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Clinton v. Kerry on USAID — With Bowen to the Rescue?

Josh Rogin has a great piece about the differences between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the independence and responsibilities of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Clinton wants to integrate USAID’s development missions with diplomatic and defense efforts, particularly in failing states or conflict areas. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the leaders of the Senate committee, worry that Clinton’s approach misunderstands the long-term nature of development work:

It is also important to consider whether USAID’s growing national security mission is compatible with its development aims. For example, can USAID participate effectively in counterinsurgency and stabilization operations while maintaining a credible humanitarian presence, or do these functions demand a new approach altogether? There is justification for aid programs that have both short-term strategic value and long-term development objectives, but the line between these two goals is often blurred. At a minimum, foreign aid accounts need to be rationalized so that they support U.S. priorities and the missions of the agencies in which they are located.

How to square the circle? Stuart Bowen’s proposal for a U.S. Office of Contingency Operations is one way. Bowen’s so-called USOCO would create an operational structure in crisis situations for integrating defense, diplomacy and development efforts, along with humanitarian relief, reconstruction, rule-of-law advisory and other elements of national power as necessary. That’s what Clinton wants. But it would leave USAID alone to focus on long-term development projects, as Kerry and Lugar want.

Whether Bowen’s proposal will gain traction is a different story. He’s expected to present the USOCO idea to Congress in the coming weeks — probably on Jan. 30, when he presents his next quarterly report on Iraq reconstruction to lawmakers. (The idea recently won support from the respected diplomat Ryan Crocker.) Before he does, however, the various foreign-policy departments are expected to send Bowen their formal perspectives on the merits of USOCO in the next few days — including, naturally, State and USAID.

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