24 September 2010


After hearing former Senator Tim Wirth and USAID director Dr. Raj Shah speak at the UN Week Digital Media Lounge, Alanna Shaikh illustrated the new three Ds by listing them in a vertical manner.  The illustration was apt as it worked up from the base of defense, to the smaller diplomacy, with the tiny piece of development on top.
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Taking her idea, I went with a giant bagel since we were just in NYC, it is fun, and the hole in the middle represents a missing piece to the US foreign policy budget.
US FP Percents
Dr. Shah wants to squeeze development between the traditional big Ds of US foreign policy, but it is quite a big task when only taking up 4.4$ of the bagel.  Defense dominates (no surprise there) and the Department of State is roughly twice the size of USAID.  Now some military money is used for development, so a few changes could be made to manipulate the numbers a bit, but it all is part of the same cycle.
The message of the new US development plan is about our interests.  Obama made it clear and Shah confirmed it by saying we should see, “development as a part of our national interest.”  However, he did not answer the most important question adequately; as Laura Freschi put it:
What happens next so that Obama’s hopey-changey speech gets translated into actual change in our 50-year-old aid legislation and at USAID and the 25 other government agencies involved in US foreign assistance? Will development really be elevated on par with diplomacy and defense when the White House’s new policy says that Shah will report to the Secretary of State, and will have a seat on the National Security Council only “as appropriate”?
We got a semi-answer as Shah gushed over placing all of the information on the USAID website.  However, there is one small problem; the USAID site is terrible and hard to navigate. What good will will it do if information that is meant to be readily accessible is hard to find and access?  It is great to hear Shah say that we need to have mutual accountability in fighting corruption and graft and investing in education and health programs, but it is very easy to talk about transparency and not be transparent.
It would be unfair to gloss over the promising things that he did say which seemingly signal the transformation in USAID that Obama confirmed a day earlier.  Shah made it clear that they would change how USAID does procurement.  Investments will be selective and at scale and they will not “sprinkle around money without results and accountability.” The underlying condition to Shah is economic growth and this appears to go hand in glove with the earlier discussion of US national interest,
For his part, Senator Wirth got in comments about energy and climate.  When he was asked by Shah what are the development priorities over the next five years, the UN Foundation President stuck to his favorite topics: climate and energy.  Naturally he expanded from there, but he made it clear that, “we can’t get from here to there without electricity.”  The literal and figurative meaning of that statement was in full use. He finished by talking bringing in women and environmental diversity to form a ‘triangle’ of the most important topics.  “The theme that runs through [the triangle] is the empowerment of women,” he remarked. Women remain an integral part of this week with Shah saying, “We have known for years, investing women and girls is essentially the answer in development.” 
Wirth also took some time to point out that individuals can contribute by taking part in two programs that have been getting a lot of discussion at the DML this week: GirlUp and Nothing But Nets.  I am unsure why these two programs are the new favorites, but it has been no mistake that they have been mentioned numerous times this week.
So, lots of good quotes but little in terms of substance.  In a week that has been an outward show, Shah and Wirth brought the circus to a new venue and left those wanting to know more without.  Despite all of the hype, we still have two Ds with one tiny d sandwiched in-between.  Development has become the cream cheese of the US foreign policy bagel.  It makes it taste better, but all the real calories are in the bagel itself.
Note: Data used for the Chart - FY2009 (In billions): Defense $515.4
- Diplomacy (Dept of State)

$50.7 ($39.5 + 11.2 from USAID) -
Development (USAID)

$26.1 (additional $11.2 for Department of State, and $2.2 for Other International Affairs)