Democracy Arsenal

May 02, 2007


Don't Let Anti-Corruption Go Down With Wolfowitz
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Paul Wolfowitz's long, bitter swan song at the World Bank is now accompanied by supportive sounds from unexpected quarters.  In Tuesday's NYT, Nuhu Ribadu, Chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission wrote an impassioned defense of the embattled Bank President.  He praised the very crusade against corruption in developing countries that seems to have turned much of the Bank's staff against Mr. Wolfowitz.  While Wolfowitz may need to leave the Bank, the body's Board of Directors ought to ensure that the organization's commitment to fight corruption not disappear along with him.

By taking on the issue of corruption, Wolfowitz broke from longstanding Bank practice to avoid wading into "politics" in the countries it helped.  But in pressing countries to restructure their budgets and economies, the Bank inevitably bumped up against negligent and fraudulent practices that prevented resources from being maximized for public benefit.  By remaining silent, the lender was tacitly allowing such unsavory practices to continue.  Wolfowitz's predecessor, James Wolfensohn, saw the problem and railed against the "cancer of corruption" in 1996 and set up a unit to battle graft.  But he stopped short of withholding Bank aid on the basis of corruption.

Wolfowitz took matters a step further.  He held up aid to India for a health program that was reportedly being siphoned off for politicians benefit, and froze lending to Chad in retaliation for that country's failure to meet commitments to channel oil proceeds to the poor. Similar measures were taken to punish corruption in Kenya, Bangladesh, Argentina and elsewhere.

Bank employees and others have complained that in withholding aid, Wolfowitz has punished innocent people who are themselves victims of the very corruption he decries.  This is true:  as long as some aid was making it past the pilferers, end recipients would be worse off if Bank funds are turned off entirely.  But, as Ribadu points out, $300 billion in foreign aid to Africa over the last two decades has failed to stanch rampant malaria and AIDS, nor help the 40 million African children who are not in school.  While corruption is not solely to blame, Ribadu argues that corruption "kills far more effectively than AIDS, malaria or war."

Furthermore, while some focus on the near-term impact of anti-corruption efforts on the poorest, others have objected to Wolfowitz's approach on separate grounds.  These have included affected governments not accustomed to having their domestic practices scrutinized, as well as Bank staff who had trouble getting used to the new rules.

Continue reading "Don't Let Anti-Corruption Go Down With Wolfowitz" »

January 04, 2007


Asia's Katrina
Posted by Zvika Krieger

Last week marked the second anniversary of the 2004 Asian tsunami, which claimed the lives of over 200,000 people and left millions homeless. International aid came pouring in—to the tune of over $13 billion. The US gave $133 million to Sri Lanka—where I’ve been spending the past two weeks—but few Americans seem concerned where their tax money has gone. Many folks here are comparing the mismanagement of reconstruction efforts to the post-Katrina bungling in the US. In between hanging out with Tamil Tigers and getting a sun tan, I’ve been making the rounds at some of these “reconstruction projects”—and let me tell you, the situation here makes the Katrina clean-up look like the New Deal. Despite the billions of dollars given to Sri Lanka, thousands of people here are still languishing in temporary housing two years later.

Of course much of the blame falls on the Sri Lankan government, which was not capable of handling the massive influx of aid money and is debilitated by rampant corruption. But I have been most shocked at the near-universal criticism I’ve been hearing of foreign NGOs and aid groups that flooded the country after the tsunami. Almost every Sri Lankan I've met has complained that these foreigners seem more concerned with spending their money than actually helping Sri Lankans. In many cases, these ill-conceived reconstruction projects have just made things worse. A report by UN special envoy Bill Clinton described aid activities in Sri Lanka as “a competition for photo-opportunities.” And it doesn’t help that, while many Sri Lankans are still living in post-tsunami squalor, many foreign NGO workers are driving around in fancy new SUVs and staying in 5-star hotels. (More than a few of them were at the $50-a-ticket New Year’s party I crashed this week.)

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to call the efforts of the international aid community “arrogant and ignorant” (in the words of the Tsunami Evaluation Commission). While many in Washington have been praising the values of disaster relief as a public diplomacy tool, most are forgetting the key ingredient—our aid has to actually help people.  By writing blank checks to countries like Sri Lanka, we are becoming part of the problem rather than the solution. As the Clinton report concluded, “The generous public funding had discouraged humanitarian actors from prioritizing accountability to affected populations during the tsunami response.” You can read some of the most damning evidence here and here.

