Sunday, January 22, 2006

Foreign aid

Over the last few days, I've been advancing an argument about the importance of public perception abroad, and the dividends that a serious engagement abroad could bring. It started with a general argument about the best ways to preempt anti-American violence. Then we discussed how this applies to Iran. Then I talked about promoting democracy and America more specifically. This all lead to some particular thoughts on handling Osama bin Laden.

I was encouraged by the announcement that there were changes in how diplomats were being assigned. Instead of having as many diplomats in Germany as there are in India (which has 12 times the population and at least as much geopolitical significance), diplomats will be sent to areas of higher priority, and have to rotate through more dangerous areas.

Having experienced diplomats in countries that aren't already our allies is a superb way to make this country safer, at no real cost. When people have served in hotspots, they understand what makes those places into hotspots, and have ideas about fixing the problems. (See, I can say nice things about this administration now and then!)

At the same time, Secretary Rice is proposing a revision of the handling of foreign aid. There are concerns that the centralization of aid operations will put short-term political goals ahead of long term planning. There are also concerns that this will politicize the aid process, bad news no matter what.

Those concerns are exacerbated by the person chosen to head up the aid program. As ThinkProgress puts it: Rice Appoints Political Sycophant To Head U.S. Foreign Aid Efforts:
Tobias has consitently put the Bush administration agenda before science and facts in the global fight against AIDS, acting as the “front man for Bush’s ideology-driven policies on prevention and on treatment (of AIDS).”

His HIV-prevention policies have focused on “abstinence-only-until-marriage” leaving “large segments of the population at immediate risk of HIV infection.” He has also made inaccurate public statements on the effectiveness of condoms in AIDS prevention and has funded questionable organizations supported by President Bush, but lacking in technical competency in HIV prevention.
Randall Tobias has a great resumé. He rose through the ranks at AT&T, becoming CEO after the breakup. From there he moved to CEO at Eli Lilly. From there he joined the ranks of industry leaders who went on to positions in the Bush administration where they might have been at odds with their former colleagues, in Tobias' case, as head of the Global AIDS Fund. It comes as no surprise that the Fund has made little progress on reducing costs by purchasing generics, or extracting equitable licenses for generic drug production in the developing world.

The problem with his resumé is that his experience in foreign aid is essentially nil. Foreign aid, along with foreign service diplomacy and the military, is an essential part of the nation's efforts to reach out and influence the rest of the world. If someone with his limited experience were named to head the Department of State or of Defense, everyone would be up in arms.