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The New Republic: The Failure of U.S. Aid In Egypt

Author: David Rieff
February 4, 2011


Writing for The New Republic, David Rieff argues that the United States avoided a quid pro quo that would have moved Cairo toward democracy, and is now paying the price for that decision.

If you go to the website of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and click on "Our Work," you will find the following statement: "USAID works in agriculture, democracy & governance, economic growth, the environment, education, health, global partnerships, and humanitarian assistance in more than 100 countries to provide a better future for all." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the same claim even more grandiloquently when, in her preface to the (Pentagon-modeled) State Department first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, she asserted that the Department was committed to "harnessing our civilian power to advance America's interests and help make a world in which more people in more places cab live in freedom, enjoy economic opportunity, and have a chance to live up to their God-given potential."

One does not have to embrace the cynical old axiom that the definition of diplomats are people who go abroad to lie for their country to realize how hollow to the point of obscenity these claims must seem to the pro-democracy demonstrators in Tunis, Cairo, Alexandria, Amman, and even Sana. Even if one puts the best face on U.S. policy in the region, adding the psychologically more accurate corollary that this lying includes lying to oneself, and that the diplomats in question have genuinely good intentions, the gap that the demonstrations in the Arab world have exposed between the way in which U.S. diplomats and development workers seem to conceive of what they do, especially in regions like Egypt and Jordan that are of geo-strategic importance to Washington, and what the historical record shows them to have done, and, worse, not done, could scarcely be wider.

It is true that, since 1975, USAID has provided a total of $28 billion in economic and development assistance to Egypt. But, while on the micro-level many of these programs have been well-designed, and enjoyed a measure of success, on a macro-level, the facts permit only one conclusion: on its own terms, U.S. military aid to Egypt has been a success, but U.S. development aid to Egypt by any objective measure has been an abject failure.


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