May 31, 2006


Whatever Happened to HIV/AIDS?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Today, the UN launches a five-year review of world efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.  Yesterday, UNAIDS released a comprehensive report on the state of the epidemic.  whether the glass is full or empty depends very much on whom you talk to.  US Secretary General Kofi Annan, who said countries were "distressingly" short of their targets while the world was "unconscionably slow" in responding to the epidemic among women and girls, seemed not to be reading from the same talking points as UNAIDS head Peter Piot, who said:

Encouraging results in HIV prevention and treatment indicate a growing return on investments made in the AIDS response.

Confused?  Haven't heard about AIDS in a while?  Hoping you can take this one off the worry/guilt/policy priority list?  Take my 2006 State-of-AIDS quiz and find out.

1.  How much has spending on global AIDS risen since 2001?

2.  What share of that is US spending?

3.  How many people worldwide who have AIDS are now getting life-extending anti-retroviral therapy (ARVs)?

4.  How much would it cost to get ARVs to everyone who needs them?

5.  True or false:  South Africa has more HIV-positive citizens than any other country.

6.  Given the above, Americans should feel:

a) bored.  AIDS is over; there are more important problems.

b) a warm feeling of gratitude to the Bush Administration.

c) unnerved.

Continue reading "Whatever Happened to HIV/AIDS?" »

March 23, 2006


Vegetarians: Our counter-terror stealth force
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

One of these things is not like the other ones. One of these things just doesn't belong...
Hanta, Plague, Ebola, Crutzfeld Jakobs, Avian, Nepah, West Nile, Rift Valley, Anthrax, Norwalk, SARS, Marburg. Give up? The only one of these disease outbreaks since 1993 that does NOT come from from animals is Norwalk virus. The other ones are transboundary illnesses...not boundaries like the one between Canada and the USA...more like trans-species boundaries. These are called "zoonatic" diseases. I learned this at a Capitol Hill briefing last week given by a Vet named Dr. Lonnie King from Michigan State. Upon coming home that evening, I gave a long sigh when my pup Folly greeted me at the door. "Its you or me, babe", I said to her. A skeptical little mutt, she ran and hid from me under the coffee table.  Here she is pretending that things between us are same as always.Blog_photos_misc_006_1

Continue reading "Vegetarians: Our counter-terror stealth force" »

October 23, 2005


The Pakistan Earthquake and Why We Need (a Competent) FEMA International
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Thanks to Katrina, Rita and even a weakened Wilma, this Fall has brought Americans a new appreciation of disasters and, in particular, of the human element that can turn natural calamities into first order political and social catastrophes.   

In the meantime, there are evidently about 10,000 children in Kashmir in imminent danger of freezing to death this winter as a result of the October 8 earthquake in India and Pakistan.  Large populations of survivors in remote areas have not yet been reached by any aid.  Temperatures are already dropping.  In scenes reminiscent of New Orleans, frightened helicopter drivers have turned around when faced by mobs of desperate survivors left waiting too long for food and water. 

Doctors and aid workers predict that a second massive wave of deaths is likely to occur as a result of untreated wounds and lack of shelter.  According to Kofi Annan, only a massive and to date unforthcoming infusion of international aid can stop this.  If it does happen, it will be inescapable that, alongside the earthquake itself, a second and more proximate cause of the deaths will have been the world's failure to mobilize and provide these trapped Pakistanis with the help they need.

While the news outlets have reported on the earthquake and its aftermath Americans, by and large, are taking a pass on this one.  Exhausted after Katrina and her successors, the US public = understandably yet no less tragically - has little appetite to get deeply engaged in the earthquake relief effort.  With the exception of Turkey, it appears that much of the rest of the world is following our lead and taking a pass on this one.

The needs are staggering.  Pakistan requires a half a million tents and an immediate helicopter mission on the order of the Berlin airlift to evacuate survivors.  NATO has volunteered 1000 troops but has rejected the UN's demand for a huge helicopter mobilization on grounds that it doesn't have enough of the vehicles to spare.   The US is sending just six helicopters, Britain four.   According to this article relief workers have "effectively admitted defeat - and issued a plea to the sick, wounded and dying to make their own hazardous journey across treacherous mountain passes on foot."

