The incoming U.S. president has made some impressive appointments, but he needs to start backing his words about fighting poverty and disease around the world with deeds.
- By Raymond C. OffenheiserRaymond C. Offenheiser is president of the international relief and development organization Oxfam America.
With the United States facing immense global challenges, President-elect Barack Obama has named foreign policy advisors that will bring deep experience, intellectual heft, and fresh thinking to the task of restoring America’s global reputation and leadership. This group will be in the spotlight this week when the confirmation process begins for Secretary of State-designate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Ambassador-designate Susan Rice.
Unfortunately, Obama’s foreign policy A-team is missing a couple of pivotal players. Despite his public commitments to elevate and strengthen U.S. global development efforts — those that alleviate poverty, fight disease, and create opportunity in developing nations while bolstering our security and prosperity at home — as a critical component of his foreign policy, he has yet to name even one senior official to be put in charge of bringing these critical changes to life. These players to be named later could make the difference between success and failure in the Obama administration’s ability to usher in a new era of U.S. foreign policy.
What is at stake? For one, America’s ability to address this country’s biggest foreign policy challenges. As Defense Secretary Gates and other leaders have highlighted over and over again, sustainable success in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, and other sensitive places will depend on how well the new team integrates global development into its efforts. There are plenty of positive examples from America’s past work supporting global development — including the Green Revolution in agriculture and HIV/AIDS treatment programs in Africa — that show how successful we can be at increasing stability and restoring hope for those who need it most.
Nobody understands this more acutely than Senator Clinton, who can use her confirmation hearing today to put development back on the front burner. Of all of Obama’s top aides, she is perhaps the most credible spokesperson on this topic, having built a legacy as a champion of global development. As first lady, she co-founded the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative, which later became a prominent non-profit organization helping advance women’s economic, political and social status around the globe, and she was a staunch defender of the important work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
As senator, she championed the Education for All Act, a legislative proposal to vastly increase U.S. support for reaching the Millennium Development Goal of getting all children into school by 2015. During her 2008 presidential bid, she (and President-elect Obama) made specific commitments to increase resources for, and enhance the effectiveness of, U.S. global development efforts.
There has never been a more important moment for these words to become actions, and Obama and Clinton must move swiftly to bring about fundamental change. First, the president-elect should quickly name one of the missing players on his foreign policy team – the administrator of USAID. To be successful, this person must have the ear of the president, experience working with Congress, and an understanding of what effective global development efforts look like on the ground in developing countries.
Second, Obama must work with national security advisor James L. Jones to give the responsibility for coordinating development policy across the U.S. government to a deputy national security advisor or a senior director at the National Security Council. A critical early task for this person will be to lead an administration-wide effort to develop America’s first-ever National Strategy for Global Development, aligning it with the president-elect’s overall foreign policy vision by detailing how U.S. global development efforts, balanced with diplomacy and defense efforts, help achieve U.S. foreign policy goals.
Once these key players are in place, Obama must forge a Grand Bargain with Congress to make sure that U.S. global development efforts are: 1) adequately funded; 2) well staffed and professionally managed; and 3) transparently evaluated according to specific goals and benchmarks. To codify this Grand Bargain, the new administration and Congress should work together to develop and pass a 21st century Foreign Assistance Act. The current version was originally written in 1961 to address Cold War concerns and was last updated more than 20 years ago.
Although President-elect Obama bears the primary responsibility for realigning U.S. foreign policy to better balance development with diplomacy and defense, change will not be possible without leadership from those foreign policy officials who are already in his inner circle, particularly Senator Clinton. If she so chooses, she could be the most influential and well-informed advocate for this realignment. Today’s hearing will provide her with a powerful opportunity to start making the case for change — and open a new chapter in both U.S. foreign policy and her legacy of support for global development.