Sunday, October 26, 2003


Bolivia: Jeff Sachs writes a blistering opinion piece, occasioned by the fall of President Sanchez de Lozada last week, critical of U.S. foreign assistance policy (or lack thereof). I was especially taken by his statement about the U.S. Agency for International Development. Sachs says USAID has been turned “into a service-delivery agency that undertakes specific projects in poor countries…. rather than a strategic agency that analyzes complex development challenges and helps lead a suitable U.S. foreign policy response.” I have not had enough contact with USAID since I left seven years ago to judge whether he is right about that, but the statement has some face validity. USAID has focused a large part of its budget on programs, such as those in Israel and Egypt, that are essentially entitlements to the governments of those countries based on geo-political concerns, and only secondarily development programs. The very small programs it runs in many other countries are unlikely to provide much policy leverage, or to affect overall national conditions. The initiatives of this administration, such as its US$15 billion AIDS effort and the Millennium Challenge Account, are apparently to be administered via other bureaucratic channels. Turning USAID into a cabinet agency, as Sachs proposes, would appear unlikely to accomplish much if the Agency’s missions and budgets are unchanged.

Iraq: In a front page story, the Post says that no evidence has been uncovered of a reconstituted nuclear weapons program, and strongly implies no such evidence will be forthcoming, and indeed that the administration has not prosecuted the search for nuclear weapons very vigorously. (The story does not imply that no evidence will be found of stockpiles or programs to produce chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction.) Lack of a post-1991 nuclear weapons program would seem to challenge statements made by the Administration in the build up to the war. The Post seems likely to have investigated this story forcefully prior to making so strong a charge.


Chile: I heard Peter Kornbluh on a CSPAN book show this morning talking about a recently published book that he edited: “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability”. His apparently well informed perception is that the U.S. Administration in the early and mid 1970’s was telling the public one story, the U.S. Congress another, and the right wing dictator of Chile still another story. The serious human rights abuses of the Pinochet government were apparently quite acceptable to the U.S. Administration of the time, if the alternative was a public opinion debacle of a freely elected Marxist government functioning in the Americas. This willingness to ignore human rights and democratic processes was in spite of the recognition by Henry Kissinger that “Chile was a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica,” posing no economic nor military danger to the United States.

All three of these stories can be seen from a Knowledge for Development standpoint. Sachs, a frequent and powerful spokesman on international development issues, suggests that the U.S. government has lost capacity to develop and utilize the detailed, substantive knowledge to make good development policy. I have heard suggested that in the buildup for the Iraq war, the U.S. government made organizational changes that severely limited its ability to analyze and understand information on Iraq, and that the resulting lack of knowledge lead to bad decisions and continuing problems. The Chilean and Iraqi examples suggest that Administrations have limited the knowledge available to the legislative body and the public by the choice of the information it shares publicly. Needless to say, none of these possibilities is comforting!

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