For a variety of reasons, the outpouring of concern and generosity that followed last January's tsunami has not been replicated in Kashmir.  The scope of the two disasters are not beyond compared.  The earthquake death toll is now at 79,000, compared to about 123,000 for the tsunami.  The UN has received only $57 million in pledges to meet what it calculates as a $312 million need.  By contrast, after the tsunami 80% of the funds needed were pledged within 10 days.   This article details the difficulties faced by the World Food Programme, one of the UN's best agencies, in meeting the needs without greater donor support.

[An related interesting side note that came up at the Princeton Conference some weeks back.  There's a big difference between the world's attitude toward the prospect large-scale deaths due to injury and exposure post-earthquake versus the risk of comparable loss of life due to a armed conflict. 

If tens of thousands of lives were hanging in the balance due to a murderous dictator, there would be calls for intervention to prevent genocide.  At the very least we'd see widespread hand-wringing.   Yet the lack of response to the earthquake has few Americans tied in knots.  Part of the reason for the distinction lies in the implications of killings (as opposed to deaths) for our social fabric.  Killings cause people to lose faith in one another, they unleash desires for revenge, they call into question the role and value of the state.  Yet, as Katrina illustrated, because of the high degree of human agency involved in responding to so-called "natural" calamities, deaths from these disasters can likewise tear apart a society.]

The glaring holes in the disaster response effort will have political ramifications:  analysts suggest that the army's failure to do more for survivors may weaken Musharraf's already shaky hold on power. 

Given the US's close ties to Musharraf and the demands its made on the Pakistani government as part of the fight against terror, its easy to foresee that already high levels of Pakistani anti-Americanism may only further intensify (the opposite happened in Indonesia after the tsunami, where the US's generosity led to sharply improved public attitudes toward us).  There are also reports that terrorist organizations have stepped into the void, viewing the chaos as a useful opportunity to win popular support and new recruits.

Why an International Version of FEMA is Needed . . .

Continue reading "The Pakistan Earthquake and Why We Need (a Competent) FEMA International" »

August 28, 2005

Defense, Democracy, Development, Middle East, Progressive Strategy, Proliferation

First Steps toward a New World Order
Posted by Michael Kraig

Well, I'm sitting here at 4:45 Sunday CST, listening to Megadeth's 1991 song "Symphony of Destruction," essentially Dave Mustaine's gut response to the first Persian Gulf War with Saddam, and it's put me in a mindset to finish out my tenure with one last parting shot at some of the questions thrown my way.

David Adesnik has thrown the most pointed questions my way, which I can best answer by pasting in a few recent op-eds that have never been published, and also put out weblinks to two more. But first one of the easier questions (paraphrased):

--"Why don't we just start making MagLev trains and rely on wind and solar, and get the heck out of the Middle East?"

Answer: It's not a solution for China or India, or most Southeast or Northeast Asian nations, who are in a different stage of development but who are increasingly driving the global economy, of which the US is itself a part. Also, having traveled through the six Gulf Arab Monarchies: if you think the terrorism problem is bad now, imagine a hyper-developing set of Arab countries with mammoth public works projects and super-modern skyscrapers, hotels, banks, conference centers, and everything else suddenly being BROKE because all the Developing World decided to chuck their oil dependency as quickly as possible.

It's easy to think of the Middle East as just a bunch of poor nations who are hostile to globalization and who lack modern infrastructure; I daresay this is the mindset of many Americans on both sides of the aisle. It is more difficult to digest the reality, which is that 1) 80%-90% of the populations of the six Gulf Arab states are immigrants from Greater Asia (all Asian countries) who remit substantial monies to their families throughout Asia; 2) the oil surplus subsidizes the economies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan through immigrant workers and through big yearly cash checks from Saudi Arabia; and 3) places like Dubai easily surpass New York in modernity and are literally erecting dozens of new skyscrapers every year, 24/7.

Most of this is oil money, or is connected in some way to oil money. Now last time I checked, we wanted to spread democracy to the Middle East. Well, what do sociologists and historians and political scientists indicate is co-terminous with democrat liberalization? Modernization. Modernity. The Burghers (new commercial elite) of Northern Europe came along well before the first open parliamentary elections...actually, a couple of centuries before. Now, oil money is in fact modernizing the entire Middle East region...and slowly but surely drawing it into the global economy.

