The Cable

Senate poobahs to Obama: What's up with USAID?

Nine months into the Obama administration, there is still no nominee for the post of administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and now the heads of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are sounding the alarm.

In a letter to President Obama, first reported on by Congressional Quarterly, Senators John Kerry, D-MA, and Richard Lugar, R-IN, decry the vacancy at the top of USAID, noting it as the only major agency in the government without a captain at a time when American leadership in development around the world is more needed than ever.

"We urge you to nominate an Administrator for USAID expeditiously," Kerry and Lugar, the committee's chair and ranking member, wrote in the letter dated Sept. 18. "We recommend that you give strong consideration to selecting a candidate that has already gone through the vetting process and that has experience in global development. We believe that time is of the essence, and that the longer we wait for a new leader for the Agency, the more serious the problems become."

The senators also complained that USAID has been shut out of the interagency processes related to U.S. policy in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Their criticisms are echoed by the development community in Washington, which is nervously waiting for the Obama administration to make some key decisions about the role and stature for USAID and the development agenda going forward.

"[Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton sees her legacy as elevating the development mission, putting it alongside the diplomacy mission," said J. Brian Atwood, USAID Administrator during the Clinton administration. "But the administration is laboring under unreasonably high expectations about what can be accomplished."

There are two administration reviews ongoing right now related to development policy. A Presidential Study Directive (PSD) on Global Development Policy is being conducted by the National Security Council, led by Gayle Smith and Jeremy Weinstein, and development policy is a key part of the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which is Foggy Bottom's version of the overarching self introspection found in a similar process over at the Pentagon.

The PSD, which nobody outside government has seen, isn't expected until late this year and the QDDR won't come out until maybe next June. In it will be some key guidance on whether USAID will be given the authority and independence that most development professionals are hoping.

Some major decisions about the future of USAID are expected in the reviews, such as: Will the agency be spun off from the State Department and be given cabinet-level status? If not, will the new USAID director be able to report directly to Clinton or will he be forced to go through Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Jack Lew? Will USAID get its own budget authority, preventing the siphoning off of funds for other State Department missions? Will the agency be able to maintain a robust policy staff or will it be relegated to just implementation responsibilities?

"The biggest fear in the development community is that State views USAID as implementation only, so it becomes a tool of diplomatic strategy as opposed to a development agency," said Atwood, adding that even inside the USAID bureaucracy that tendency persists.

If the USAID administrator has to go through Lew or doesn't have distinct control over the agency's funds, that would undermine the credibility of the organization when trying to deal with foreign governments and organizations, said Atwood, who added that the absence of a clear administration development policy also makes the job of USAID director more risky for potential appointees, who may not want to put in a position where they are set up for failure due to lack of power.

There are two USAID related bills sitting in Congress today. Kerry and Lugar have a bill aimed at rebuilding the agency, increasing funding and updating the authorizations established over 20 years ago, "which have nothing to do with the modern day situation," according to Atwood.

House Foreign Affairs chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, has a bill in his chamber that would call on the administration to put forth a comprehensive global development policy.

There are several names being rumored as possible appointees for the job of USAID administrator but no indications that administration is leaning towards one person or another. They include the NSC's Smith and Center for Global Development president Nancy Birdsall. Harvard Medical School's Department of Global Health chairman Paul Farmer, an early favorite, dropped out of the running and in August was named the U.N.'s deputy special envoy to Bill Clinton on Haiti.

"It's a frustrating situation because we do have a lot of senior-level attention focused on development," said Erin Thornton, Global Policy Director at ONE, a development-focused advocacy organization. "It's just that you don't have anyone whose sole job it is to lead that forward. So our main goal right now is without real leadership."

The Cable

Nobel Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari on Turkey's EU bid

Former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari has been hugely influential on a number of international issues during his storied, multi-decade diplomatic career. He helped secure independence for Namibia, inspected weapons of the Irish Republican Army, led peace negotiations between the Free Aceh Movement and the government of Indonesia, helped to secure an end to the Bosnian war, and served as U.N. Special Envoy for the Kosovo status process.

Ahtisaari's latest cause is working toward the accession of Turkey to the European Union. He led the Independent Commission on Turkey, which issued its latest report on Sept. 7, entitled "Breaking the Vicious Circle," and is embarking on a whirlwind tour of European capitals to promote the Turkey-EU agenda.

Ahtisaari will speak at the Brookings Institution later this afternoon about the report and his views on EU enlargement, but he sat down with The Cable for an exclusive interview to talk about the way forward for Turkey and the EU. Here are some excerpts:

The Cable: What is your main message to European leaders when discussing this report?

Martti Ahtisaari: We are not asking for any special favors, we are asking for Turkey to be treated in the same fashion that my country was treated when we applied for membership. We are convinced that Turkey would be a useful member of the European Union. Being a member of every other EU and transatlantic organization, we see that they would play an important role in the EU context as well. ... If we don't start negotiations then we are treating Turkey different. It's our credibility that's at stake.

We say two things basically: Let's move all the chapters, no blockage of any of the chapters [of the negotiation process]. And secondly, please don't talk of anything else except of full membership, at the moment. In the end, you have a national decision-making process where the parliaments have to approve, so let's move forward. And it will take such a long time that some of the people who have been most vocally critical may not be in office anymore.

TC: What is your main criticism of the EU member states regarding this issue?

MA: We don't treat Turkey as we are treating other applicant countries. And that is something we want to point out very candidly and say that this is no good for the EU because it undermines the EU as a reliable partner. We don't want to forecast what the outcome of the negotiations is, but we ask to be fair to Turkey.

TC: Where has Turkey fallen short on its side of the bargain?

MA: Turkey was very active with reforms up until 2005; there were a lot of political things that we were predicting. ... They have to start getting out the reforms. The constitution is still not reformed to the extent we would hope, some offenses took place, and major reform is still pending.

TC: What do you think about the feeling that there is an anti-Muslim, anti-immigration bias inherent in the opposition to Turkey's membership?

MA: We may be suffering in some cases by the fact that in Europe we have not been terribly good at integrating immigrants who have come to our countries. ... Look, I don't think that we will see Turks flooding into Europe, because Turkey has had economic growth (except last year) of 7 percent. Private investment has favored Turkey well and Turkish firms can help European countries in the whole region. I don't think the people will leave if they have opportunities at home.

There's no need to utilize Turkey as an excuse for other ills in a society. If one has problems with immigrant communities in Europe, that should not be used against Turkey.

TC: How does the frozen conflict in Cyprus factor into the Turkey-EU accession issue?

MA: It's not that it would prevent Turkey from becoming a member state. I'm more concerned that it undermines the credibility of the EU as a world player, if we can't even solve our problems on our own continent. The mere fact that there's going to be elections next year on the Turkish-Cypriot side means that we should use this opportunity because different personalities may emerge in those elections and that may complicate matters further.

TC: What should or could the United States government do to help advance Turkey's EU membership?

MA: They can help by not saying too much. The position of the U.S. has always been clear, no matter what administration we have here: The U.S. will welcome Turkey's accession to the European Union. That quiet support is perhaps the most effective way, not getting in the middle. Because you may start hearing reactions in Europe, where people say [of the U.S.], 'they're selling their neighbor's house.'

TC: Are you concerned about Turkey's relationships with adversaries such as Syria and Iran?

MA: I would regard that as a benefit, because I firmly believe that we have to have a dialogue. I'm concerned when certain movements or countries have been isolated from the international dialogue, because then you have no way of influencing them. No countries policies are eternal; they do vary. People are growing old and a new generation is coming to power. In a year's time, a government can look different. You can't influence them if you don't talk to them.