As it deals with the challenges presented by poor countries like Yemen, the United States aims to elevate development assistance to equal footing with the traditional foreign-policy tools of diplomacy and defense.
That is the message that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered in a speech Wednesday, in which the nation’s top diplomat explained a vision of strengthening American development work to further such national interests as spreading American values and enhancing US national security.
“We cannot stop terrorism or defeat ideologies of violence and extremism when hundreds of millions of young people see no hope” for improving their lives, Secretary Clinton said. Not just by more development work, she added, but by doing it better, relying more on partnerships with benefiting countries, and leveraging government work with private-sector assistance, can progress be made in reducing the ranks of the world’s poor.
Defense Secretary Gates agrees
Clinton’s vision of a foreign policy where development “is as essential to solving global problems as diplomacy and defense” reflects Obama administration priorities. As Clinton noted in her speech, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – a holdover from the Bush administration – is one of the administration’s most forceful advocates of a robust civilian development effort to relieve some of the burdens that have gradually fallen on the Defense Department.
Clinton referred to Yemen as “an incubator of extremism” and said that even though “the odds are long” for achieving rapid progress with development assistance in such countries, “the costs of doing nothing are potentially far greater.”
Clinton on Monday praised the Yemeni government’s recent efforts to disrupt Al Qaeda-linked activities, but those words were met by calls from the Yemeni government for more international assistance to address the roots of extremism.
A spokesman for Yemen’s ruling party said the government was up to the task of confronting extremists, but that it is up to the international community to promote “complete economic development to treat the sources of terrorism.”
Transparency and efficiency essential
On the other hand, Clinton said a new focus on development must include demands for transparency and efficiency – two qualities that are likely to be hard to come by in countries like Yemen or Afghanistan, another development-stunted priority Clinton highlighted in her speech. Yemen is listed as the second-most corrupt Arab country (after Iraq) in a report last year by the monitoring group Transparency International.
Clinton cited success stories such as Ghana, Rwanda, and Tanzania, where she said smart development assistance is making a measurable impact. And she called on her own diplomats and private international development advocates to do more to explain to an American public that is hurting economically why America’s international development assistance is in their interest.
Clinton’s speech was mostly serious policy talk, including when she riffed on her personal commitment to promoting the role of women and girls in advancing development. But she elicited chuckles and applause when she reminded her audience of the old adage about teaching a man to fish so he can eat for the rest of his life, only to add, “If you teach a woman to fish, she’ll feed the whole village.”
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