Do we really want to end it as soon as possible? Will this really help fight terrorism at the global level? Or would a sudden halt to all such development, and sudden poverty, collapse the entire region into flames? Something to think about. I'm not saying to go out and buy a Ford Expedition, but we have to tread carefully on the question of energy futures.

One medium-term answer is to create a stable international security environment that gives the domestic room for liberalization over decades of time international norms, processes, and rules prior to domestic democratization.

Washington puts the latter first, but my answer to David Adesnik and others is that we should think seriously whether we have nearly the control/effect over other states' domestic practices as we have over their international, foreign policy practices, especially given our power to engage other states and shape the security environment in which they operate. We can probably set up international institutions or looser arrangements....Iraq shows the innate difficulty of putting the domestic level as the "causal variable" for peace and stability.

In this regard, I offer one op-ed already published below, followed by the text of two op-eds on Syria and Iran, respectively.

Peace, Michael Kraig, Director of Policy Analysis and Dialogue, The Stanley Foundation

Gulf Security in a Globalizing World: Going beyond US Hegemony

Assuring a Free Lebanon: Don’t Forget the Golan Heights

50 years after the term "roll back" was originally coined to describe a hawkish US Cold War strategy of beating international communism by aggressively pushing it back across the borders of Russia, the term has gained a new lease on life in the streets of Lebanon. The United States and France are now being gladly joined by almost every conceivable actor around the globe in calling for Syria to leave Lebanon, now and for good: from Kofi Anon and the UN Secretariat, to Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea, to Middle Eastern leaders themselves.

In recent shuttle diplomacy to Riyadh and Cairo, Syria has attempted to gain some semblance of pan-Arab nationalist support, but to no avail. Everyone in the region, from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, from the highest decision-makers to the lowest academics and opposition figures, seem to believe that Hariri’s death was indeed perpetrated by the Syrian government, either in the form of rogue intelligence elements or via a direct decision of Bashar Al-Asad himself. The only palpable Arab nationalist support has been through the good offices of Ammr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League. No practical political or economic aid for Syria’s position will be forthcoming from the League’s varied members. Syria is truly and utterly alone

Despite these developments, however, the West can still play the crisis in Beirut wrong, with costly and violent outcomes resulting from tactical and strategic missteps. Amid the boisterous joy in the streets of Beirut, as the political and military minions of the Syrian Ba’ath regime seem ready for comprehensive rollback beyond the Bekka valley in accordance with UN Resolution 1559, the West and especially the US should take a deep breath and consider carefully the long-term strategy for peace in Lebanon if it truly wants an inexorable evolution to liberal democracy in Beirut. For as in any complex conflict, the party being backed into a corner can strike back in desperation to protect what it sees as core strategic interests and issues of national identity. And in the present crisis, there is indeed a bilateral issue with central nationalist, territorial, and ideological overtones: the status of the Golan Heights.

Although the war of 1973 is a distant memory for many in the West, for Syrian citizens and leaders alike it is an ever-present, eternal issue. And as in the case of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power today, Syria’s attachment to the Golan is not contingent on the character of the regime in power. Just as experts have predicted that Iran will pursue a latent nuclear capability no matter who holds the reigns of power in Tehran, Syria is likely to press for this slim piece of strategic territory no matter holds power in Damascus. Any conceivable ruling coalition of reformists, secular nationalists, or ethnic-based representatives would expect a final, just, equitable settlement with Israel on this issue, since it is not just seen as a piece of land, but also as an ideological, values-based conflict artificially frozen in time by Western intervention and UN peacekeepers. Even though few in Syria today avidly support Bashar Al-Asad’s confused and ineffectual rule, fewer still support the idea of Israel controlling a piece of Syrian territory indefinitely. Syrians may wish for a different domestic regime, but they still do not trust the ultimate intentions of Tel Aviv. Majority opinion in Syria still holds that Israel is an aggressive, expansionist, irredentist power bent on fulfilling the dictates of an inflexible Zionist ideology (and supported blindly by Capitol Hill) – an attitude inculcated by the beating drums of Syria’s state-controlled media, but an attitude that exists nonetheless.

