The Obama Doctrine – where is the US going on development and diplomacy?

January 25, 2011

     By Duncan Green     

Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review’ but as is often the way, a boring title signals important content, setting out big and in some cases excellent plans for US foreign and development policy. The director of the review, Anne Marie Slaughter, presented the review at Chatham House in London last week – here are some highlights. Some key messages are in the title of the review, ‘Leading Through Civilian Power’. which marks a rupture with the militarism and force projection of previous administrations. There’s a big focus on Human Security (described by Slaughter as an ‘important shift’), expanding the notion of security beyond terrorism to highlight issues of human rights and democracy – security within states. A greater focus on regional and multilateral bodies shows that the US accepts that its unilateralist traditions are becoming increasingly counterproductive and ineffective in a multipolar world. Slaughter described development as one of Hilary Clinton’s ‘principal charges to us, making it an equal pillar with diplomacy’. This included ‘rebuilding USAID’, moving from what she characterized as a ‘contracting agency’ to something more like the European model. Even allowing for her desire to flatter hosts, it was noteworthy that she said ‘we have looked extensively at DFID, which really is a thought leader’ – although that examination did not stretch to making USAID an independent government department like DFID. Along similar lines, here’s last week’s speech by the new USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, arguing that AID should get out of contracting and channel cash through governments, civil society organizations and private sectors. More on developments in USAID here. Perhaps most striking of all was Slaughter’s (and Clinton’s) outspoken and sustained emphasis on women’s rights. I asked her about this, and whether it posed a risk to US foreign policy either in terms of domestic support (remember the backlash back in 1992 when Clinton as would-be first lady foreswore the baking of cookies) or in terms of relationships with less enlightened governments. Here’s her reply: ‘Things have changed domestically – we are on our third woman secretary of state now. But it has also changed because the evidence [that women rights are essential to development] is so overwhelming.’ With respect to relationships overseas, ‘there is a trade off that the Secretary of State is willing to make. You find ways to work with women’s groups even where governments are not supportive. It’s not easy, but it’s a place we have to go.’ All this echoed an excellent Guardian piece by Madeleine Bunting on Clinton’s ‘feminist foreign policy’. The politics behind the QDDR is partly that when she sat as a senator on the Armed Services Committee, Hilary Clinton saw the impact of the Quadrennial Defense Review in proving value for money and supporting budget requests. Clinton wants Congress to require the State Department to repeat the QDDR exercise every four years – a way to keep the US Government from sliding back into old ways. Final quote: “If there is an Obama doctrine, it is that ‘with power comes responsibility’”. Yup, Spiderman (or at least his Uncle Ben) has taken over the White House. The ambition, the erudition and the appetite for change conjured up a whiff of the euphoria of November 2008, a pleasant change from much of the more negative mood music from the US in more recent times. More on the QDDR here, from Global Dashboard’s David Steven. ]]>

January 25, 2011
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Duncan Green
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