Obama officials discuss global development

In a discussion punctuated by questions of governmental accountability and financial feasibility, senior officials from the Obama administration explained the importance of a non-partisan and cross-agency approach to global development Tuesday afternoon.

As part of the 2010 U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Washington Conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner joined Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID and Daniel Yohannes, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, to discuss the administration’s new global development policies.

Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, moderated the event.

Clinton said the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, unveiled last week at the United Nations, emphasizes development’s role as a crucial part of America’s national security policy.

“This is the first time since Kennedy that any president has articulated a global development policy,” Clinton said. “We truly are elevating development to the highest levels of the United States government.”

Clinton said although President Barack Obama recently announced the policy, since Obama took office his administration has been working toward the policy’s goals, such as highlighting the importance of economic development and providing investments on the basis of partnership with other countries.

Gates said development serves a particularly important purpose in U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be crucial in determining where troops will be sent in the future.

“In military planning, there is what we call phase zero,” Gates said. “This is about how you prevent conflict so we don’t have to send soldiers overseas. The way you do that is through development.”

Gates said he hopes the focus on development will result in a decreased need for American soldiers to be sent around the world.

The case for spending money on global development, particularly in a time with an unemployment rate near ten percent, will be a difficult one to make to the American people, Geithner said. By focusing on the benefits the U.S. will see, such as increased exports to the developing countries, Geithner said the American taxpayers may see development as a valid use of the nation’s resources.

“We face a deeply unsustainable long-term fiscal position,” Geithner said. “We have no credible strategy for making a case that this is a reasonably effective use of scare resources, unless we can explain that they are going to things that will make a difference for this basic cause.”

The participants also discussed the conditions countries must meet in order to receive foreign aid. Countries must commit to partnering with the U.S. on providing health care and education funds, for example, to be considered for aid, Clinton said.

Junior Jake Stewart, one of 20 GW students invited to attend the event, said the chance to hear from officials from a variety of government agencies was enlightening, particularly in their discussion of accountability.

“Clinton and Gates I think said some terrific things about holding countries and governments accountable for the assistance that we are going to be giving them,” he said. “That was one of my favorite parts of the conversation.”

Clinton said the progress made under the policy directive will solidify development’s place as a key feature of the nation’s foreign policy.

“We are looking for results that are non-partisan, not just bipartisan,” Clinton said. “We want to establish development firmly so that no matter where the political winds may blow, they will not blow over the fundamental concept that development is a key element now and forever of our foreign policy objectives.”

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