Therefore, if the well-wishers for Lebanese democracy truly want a non-violent, stable, and just outcome in Beirut, they should think strategically of all the linked issues in Lebanon’s neighborhood, and act accordingly. Syria is much more likely to play the spoiler to current trends within Lebanon (via Hezbollah or other instruments) if it believes that no benefits, no reassurances, and no hope is forthcoming on the core issue of the Golan Heights. Even as pressure is justly and universally applied to roll back Syria’s corrupt, cronyistic control of a fledgling democratic nation, the world’s lone superpower would do well to work with Europeans, Israel, and Kofi Anon to craft public and private messages assuring Damascus that a final and equitable outcome to the Golan issue will eventually materialize, respecting the relevant UN Resolutions arising from the war of 1973 – Resolutions 242 and 338, which are universally supported throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. These promises and reassurances could in turn be diplomatically backed up by the Arab League, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to garner some measure of trust with Syria’s beleaguered regime. These assurances are crucial precisely because Israel is in a stronger position than ever to deny such a settlement to Damascus, unilaterally, with or without international support.

But this subtle strategy of linkage between different issues will require patience, wisdom, and foresight on the part of US decision-makers and Western allies alike – something that has been in regrettably short supply over the past four years. Let us hope that as the demonstrators in Beirut supply the courage of their convictions, the US and the international community can supply a balanced, realistic long-term solution to Israeli-Syrian grievances that will ultimately keep Damascus from further acts of desperation in Lebanon.

Engaging Gulliver: China’s Lessons for the Iranian Nuclear Crisis

The Washington policy community is so mired in the seemingly endless nuclear crisis with Iran that they fail to notice the long-term solution: the example of China over the past 40 years.

Looking at today’s dynamic and largely cooperative Northeast and Southeast Asian economic scene, it is easy to forget just how domestically and internationally unpredictable China once was, or how worried the US strategic community was about it. Amid Mao’s various top-down, state-led revolutions in the 1960s, China’s ascent toward nuclear weapons status galvanized the United States to explore several anti-ballistic missile systems and seriously consider preemptive military strikes on Chinese nuclear facilities – as is now being actively considered by Israel and the United States toward Iran. China was viewed as an aggressive and irrational foe that threatened to destabilize Asia – just as Iran is viewed today in the Middle East. And while a nuclear Iran could incite further nuclear proliferation among regional neighbors, China’s huge size and obvious Great Power aspirations were in large part behind South Korea’s and Taiwan’s nascent efforts to "go nuclear" in the 1970s and 80s – a trend that was further spurred by America’s weakened position in Asia after Vietnam, much as America is looking increasingly besieged in Iraq today.

And yet the worst never came to pass. China bridged the nuclear gap, but instead of brandishing nukes with bellicose, offensive threats, it fielded a minimalist arsenal based on defensive threats. China has exercised its growing power through mutually advantageous economic cooperation with its neighbors, spurred partly by the positive example of US-China bilateral trade deals. And meanwhile, strong US bilateral security guarantees and conventional arms sales with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have kept each from pursuing nuclear arsenals.

The Soviet threat had much to do with the long-term thaw between China and the United States. But it was also because China’s internal revolution – like Iran’s Islamic revolution today – failed miserably in providing its citizens prosperity. In the case of China, this domestic developmental gap was ultimately filled with capital and technology from abroad. China’s Asian Gulliver has not only been tied down by countless financial threads emanating from Lilliputians such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, it has also been tremendously enriched at the same time. Paradoxically, the stronger Gulliver becomes, the more he is constrained. Meanwhile, China’s burgeoning market provides the fodder for Lilliputian growth: all of Southeast and Northeast Asia (including Taiwan) have GDPs and GNPs that increase concurrently with China’s market. China has largely become a status quo power, ever hungry for more national strength but largely unable to use that strength for any conceivable aggressive ends.

Herein lies the key to resolving the Iranian crisis. Iran, like China, is an ancient civilization that has regional hegemonic ambitions, and these latent ambitions are motivating its Arab neighbors to buy high-tech conventional weaponry and grant America basing rights in the Persian Gulf. But Iran is a mess domestically, suffering from stagnant growth, declining industry, an apathetic and frustrated population, a leadership hungry for cash and domestic legitimacy, and the desperate need for infrastructure and technology improvements. It is Iran’s own neighbors, the Lilliputian Arab monarchies who are slight on geopolitical power but flush with investment capital, that could conceivably tie Gulliver down and satisfy his regional ambitions at the same time. In the short-term, if Iran could be stopped short of the nuclear weapons threshold – at the level of a latent bomb capability in the form of an indigenous nuclear energy fuel cycle, but not an actual arsenal – then the United States could use the same bilateral security guarantees perfected with South Korea and Taiwan in the Asian context to keep Iran’s neighbors from going nuclear themselves.

