Imagine the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testifying that if defense funding were reduced, seven hundred thousand people in Libya would die, and tens of millions elsewhere in the world. It would be considered fear-mongering of the most repulsive kind. In fact, it would be considered a threat to the integrity of our civilian-led military to attempt such a blackmail of the Congress.
But that's exactly the approach USAID Director Rajiv Shah took last week testifying before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee. He said that if proposed reductions to USAID's budget go into effect 70,000 children will die. He added that he considered that a very conservative estimate, and that among other effects, another 800,000 recipients of our international disaster assistance in Darfur would be at risk.
Shah testified that 30,000 deaths would come specifically from scaling back anti-malaria programs, 24,000 from lack of immunization, and 18,000 lack of skilled attendants at births. All this from cutting 16 percent of the Obama administration's international affairs budget request.
Hard to say which is more offensive, Shah threatening Congress will have blood on its hands unless it continues to fund USAID programs, or the bureaucratic and cultural mindset that considers increased spending the only solution to a multivariate problem.
USAID was created as an entity separate from the State Department (and military assistance) in 1961, in order to remove from development assistance the taint of being provided in order to advance America's interests. USAID's official history rather unselfconsciously states that "It was thought that to renew support for foreign assistance at existing or higher levels, to address the widely known shortcomings of the previous assistance structure, and to achieve a new mandate for assistance to developing countries, the entire program had to be 'new.'"
The whiff of sanctimony pervades USAID still, which is part of why it is so unpopular on Capitol Hill, where elected representatives often find unpersuasive that the spending of their constituents money abroad should have no connection to our national interests.
Providing money through the Agency for International Development is by no means the only -- or even the most effective -- way to alleviate disease and poverty in the world. Case in point: funding for AID was dramatically cut in the 1990s, and yet that decade saw nearly a billion people lifted out of poverty by actual economic development. USAID's funding has been increased by 150 percent in the past decade -- most of that coming with the advocacy of a Republican president and his secretaries of state.
There are many ways USAID could compensate for reduced government spending:
USAID could build coalitions of like-minded governments to share the burden of funding.
USAID could reach out into American society for private-sector partners to fund programs.
USAID could use its power as a convener and facilitator of non-governmental organization involvement in programs.
USAID could develop performance metrics that ensure it is using what money is available to greatest effect.
USAID could prioritize its own activity to close down programs of lesser immediate importance.
USAID could discontinue development projects in countries like China and Brazil that, as a result of their own economic development, are now providers of development assistance to others.
In fact, USAID's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review champions all these approaches. USAID just doesn't practice them.
A number of folks have pressed me to
respond to Tom Ricks' critique)
of my civil-military surge article
with some variant of the joke: with friends like that, who needs enemies? They
were struck, I gather, by the dollops of snark that Ricks ladled onto his
For my part, I am struck by how
little there is really in terms of fundamental disagreement. I know the
etiquette of blogwars calls for a blistering response, but I think my friend
has simply misunderstood what my piece argues. So my reply will not live up (or
down) to the standard he has set.
The core of my article concerned
some key civil-military relations matters, which Ricks completely ignores:
"What is the proper division of labor for strategic supreme command decisions
during war?" I describe a debate between "professional supremacists" and
"civilian supremacists" and argue that the surge case undercuts the former
without fully vindicating the latter.
Ricks disregards all of that, and
focuses on one claim I make on pp 113-114: I note "...the extent to which the new
strategy was conceived in Washington as opposed to in theater" and "The
strategic-level decisions...were pushed and made in the White house." Here is how
I summed up the point: "President Bush, who for years had emphasized that he
was relying on the advice of his senior military leaders to determine the way
forward in Iraq, had decided that his military leaders were recommending the
wrong course. The president shifted, and persuaded his military leader to
endorse the strategic shift."
Ricks dismisses my account -- "...yep, I am sure this is what he thinks happened"--
and insists I am wrongly crediting Bush at the expense of Petraeus and Odierno.
But since I already credit Petraeus and Odierno with playing decisive roles,
the disagreement with Ricks, if there is one, is surely only on what Bush's
Consider what I explicitly credit
Petraeus and Odierno with:
Petraeus was "author of the new U.S. Army manual on
counter-insurgency" which gave the philosophical foundation for the surge.
Odierno "conducted a separate review prior to assuming command of ground forces in Iraq in November 2006, and this convinced him that a surge strategy should be tried."
Both "determined the operational and tactical implementation of the strategy and thus deserve the lion's share of credit for the surge's operational features."
Existence of pro-surge military voices like Petraeus and Odierno were "a necessary but insufficient condition to bolster the confidence of the civilian leaders to overrule other military advisors."
Moreover, I credit military pro-surge advocates with effectively working the informal advisory process that helped move skeptical civilians into the pro-surge camp. In particular, I note "Subsequent off-line exchanges with senior military officers who backed the surge gave Secretary Rice more confidence that new, plausible military ideas were being developed to use the "surge" forces effectively. "
That ain't beanbag. Indeed, I am
willing to go further and say that what Odierno and Petraeus implemented
largely consisted of what they hoped to implement when Bush was deciding what
to do. In fact, the only way in which I
draw a limit to their role is this:
Odierno nor Petraeus, however, devised a strategic shift and then convinced
reluctant civilians and the president to adopt it. Rather, their views were
leveraged by pro-surge civilians already determined to try another strategy and
dissatisfied with the one being advocated by the top military leadership."
