The President has finally announced, after much unnecessary sturm und drang, that Dr. Rajiv Shah will be the new director of USAID. This is great news for Hillary Clinton’s effort to make development–that is, the distribution of humanitarian and economic aid overseas–as important as diplomacy in the State Department’s portfolio.
It is also good news for the war effort in Afghanistan–since a more efficacious use of US development funds there is badly needed. AID has fallen into the terrible habit of distributing its funds through big private subcontractors. A much better path would be for dedicated foreign service officers, with real knowledge of the situation on the ground, to distribute the funds to local contractors and NGOs with specific missions within the larger U.S. strategy. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew–an excellent Clinton appointment–has been giving a lot of thought to just how this should be done and he’s anxious to move forward with the new director.
Beyond Afghanistan–and after 8 years of zero thought given to foreign aid by the Bush Administration, outside its admirable anti-HIV program in Africa–a revived and thoughtful USAID program could do wonders when it comes to backing President Obama’s words with actually progress on the ground. Let’s hope Dr. Shah proves to be the right choice.