But precious time is already being wasted. In order for Iran to become a normal nation, the United States needs to start treating it like a normal nation, as Nixon first did with China. To dampen the nuclear crisis and allow forward momentum in other areas, the United States needs to assure a justifiably skittish Iran that it accepts the Islamic Republic’s basic claim to sovereignty, and it can even recommend Iran’s admission to multilateral economic institutions such as the World Trade Organization, which could constitute a powerful source of leverage over Iran’s regional behavior. Simultaneously, European trade arrangements and technological know-how could be mixed with Arab investment capital and US bilateral detente. Ultimately, European-Arab-US strategic cooperation could effectively create a virtuous circle of security and development with a fearful but ambitious Iran. Let the tying of Gulliver begin.

July 20, 2005


How to Build Back Better: Working on Tsunami Recovery Efforts in Indonesia
Posted by Anita Sharma

Thanks Heather, for that warm introduction, and hello to everyone at Democracy Arsenal! I’ll do my best to fill Heather’s shoes while she and her family journey on America’s highway en route to a reunion and a fun-filled summer vacation! Ahh summer vacation, I can’t much recall what that feels like right now because I left the nation’s capitol on a frigid, but sunny, February afternoon and have been in the warm tropics of Indonesia since then. And you’ll have to forgive me if it takes a little while to get back to U.S. foreign policy as I’ve been working fully on a tsunami relief project with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

As Heather said, I’ve been in DC for some time, and like many of our bloggers, contributed to the Kerry-Edwards campaign. I also worked in Iraq and Jordan with IOM as “major hostilities” finished,” and Saddam fell, beginning in March 2003 until the United Nations headquarters was blown up in August 2003. I stayed in Jordan until the beginning of 2004 when I resumed my job at the Woodrow Wilson Center and became fully involved with the campaign. We all know how the elections turned out, and that, combined with being in Australia the day after the tsunami and experiencing the outpouring of relief support, prompted a major job and location change.

For five months I’ve been in Indonesia, trying to help repair the devastation of coastal Aceh caused by the tsunami. When I first arrived the magnitude of the problem seemed overwhelming. Although trite, the best analogy I gave people back home was to think of a nuclear bomb and how entire areas were completely leveled. The massive 9.3 earthquake caused a tsunami originating in the Indian Ocean just off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The subsequent tsunami devastated the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South India, Thailand and other countries with waves up to 30 m (100 feet). Anywhere from 200,000 to 310,000 people died as a result of the tsunami, with more than 130,000 people killed in Aceh alone. Although I arrived after most of the bodies that hadn’t been swept out to sea had been collected, the destruction and the needs of the more than 500,000 people displaced were palpable. To put that number in context, half a million people is a population roughly equivalent to the cities of Baltimore, Islamabad, Oslo, or Beirut.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, IOM provided life-saving relief items and health care. Our reconstruction activities are now in earnest as we, like so many other aid organizations, are working to in the words of UN Tsunami Special Envoy President Bill Clinton, to “build back better.” As we attempt to rebuild communities by providing shelter, meet health needs and promote livelihood activities, the question is not whether we can do this, but how. Interestingly in this disaster response, the challenge is not financial. Recently released figures from the UN put total worldwide pledges at about 6.7 billion dollars. (Of this, about 1.9 billion dollars in pledges have been converted into commitments.) Private donations, mostly through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Red Cross, U.N. relief agencies and all other channels, amounted to an additional 4 billion dollars. Taken together, the estimated total is over 10.7 billion dollars! Though it seems like a lot, and it is, how these agencies work together, and with the Indonesia government, is critical.

One thing I spend a lot of time thinking and working on is how to get people out of tents, make-shift homes, or host families and into homes of their own. The disaster damaged or destroyed approximately 116,880 homes. While reconstruction work has now started, sufficient numbers of homes will not be rebuilt or repaired in the next few months. The concern right now is how can the international aid agencies, with so much money in their coffers turn, to their donors (in many cases individuals like you and me who saw the aftermath on TV and opened their pocketbooks) and admit that one year after the disaster people may still be living in awful conditions? Sometimes I wonder who the aid agencies are most concerned about—the Acehnese living in squalor or the journalists who will report back on the dearth of rebuilding, and the resulting wave of criticism of “why haven’t you done more?” I’ll get back to why and the difficulties associated with our work in the next posting.

