Tales from the Trail

Clinton sees diplomats of the future in cargo pants as well as pinstripes

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Congress to finance a major new U.S. push on overseas development aid, arguing that only by building up a global middle class will the United States increase its own national security.

Clinton, in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine which previews a pending State Department report on diplomacy and development, says it is essential for Congress to keep the money flowing even as the United States grapples with its own financial problems at home.

“The American people must understand that spending taxpayer dollars on diplomacy and development is in their interest,” Clinton wrote, saying it was time to put to rest “old debates on foreign aid.”

“It is time to move beyond the past and to recognize diplomacy and development as national security priorities and smart investments in the United States’ future stability and security,” Clinton said. “These missions can succeed, but only with the necessary congressional leadership and support. Congress must provide the necessary funding now.”

Clinton’s article comes ahead of the expected release of the State Department’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), a study launched in July 2009 which aims to set the framework for how U.S. diplomacy and overseas aid efforts will work together in coming years.

Senator to USAID: Stop your high-flying ways

An influential senator warned the official U.S. overseas aid agency: come down to earth with the impoverished people or see your funding cut.

QUAKE-HAITI/FRANCESenator Patrick Leahy said he was concerned that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had become “distant from the trenches,” sometimes more eager to deal with foreign elites than the suffering masses who had no voice.

Leahy’s opinion matters because he chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget for USAID, which the Obama administration hopes to transform into an important tool to boost the U.S. image abroad.

U.S. officials seek to shelve Karzai tensions

Tensions, what tensions?

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew arrived back from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, touting the performance of several ministers in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government.

OBAMA-AFGHANISTANHis visit came at a particularly tense time in U.S.-Afghan relations after Karzai made some corrosive statements in recent weeks against his donors, blaming the West for much of the corruption in his country and drawing critical comments from the White House.

Hours after landing home, Lew went out of his way to single out several Afghan ministers, including the finance and agriculture ministers, who he said were “extraordinary leaders.”

Haiti … Too Much Suffering

QUAKE-HAITI/Having hurtled by car through the Dominican Republic to the ramshackle Haitian border, I and four other foreign journalists were desperate to reach Port-au-Prince by nightfall. So after exchanging Ramon’s beaten-up taxi for the the back of a modern pickup owned by one of Haiti’s elite families, our speed stresses were soon put into terrible perspective.

Just a mile or two into Haiti, a group of people stood disconsolately by the road, trying to flag down any vehicle that would stop, and pointing to the collapsed face of a nearby quarry. “There’s someone inside there,” one of them said, pointing to a pile of rocks.

Before we had time to even consider helping them, our car — like all the others in the convoy — had sped off, kicking up dust. The Haitians driving myself and four other foreign journalists into the earthquake zone took the morally nightmarish decision for us. After all, they had their own missing friends and family to find fast in Port-au-Prince.

New U.S. “voice of development” fluent in Washington speak

Rajiv Shah, the Obama administration’s nominee to head the troubled U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), carries a resume heavy with outside-the-beltway cred.

usaid_logo_new1Medical doctor. Agricultural scientist. Gates Foundation expert.

So at least one senator at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday was surprised that, with scarcely a few months of government experience under his belt as an undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture, Shah was already fluent in Washington’s bureaucratic doublespeak.

“You’ve learned the Washington process very well,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said as Shah confidently turned questions into answers without providing much in the way of fact, opinion, or hard detail.