The Cable

Shah pledges to elevate development as he takes the helm of USAID

Rajiv Shah was officially sworn in today as USAID administrator to the raucous cheers of agency employees who filled the atrium at the Ronald Reagan office building, where many of them work. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed overwhelming praise and relief before swearing in Shah, whose nomination and confirmation were repeatedly delayed. She also ...

Rajiv Shah was officially sworn in today as USAID administrator to the raucous cheers of agency employees who filled the atrium at the Ronald Reagan office building, where many of them work.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed overwhelming praise and relief before swearing in Shah, whose nomination and confirmation were repeatedly delayed. She also gave us a few insider details about the man.

For example, did you know Shah traveled to India for exactly one day so he could propose to his wife, who was traveling there alone, at the Taj Mahal? In another example of "lengths to which Raj will go to achieve important goals," he once successfully scaled Washington’s Mount Rainier.

"It combines the challenges of an unforgiving glacier with the unpredictability of an active volcano. That may be the best preparation Raj has for working in Washington these days," Clinton joked.

On Wednesday, Clinton outlined a new way forward for development policy, focusing heavily on integration and coordination between development, diplomacy, and defense. The aid community is nervous about being thrown into the sandbox with such powerful actors, but the details of that cooperation remain to be worked out.

In his remarks, Shah echoed Clinton’s message.

"We can elevate development to stand with diplomacy and defense as a true pillar of our foreign policy," Shah said, "And in doing so we can build a broad political constituency, because people want to support this work, they just want to know we can do it effectively."

He also lauded "diplomats who convinced country governments to work with them and improve the human condition for large segments of their populations" as role models to emulate.

Among the attendees singled out for mention by Clinton were Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. But the biggest round of applause went to Alonzo Fulgham, who has been serving as acting director of USAID for almost a year.

Meanwhile, the development community is busy digesting Clinton’s speech and contemplating what a true integration of development and diplomacy might really entail.

"Hillary made a made a clear call to bring development and diplomacy together," said one government source who works on the issue. "I think she’s making at least a rhetorical case for diplomacy being defined in a different way, not being thought of as just promoting a country’s foreign interest but moving toward a more development focus, which could be then a precursor to a greater merger between the two entities."

"Some of us are not sure that we completely agree with the way that is currently being defined. We see the two as being separate concepts and two very different things," the source went on. "So going forward, the question is: What does that mean?"

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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