Another recent development, and why it’s fascinating to be here at the moment, is the potential for peace in Aceh. If the agreement, to be signed on August 15, goes through, it may end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts where more than 12,000 people died since 1976. According to negotiators, the agreement calls for Indonesian troops to largely withdraw from the province and for the rebels to demobilize by the end of the year. Brokered by Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president who chaired the talks, the memorandum of understanding covers issues such as human rights, amnesty and security arrangements. While international aid has been permitted to the tsunami hit areas of Aceh, access to the hinterland and economic development in the province has been hampered by restricted access and continual fighting between the GAM and Indonesian military.

The peace deal, if successful, is likely to smooth the way for reconstruction efforts throughout the province. Interestingly I could potentially be working to assist not only the tsunami survivors, but also those who have lived through three decades of war. Of course, there are skeptics. Several times the warring sides came close to peace but this time there is additional grounds for optimism. The cloud of the tsunami may have a silver lining in that after years of martial law, and then emergency rule, Aceh was forced to open its doors to outside help and the international attention to the province has shone a spotlight on the brutal, but much ignored, conflict.

Since we began work in Aceh, everyone has said that for recovery and reconstruction to be effective, fighting in the region must end. It will be quite amazing if this actually does come to pass.

I realize that my post has run on a bit long without me being provocative or particularly insightful. I wanted to first give you my thoughts on the scope of the problem and what it’s like being at the center (though I am myself but one of the multitude of aid workers) of such a complex and crucial set of issues. I do hope to use the air-time graciously given to me by Heather to get deeper into the challenges of reconstruction: like building fast versus sustainability; how coordinating aid agencies is like herding cats (in this case many fat cats with big pockets); the changing political landscape of Indonesia, its own battles with terrorism; the evolving U.S.-Indonesia relationship and the perception of America by young Indonesians. Again, apologies for the long posting and I welcome your thoughts!

June 01, 2005

Africa, Development

A dollar short for Africa
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A while ago we here made a list of 10 things the Bush Administration could do with no change in policy that would help improve America's image around the world .  Number 1 was getting behind Britain's initiative to dramatically up aid to Africa, making good on commitments the G8 adopted starting in 2001.

As part of the very same press conference with Thabo Mbeki in which, as Derek discusses below, Bush called the situation in Darfur genocide, the President also make clear he has no intention of being more generous to Africa because "it doesn't fit our budgetary process." 

Meanwhile the EU's original 15 members agreed Tuesday to increase official aid for immunizations, sanitation, education, and other programs for the poor to the equivalent of 0.7 percent of GDP by 2015.  The 10 newest EU members pledged to ''strive for'' 0.33 percent.  That's more than double the .16 of GDP the U.S. currently spends.

The purpose of Mbeki's trip to the U.S. was, at least in large part, to try to build support for the anti-poverty meeting in preparation for an upcoming G8 confab in Scotland.  While Mbeki tried to put a positive spin on the President's response, the absence of any new commitments means he was pretty much shut out.

The problem is not that Britain wants to shower aid willy-nilly.  They too have demanded strict accountability and anti-corruption measures as part of their proposals.  In fact, the Bush Administration's failure to support the UK is becoming a source of real friction between Bush and Blair.  Blair is considering imposing a tax to fund the program, a concept that's unimaginable here.

The EU is in chaos, but has still managed to agree that it wants to be on the forefront of the global battle against poverty, motivated partly by morality and partly by pragmatic concerns about the chaos and spillover effects that desperation breeds. 

The Administration has made the promotion of freedom a centerpiece of its policy, but won't put up the money to help lift up countries for which the biggest threats to freedom are disease, hunger, and poor education.   As the EU moves forward without us, a measure that could have boosted America's image will now hurt it. 

The end of today's press conference was a recitation of tired arguments on Zimbabwe.  Bush decried Mugabe's abuses and reckless ransacking of his country, concluding that "it's a problem."  Mbeki tripped over his own claim that the regime needs "support . . . to overcome these problems," almost saying that its the opposition that deserves the help.  Meanwhile, the despot has been rounding up tens of thousands of political opponents, burning their homes and running others out of the country's big towns.   