This is the heart of the matter: while
the surge may have been what Odierno washoping toimplement,
as Ricks reports, Ricks fails to realize that it was not what Odierno was
going to implement in 2007, if Bush hadn't made the decision for the surge.
The Iraq strategy was on one trajectory, even with Odierno in place as MNC-I. It
took a big strategic shift to move it to a different trajectory. Neither
Odierno (nor Petraeus) made that strategic shift, nor could they have without
Ricks limits the President's role to
this: picking the right people Petraeus and Odierno, encouraging those people,
and perhaps on the margins having some influence over the strategy.
I say that the big elements of the
strategic shift -- such as the decision to make population security central and
the decision to send reinforcements and so on -- were made by the President, not
by Petraeus and Odierno. Without those elements, you wouldn't have the surge
strategy, even though Odierno was already in place and even if the president
had picked Petraeus (however, the second counterfactual is implausible because
Petraeus was picked so as to do the surge).
Everything that Ricks says about
Odierno and Petraeus may be correct, and I am willing to stipulate for the sake
of this debate that it is, and yet I would still be right that the strategic
shift was decided in Washington in a decision-making process that was driven by
civilians who had to overcome military reluctance at levels that outranked
Odierno and Petraeus.
Perhaps our disagreement reduces to
this. Ricks says he did dozens of hours of interviews with Odierno and came
away from those with a clear grasp of what Odierno thought his role was. I am
willing to say Ricks has described Odierno's role accurately. I logged lots of
time (more than dozens of hours actually) looking at a different level in the
process, the one in dispute here: what was going on at the White House and
interagency. Why is Ricks so sure that I have mischaracterized the interagency
and White House deliberations?
Ricks tells us (relying on
unattributed military sources based in Baghdad talking about unidentified White
House staffers) that he thinks the White House staff were writing "talking
points for principals." I saw and reported something more significant than
If Ricks did the same reporting I
did, and came away with a very different take, then I guess we really do
disagree. But I think we are two people who grabbed different parts of the
elephant and he is angry because my description of the ear is different from
his description of the trunk. No, it is
more than that. He is angry because he is telling me that the elephant is only
a trunk, and I am saying that the trunk may look like a trunk, but based on
what I discovered, the ear part looks more like an ear.
Our other disputes are minor and I
think are largely the result of the fact that I had the benefit of Ricks' book
and could do research and reporting beyond it:
Ricks describes Pete Pace's role very differently than I do.
I had to go with what my reporting produced.
Ricks wrongly thinks I ignore the ouster of Rumsfeld. On the
contrary, I note that the resignation of Rumsfeld brought the various reviews
together. What Ricks forgets is that Rumsfeld actually remained in place --
indeed, his close confidants represented the Defense department in the early
strategy review sessions -- and so was a player well into the middle of
December. Since Gates does not get sworn in until 18 December 2006, there is a
long and awkward interregnum when he is involved but not officially the
Secretary of Defense.
Odierno's strategy was never briefed to the interagency
group nor, to my knowledge to the president or to White House principals. Back
channel, the White House and some in the interagency learned that Odierno
thought something like the surge would work, but what the president decided on
was not a proposal developed by Odierno.
Petraeus putting the Sunni militia on the payroll was an
important refinement, perhaps even a necessary ingredient to whatever success
the new strategy produced. Without the strategic shift the President authorized
(new mission, reinforcements, diversified approach within Iraq, bottom-up
reconciliation, etc.), it either wouldn't have happened or would not have had
as strategic an effect.
I respect Odierno greatly, but I do not think that his
statement to Ricks about what he believes was decisive in the president's
decision-making should trump what others closer to the president have said
actually happened in the interagency bureaucracy -- nor what the president
himself has said in his own on the record account.
The President's account dovetails more closely with mine than with Ricks'.
Ricks does make two fair points. He is right that sticking with Admiral Fallon as long as the administration did was not consistent with support for the surge. Secretary Gates ultimately let Fallon go, but Ricks is right that it should have come sooner, especially if Bush were hewing to a civilian supremacy playbook. Perhaps Bush was instead sticking to the hybrid approach I described, which sought to minimize confrontations with the military. Perhaps the President believed that since he met weekly by VTC with Petraeus he was circumventing the CENTCOM chain of command and any problems it might be introducing. Or perhaps Secretary Gates was simply slow on the trigger. Whatever the explanation, the problems with Fallon in the spring of 2007 hardly show that Bush played a trivial role in deciding on the strategic shift months earlier.
And he is right that it would be
better to have more of the account on the record. As new accounts come to
light, more of the picture emerges. This is less of a problem for me than it is
for Ricks. Ricks' attack on me is a claim that his book is the final word and
that additional reporting and discoveries will not require him to change his
My perspective is different: Even
though I was a full participant in the interagency process that led to the
surge, my own thinking evolved as I did the research for my article. I expect
it to evolve further as new books in the coming year flesh out the picture. I
am willing to learn that new reporting covering things I have not seen has shed
new light on what I thought I knew. That is really the heart of the
truth-seeking academic enterprise. Why is Tom Ricks unwilling to let new
reporting of new facts revise his judgments?