of development assistance and diplomacy, adding that his late mother was an expert in microfinance projects who worked in Indonesia.
USAID advances foreign policy aims by carrying out programs in support of economic growth, agriculture and trade, global health, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, according to the agency's website.
Lancaster, who was deputy USAID administrator under president Bill Clinton, told AFP that aid to the poor in Muslim countries like Pakistan and Egypt is widely believed to be able to help keep Islamist militants at bay.
More broadly, development assistance falls into Clinton's notion of "smart power," said Lancaster who joined Clinton in some of her travels as first lady in the 1990s to see US-sponsored projects.
The approach boosts the image of a "country that is not just militaristic but is also one that has shared interests with their problems as well," said Lancaster, who now teaches politics at Georgetown University.
"She has already begun to wrap all of these things up into a bigger theme of her foreign policy, which is both traditional and humanitarian and development oriented."
Lancaster acknowledged that funds were tight during the current economic crisis but suggested a "hard look" at accounts could turn up funds for important projects.
The former USAID executive expected Clinton would push projects linked to universal education and would involve women more in development projects.
Clinton may also stress projects to mitigate the effects of climate change on farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. These could involve plans to plant more drought-resistant crops, Lancaster said.
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