It's not too late for Bush to change his mind in advance of the July G-8 Summit.  Why not offer the aid, but link it to a genuine partnership on promoting democracy in Africa - including an end to Mbeki and others' support for Mugabe.  Zimbabwe now seems to be on its way to complete mayhem, which could necessitate lengthy and costly international intervention and recovery effort.  Given the choice between billions more in aid or standing by a friend who is starving his own people, African leaders might budge.

May 03, 2005


Compassionate Conservatism Lite
Posted by Michael Signer

In the C'mon-You've-Got-To-Be-Kidding category, a new report by the General Accounting Office on the Administration's Millenium Challenge Account, revealing that the Administration has obligated only 2% of the funds of the initiative to reduce poverty in the developing world. 

As Byron Dorgan's Democratic Policy Committee reports, the GAO shows the Administration's commitment to this crucial draining-the-swamp enterprise to be the peeling, plastic band-aid it is.  Their report:

Bush Administration has failed to deliver on its promise of "a major new commitment" to the developing world. On March 14, 2002, President Bush announced his proposal for the MCA, a major new initiative to provide foreign assistance to the developing world. The President promised "a major new commitment by the United States to bring hope and opportunity to the world's poorest people," and announced, "I carry this commitment in my soul." Three years after his promise, however, and two years after Congress passed the MCA into law, President Bush has yet to deliver on his promise. The MCA has not contributed a single dollar of foreign assistance to a developing nation. Furthermore, the President has not requested the $5 billion per year he promised for the account in any of the four budgets he has submitted to Congress after he announced the initiative.

In two years, the Bush Administration has obligated only two percent of MCA funds. The developing world is facing a series of destabilizing crises, including the AIDS pandemic, intractable poverty, floods of migrants and refugees, that not only cripple development efforts, but also represent threats to the security of the U.S. and the world. MCA funds could be a critical tool in confronting these crises; however, the Bush Administration has failed to get these funds into the areas of the world where they are needed most. The GAO reports that the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the agency responsible for implementing the MCA, has only signed an agreement with one nation, Madagascar, worth only $110 million. Worse still, this $110 million will be made available over four years, meaning that only $55 million - two percent of the $2.5 billion appropriated through two years by Congress - has been obligated for the MCA's first two years.

It might be said that shamelessness makes for good politics, and I've always felt that the Bush team's utter unabashed willingness to do politics for politics' sake has been the key to their greater political victories.  (The "Mission Accomplished" Affair being the most delightful instance of the approach backfiring). 

But even in a shameless politics, there should still be a line.  It's like if ESPN only showed quarterbacks throwing passes, not receivers catching them.  The lack of follow-through on the MCA follows a series of foreign affairs maneuvers where the inattention of the press can only be blamed for aggravating the Administration's already-egregious approach.

The recent "energy policy" -- which aims to build new refineries on military bases -- is the best example.  Two years ago, fighting off John Kerry, President Bush told us in his State of the Union address that energy independence through alternative energy was the way to go.  Even some conservatives wondered whether he'd "gone green".

Days later, his announced budget reduced funds for alternative energy projects.  Today, of course, we've all forgotten the original pump-fake.  The new energy policy aims to make us energy independent by "expanding capacity" domestically -- a reverse strategy from alternative energy, and one that would still enchain the domestic population to craven domestic energy policy. 

The election's over, his supporters are calling in chits, and the media's memory is again short-term.  Game on -- now cut to commercials. 

Continue reading "Compassionate Conservatism Lite" »

March 18, 2005


Newsflash: Wolfowitz to Listen
Posted by The Editors

The Drudge Report has a headline reporting on a statement by Wolfowitz  who says he will "do a lot of listening" as he readies to assume the helm of the World Bank.   That is laudable on Wolfowitz's part; he is borrowing a page from Hillary Clinton who pioneered the "listening tour" in the early stage of her campaign for Senate in New York.   But in featuring what should be the blandest of all headlines, Drudge acknowledges what we all know - that its truly novel for a Bush Administration official to pledge to listen to the rest of the world.   In fact, the FT article is full of conciliatory remarks by Wolfowitz.  He says: "This is not about changing the agenda of the World Bank. The agenda of the World Bank is about poverty reduction, about helping billions of people lift themselves up out of misery. It's a unifying mission that brings people together, and I look forward to that opportunity."   Either the conservative message machine has finally figured out how to spin the rest of the world as well as they do the U.S. public,  or Wolfowitz is genuinely buoyed by the prospect of an agenda that draws in rather than repels others.

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